Presidents’ Day: A Lincoln Portrait

February 20, 2017 at 3:44 pm

Last year I wrote a jollier post for Presidents’ Day, likening the political battlefield to a gladiators’ arena. This year, I’m feeling the need for something a little deeper than a Sousa march, though. Aaron Copland‘s Lincoln Portrait should do the trick.

The 1942 work is one of Copland’s Americana compositions, like Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, or Rodeo. But unlike those ballets, the Lincoln Portrait is similar to a tone poem, but accompanied by spoken text from Abraham Lincoln’s speeches. And not surprisingly, the combination of Copland’s music and Lincoln’s words are powerful (and with James Earl Jones as the narrator, like in this video, how can you go wrong?)

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. 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. 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. 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. 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.


Passing through the Gate

November 17, 2016 at 10:30 am

The Roman god Janus is the deity of doors, gates, beginnings – basically any point that marks a transition from one state to another. The month of January is named after this god, being the start of a new year.

Tomorrow, this blog will have reached its birthday. It is now over 100,000 words – about as many as Huckleberry Finn, but only half of Moby Dick. I certainly haven’t written a great work of literature here, but even so, The Fine Art of Listening is now a rather large opus.

So as I approach this milestone, this doorway to the future, let’s take a grand, celebratory stroll through Mussorgsky‘s Gate of Kiev.


The Empire Strikes Back

November 15, 2016 at 1:56 pm

You know how in Star Wars, there’s this little tiny Rebellion fighting against a big nasty Empire? And you know how a dozen little space ships destroy that big scary death star? Well, it doesn’t always happen that way – sometimes, the Empire strikes back.

Back in 1830, Poland and the other Baltic states rebelled against Russia. Russia sent a big army over and crushed the rebellion, subjugated the people, and maintained its control over that region. And Chopin was maaaaaaaaaaddddd …

He poured his emotions into music – his Revolutionary Etude is a force to be reckoned with. This is a great piece for getting rage and fury off your chest – the only problem is, you have to be an amazing pianist to play it, even at a slow speed. Take that, Imperial scum!