Thursday, March 5, 2009

This is what he said!

If you are a complete masochist and read a lot of the stuff that I write, you'll notice that certain phrases pop up over and over.

Once of the phrases that I use ad nauseum is the phrase "this is what he said."

I was suddenly reminded of this phrase when I was researching a personal blog post on Willard Scott and ran across this post from the Loudon Symphony Orchestra. It describes flutist Cathy Gilstrap and her husband David.

Cathy has several fond memories of her time with the LSO. She and David note that the group treated them like family after a 1996 car accident, donating money and hiring a housekeeper for them while they recuperated. Musically, Cathy remembers the terrific flute part in Scherazade, by Rimsky-Korsakov. Another outstanding moment was a Gala Concert in the 1990s at which Willard Scott narrated the Copland Lincoln Portrait and PDQ Bach’s knock-off, the Bach Portrait.

That's where I stopped reading, and paused with anticipation.

Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" was written in 1942, by request:

In 1942, shortly after the U.S. entered World War Two, conductor Andre Kostelanetz commissioned Aaron Copland to compose a work to fortify and comfort people during that time of national distress....

Copland used excerpts from different Lincoln speeches, combined with musical quotations from American songs, such as "Camptown Races."

The text of "Lincoln Portrait" appears below. You will see the "this is what he said" line that I like to quote at the drop of a hat - a very tall hat.

"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history."

That is what he said. That is what Abraham Lincoln said.

"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]

He was born in Kentucky, raised in Indiana, and lived in Illinois. And this is what he said. This is what Abe Lincoln said.

"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 will save our country." [Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862]

When standing erect he was six feet four inches tall, and this is what he said.

He said: "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, 15 October 1858]

Lincoln was a quiet man. Abe Lincoln was a quiet and a melancholy man. But when he spoke of democracy, this is what he said.

He said: "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."

Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president of these United States, is everlasting in the memory of his countrymen. For on the battleground at Gettysburg, this is what he said:

He said: "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."

Now the piece has been performed by numerous people over the years, I'm sure. I've heard James Earl Jones do it, and here's then-Senator Barack Obama reciting the lines.

From that excerpt, you can see that this is a serious work. A dramatic work. A modern work.

So I was very curious to see what "Professor" Peter Schickele did with it.

The New York Times described the work in a 1985 article:

New was a world premiere, not by P. D. Q. at all but by Professor Schickele himself (there is a third level, when Mr. Schickele drops his professor act altogether and composes ''serious'' contemporary music, but that isn't part of his P. D. Q. Bach personna). A tercentennial tribute to J. S. Bach, this ''Bach Portrait'' uses Aaron Copland's ''Lincoln Portrait'' as its model, from Copland's music to the grave intoning of actual words by the great man in question. The words, with intoning by Mr. Schickele, of course, had nearly all to do with haggling over money. The music was a collage of Copland and Bach, with a bit of Stephen Foster and other snippets for decoration. The effect was cute.

Thirteen years later, the Times quoted a portion of the piece:

When he stood erect he was two feet across, and this is what he said - this is what Jack Bach said...

No offense to Willard, but I'd love to hear James Earl Jones recite THAT. But it's good enough to hear the good Professor recite it.

blog comments powered by Disqus