Lincoln Portrait (also known as A Lincoln Portrait) is a 1942 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. An orchestra usually invites a prominent person to be the narrator.


Conductor Andre Kostelanetz commissioned Copland to write a musical portrait of an "eminent American" for the New York Philharmonic. Copland chose President Abraham Lincoln, and used material from speeches and letters of Lincoln, as well as original folk songs of the period, including "Camptown Races" and "On 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]

Because of his leftist views, Copland was blacklisted and Lincoln Portrait withdrawn from the 1953 inaugural concert for Dwight D. Eisenhower.[3]


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 [since the twentieth century, State of the Union], 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.[4]

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 speaker and an orchestra consisting of the following instruments:

Notable narrators

Notable narrators of Lincoln Portrait have included:

In Venezuela

Aaron Copland had come to Caracas to conduct the first Venezuelan performance of Lincoln Portrait on March 27, 1957. A New York Times reviewer said it had a "magical impact" on the audience.[25] As Copland recalled, "To everyone's surprise, the reigning dictator, who had rarely dared to be seen in public, arrived at the last possible moment." On that evening Juana Sujo, an Argentine actress resident in Venezuela and an opponent of the repressive regime of Venezuelan President Marcos Pérez Jiménez, was the fiery narrator who performed the spoken-word parts of the piece. When she spoke the final words, "... that government of the people, by the people, for the people (el gobierno del pueblo, por el pueblo y para el pueblo) shall not perish from the earth," the audience rose and began cheering and shouting so loudly that Copland could not hear the remainder of the music. Copland continued, "It was not long after that the dictator was deposed and fled from the country."[26][27]

See also


  1. ^ "Lincoln Portrait". Boosey & Hawkes. 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. ^ Pollack, Howard (1999). Aaron Copland. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 978-0-8050-4909-1.
  4. ^ Definition of Democracy, August 1, 1858?
  5. ^ "The Philadelphia Orchestra". 2008-08-11. Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2011-08-17.
  6. ^ a b "Lincoln Portrait; Other Voices". The New York Times. August 8, 1993.
  7. ^ "The Field: Isn't This a Time: Live-Blogging Sunday's Inaugural Concert". Archived from the original on 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2011-08-17.
  8. ^ a b "Copland, Gould: Heston [RB]: Classical CD Reviews – May 2001 MusicWeb(UK)". Retrieved 2011-08-17.
  9. ^ "Portraits Of Freedom: Music of Aaron Copland and Roy Harris: Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Gerard Schwarz, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, James Earl Jones, Seattle Chora". Amazon. 1994. Retrieved 2011-08-17.
  10. ^ "Edward M. Kennedy". Archived from the original on 2008-10-19. Retrieved 2011-08-17.
  11. ^ Kaylyn Sawyer (2019). "Belonging to the Ages: The Enduring Relevance of Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait". Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. 40 (1).
  12. ^ "George McGovern no longer responsive". UPI. October 17, 2012.
  13. ^ "Lincoln Portrait". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-05.
  14. ^ "Paul Newman Narrates 'Lincoln Portrait'". NPR. 2005-08-09. Retrieved 2011-08-17.
  15. ^ For Immediate Release: Archived December 15, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ N. Paglinauan. "Performance Today – 'A Lincoln Portrait'". NPR. Retrieved 2011-08-17.
  17. ^ Joyce, DeFrancesco. "Star Trek Star George Takei to Host Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's 'Sci-Fi Spectacular' PNC Pops Concert in November". PSO Blog. Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  18. ^ "Opening Night with George Takei". Oregon Symphony. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  19. ^ Ross, Alex (February 16, 1993). "Classical Music in Review". The New York Times.
  20. ^ Channing Gray (2009-03-01). "Warmth and soul in R.I. Philharmonic's 'history lesson'". The Providence Journal. Retrieved 2011-08-17.
  21. ^ "Vin Scully to perform at Hollywood Bowl". Los Angeles Times. 13 June 2017.
  22. ^ "When America WAS Great! | the Millbrook Independent". Archived from the original on 2018-11-06. Retrieved 2018-11-06.
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Performance History Search".
  25. ^ Taubman, Howard (March 30, 1957). "Music: Magical Impact; Copland's 'Lincoln Portrait' Makes Vivid Impression at Fete in Caracas". New York Times. p. 12. Retrieved September 22, 2020.
  26. ^ Holzer, Harold (2004). "Introduction". In Cuomo, Mario; Holzer, Harold (eds.). Lincoln on Democracy. New York: Fordham University Press. p. xliv. ISBN 0823223450.
  27. ^ Beyer, Rick (March 29, 2011). "The Symphony That Helped Sink a Dictator". Astonish, Bewilder and Stupefy. Retrieved May 6, 2018.