Lincoln Portrait

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Lincoln Portrait (also known as A Lincoln Portrait) is a classical orchestral work written by the American composer Aaron Copland. The work involves a full orchestra, with particular emphasis on the brass section at climactic moments. The work is narrated with the reading of excerpts of Abraham Lincoln's great documents, including the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln Portrait was written by Copland as part of the World War II patriotic war effort in 1942.[citation needed]


A 23 second sample of Lincoln Portrait demonstrating the narration of Lincoln's documents along with the prominence of brass instruments for dramatic emphasis.

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Copland was asked to write a musical portrait of an "eminent American" by the conductor Andre Kostelanetz. Originally, Copland had wanted to portray Walt Whitman, but it was decided[who?] that a political figure was needed: "From this moment, Lincoln seemed inevitable."[citation needed] Copland used material from speeches and letters of Lincoln and quoted original folk songs of the period, including "Camptown Races" and "Springfield Mountain".[1] The latter quote is probably a reference to Lincoln's association with Springfield, Illinois, although there are no mountains in Springfield, and the ballad was instead written about Wilbraham, Massachusetts, which was formerly named Springfield Mountain.

Copland finished Lincoln Portrait in April 1942.

The first performance was by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on 14 May 1942, with William Adams as the narrator.[2]


Lincoln Portrait is scored for a speaker and an orchestra, preferably including:[citation needed]

Note that the English horn, the bass clarinet, the contrabassoon, the 3rd trumpet, and the celesta were deemed not essential for performance[clarification needed] by the composer and may be omitted from the performance ensemble as necessary.[citation needed]

The composition has also been transcribed for other ensembles, such as wind ensemble.[citation needed]

Famous narrators[edit]

Famous narrators of Lincoln Portrait have included:

Popular culture[edit]

The composition was lampooned by Peter Schickele ("P. D. Q. Bach") in his piece Bach Portrait on the album 1712 Overture and Other Musical Assaults. Another parody featuring quotes from Dan Quayle appeared on The Dr. Demento Show in the early 1990s.

Nine minutes of the composition, without narration (from a late 1960s recording by the London Symphony Orchestra), plays during the climactic one-on-one sequence between Jake and Jesus Shuttlesworth (played by Denzel Washington and Ray Allen) in the 1998 Spike Lee film, He Got Game. In the film, Jesus Shuttlesworth is a student at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn.


  1. ^ "Lincoln Portrait, Boosey & Hawkes catalogue". Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  2. ^ Pollack, Howard (2000). Aaron Copland: the life and work of an uncommon man. University of Illinois Press. p. 357. 
  3. ^ "The Philadelphia Orchestra". 2008-08-11. Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  4. ^ a b "'LINCOLN PORTRAIT'; Other Voices". The New York Times. August 8, 1993. 
  5. ^ "The Field: Isn't This a Time: Live-Blogging Sunday's Inaugural Concert". Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  6. ^ a b "COPLAND, GOULD: Heston [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- May 2001 MusicWeb(UK)". Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  7. ^ "Portraits Of Freedom: Music of Aaron Copland and Roy Harris: Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Gerard Schwarz, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, James Earl Jones, Seattle Chora". Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  8. ^ "Edward M. Kennedy". Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  9. ^ "George McGovern no longer responsive". UPI. October 17, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Paul Newman Narrates 'Lincoln Portrait'". NPR. 2005-08-09. Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  11. ^ For Immediate Release:[dead link]
  12. ^ N. Paglinauan. "Performance Today - 'A Lincoln Portrait'". NPR. Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  13. ^ Ross, Alex (February 16, 1993). "Classical Music in Review". The New York Times. 
  14. ^ Channing GrayJournal Arts Writer (2009-03-01). "Warmth and soul in R.I. Philharmonic’s ‘history lesson’ | Music | | The Providence Journal". Retrieved 2011-08-17. 

External links[edit]