Lincoln Portrait

By Aaron Copland
Composed in 1942

Copland composed Lincoln Portrait for narrator and orchestra in 1942. It was part of a series of musical portraits of great Americans commissioned by André Kostelanetz shortly after American entry into World War II.

In Copland’s own words: “The composition is roughly divided into three sections. In the opening section I wanted to suggest something of the mysterious sense of fatality that surrounds Lincoln’s personality. Also, near the end of that section, something of his gentleness and simplicity of spirit. The quick middle section briefly sketches in the background of the times he lived in. This merges into the concluding section where my sole purpose was to draw a simple but impressive frame about the words of Lincoln himself.”

Copland used excerpts from a few contemporary songs, including “Camptown Races,” to evoke the spirit of mid 19th-century America. The moving words read by the narrator are taken from Lincoln’s letters, speeches and the Gettysburg Address.

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