Copland's Lincoln Portrait

December 21, 2010
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Lincoln Portrait, an orchestral work written by Aaron Copland, has influenced me. I first encountered this piece during orchestra. I hadn’t heard of it, and was curious about the context of the song. After orchestra, I decided to look into its history. I discovered that after the Pearl Harbor attack, Andre Kostelanetz, a composer, wrote to Copland and other composers with a mission. Kostelanetz wanted “a correlated idea to represent a musical portrait gallery of great Americans”. Copland used Abraham Lincoln for his ‘portrait’. Lincoln Portrait has changed some of my thoughts regarding emotions in music and our history, and in doing so, changed some of my fundamental thoughts.


The main theme in the dialogue from Lincoln Portrait is democracy, and how important it is in peoples’ lives. One example is the piece’s last line, “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.” To one person, this quote may mean that democracy is incredible and won’t leave us in this country. However, to me, this quote has special meaning. This quote symbolizes leadership, and reminds me of myself. For example, for a robotics competition, we had about two weeks to finish everything. Few members seemed to care. So, in an attempt to create order, I used a point system. Immediately, everyone knew who was in charge and how they fit into everything. When I look at what Lincoln says about democracy, I think about that. The democracy discussed in Lincoln Portrait relates easily to life.


During a musical theory lecture in orchestra, our conductor brought up how different Lincoln Portrait is from other pieces of music because of its emotional significance. Copland managed to insert countless feelings into his music, making one truly feel like they know Lincoln . By carefully choosing the notes and rhythms for each instrument in the orchestra, Copland creates a rich emotional scene. The dialogue also helps with this effect, for instance the narrator states “The fiery trail 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.” This quote illustrates the effort and emotion Lincoln could use. I can understand Lincoln . Similarly, I often spend hours on projects trying to perfect them, or decorating them enough so that you can tell how I was feeling when I made them. The thing that makes Lincoln Portrait so special is the tremendous amount of emotion put into it.


Lincoln Portrait is an incredible orchestral work written by one innovative composer. By teaching me about the necessity of emotion in music and how important democracy is, this piece of music has influenced me. Because of my orchestra and musical interests, I have learned about this piece. My hope is that someday, everyone in the United States will know this piece. That is my hope for America .





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