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.


Copland was asked to write a musical portrait of an "eminent American" by the conductor Andre Kostelanetz. Copland used material from speeches and letters of Lincoln and quoted original folk songs of the period, including "Camptown Races" and "Springfield Mountain".[1] 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]


Together with some descriptive comments on Lincoln ("Abe Lincoln was a quiet and a melancholy man"), the work contains the following excerpts from his speeches:

Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. 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. (Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862)

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country. (Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862)

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." (Lincoln-Douglas debates, October 15, 1858)

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy. (Unknown, though in Lincoln's Collected Works)

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. (Gettysburg Address)


Lincoln Portrait is scored for a speaker and an orchestra:

Famous narrators[edit]

Famous narrators of Lincoln Portrait have included:

Judy Collins from the album "Portrait of an American Girl" (2005)

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 by Jeff Ehrhart featuring quotes from Dan Quayle appeared on The Dr. Demento Show in the early 1990s.[vague]

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: Archived December 15, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  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]