Gettysburg at 150 November 19 2013, 0 Comments
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- 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, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” - Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863 This year marks the 150th anniversary of many monumental events during our nation’s Civil War, but none match the magnitude of Gettysburg. Nowhere else was the conflict that split the United States in two so bloody and devastating. No other locale serves as both the largest and most important battle of the Civil War, but also as a microcosm of the war itself.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is a place near and dear to my heart. I spent four years of my life studying at Gettysburg College, a small liberal arts institution that pre-dates the battle itself. Living in Gettysburg, you cannot escape the civil war culture that permeates so many aspects of the community, and most students, like myself, are quick to embrace it. They say that in Gettysburg, seeing a reenactor is the first sign of spring. Walking down the street, you see establishments such as the Lincoln Diner, plaques marking the numerous civil war buildings, and at night, ghost tours led by guides in full 19th century garb. Every summer in Gettysburg involves multitudes of visitors paying homage to the hallowed ground that is the battlefield, and every year the Gettysburg Address plays a huge part in the celebration and commemoration.
Just as the memories of what happened 150 years ago remain alive through the countless monuments and epitaphs, the music of the civil war can still be heard, both in Gettysburg and across the nation. Altissimo! carries an excellent compilation titled Blue and Gray: Songs of the Civil War, which features a series of medleys and arrangements of folk tunes indicative of the era. The disc includes a version of Yankee Doodle by Morton Gould, which I particularly enjoy.
But while civil war music is perfect for any occasion, today specifically marks the 150th anniversary of the oration of the Gettysburg Address. It is a day not only to marvel at the speech itself, but also to commemorate our sixteenth president, and there is no better way to accomplish this than through music. While Abraham Lincoln was himself not a musician, he is consistently remembered as a lover of music, and many pieces have been written to celebrate this fact. Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait is one of the better-known works of this sort. Although originally for orchestra, Lincoln Portrait has been arranged for wind band, and is frequently performed by the bands of the United States military. The music itself is very much in the style of 1940’s Copland, littered with brass chords and fanfares, as well as the occasional folk tune. However, the most characteristic element of Lincoln Portrait is the narration, which quotes many of Lincoln’s speeches and writings, including the Gettysburg Address.
The Altissimo! CD A Lincoln Portrait features Copland’s work (with narration by Walter Cronkite), as well as many other pieces related to Lincoln and his time. It’s a good way to both commemorate the events of day, this year, and as always, to support our nation’s military and the music they make.
Brian R. Denu
Label Manager, Altissimo! Recordings