Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Aaron Copland and A Lincoln Portrait

While World War II was raging, Aaron Copland was creating music. Asked to write a portrait of an “eminent American,” the forty-two year old composer chose President Abraham Lincoln as his subject. Combining Lincoln’s own words from speeches and letters with folks songs of the period and an original score, Copland created the classical orchestral work “A Lincoln Portrait.”

Seventy-five years ago, the first performance was held on May 14, 1942. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra played, and William Adams was the narrator. Over fifteen minutes in length, the piece was an inspiration to all who heard it during the early, dark days of WWII. Some of the quoted text is from:

His annual message to Congress in 1862: “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history…The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility.”

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858: “It is the eternal struggle between two principles, right and wrong, throughout the world. It is the same spirit that says ‘you toil and work and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.’ No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation, and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”

The Gettysburg Address: “That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Performed hundreds of times, A Lincoln Portrait has been narrated by a dichotomy of people: Neil Armstrong, Marian Anderson, Alec Baldwin, Bill Clinton, Walter Cronkite, Julius Irving, Henry Fonda, Danny Glover, Tom Hanks, James Taylor, and Margaret Thatcher. There are several renditions on the internet of this iconic musical creation. Consider taking a few minutes to watch one:  A Lincoln Portrait 

A freelance writer for over ten years, Linda Shenton Matchett is the author of Love's Harvest and Love Found in Sherwood Forest. Under Fire, the first book in her trilogy about war correspondent/amateur sleuth Ruth Brown will be released this summer. Get to know Linda by visiting her website.


  1. How interesting. I'll have to look this music up.

  2. Linda, this is astonishing information about the classical orchestral work “A Lincoln Portrait”, to celebrate President Lincoln. Aaron Copland sure captured him with some of the quotes. I'm going to have to see if anything is mentioned about "A Lincoln Portrait" at the Lincoln-Douglas Museum here in my town and check in the gift shop at Lincoln Log Cabin State Historical Park. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Kentuckians are proud to have been a part of the legend we know as Abraham Lincoln. Thank you for sharing!