March 04, 2015 16:43 UTC

This Is America

'Lincoln Portrait': Music of Copland, Words of a Leader

A National Park Service ranger at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington talks about the 16th president on February 12, 2010, his 201st birthday
A National Park Service ranger at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington talks about the 16th president on February 12, 2010, his 201st birthday

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SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Shirley Griffith. This week on our program, Rich Kleinfeldt and I tell the story of President Abraham Lincoln. His birthday is February twelfth.

(MUSIC)

RICH KLEINFELDT: Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth American president. He is considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky in eighteen nine. He grew up in Illinois. His family was poor and had no education.

Abraham Lincoln taught himself what he needed to know. He became a lawyer. He served in the Illinois state legislature and in the United States Congress. In eighteen sixty, he was elected to the country's highest office.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: President Lincoln led the United States during the Civil War between the northern and southern states. This was the most serious crisis in American history.

President Lincoln helped end slavery in the nation. And he helped keep the American union from splitting apart during the war. President Lincoln believed that he proved to the world that democracy can be a lasting form of government.

RICH KLEINFELDT: In eighteen sixty-three, President Lincoln gave what became his most famous speech. Union armies of the North had won two great victories that year. They defeated the Confederate armies of the South at Vicksburg, Mississippi and at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Ceremonies were held to honor the dead soldiers at a burial place on the Gettysburg battlefield.

President Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg for only about two minutes. But his speech has never been forgotten. Historians say the speech defined Americans as a people who believed in freedom, democracy and equality.

Abraham Lincoln wrote some of the most memorable words in American history. He was murdered a few days after the Civil War ended in eighteen sixty-five. Yet his words live on.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Here is Christopher Cruise reading the Gettysburg Address:

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 battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. 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 hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, 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
Abraham Lincoln

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: In nineteen forty-two, orchestra conductor Andre Kostelanitz asked composer Aaron Copland to write a piece of music about Abraham Lincoln. Copland was one of the best modern American composers. He wrote many kinds of music. His music told stories about the United States.

Aaron Copland wrote "Lincoln Portrait" to honor the president. Copland's music included parts of American folk songs and songs popular during the Civil War. Here is the Seattle Symphony playing part of "Lincoln Portrait."

(MUSIC)

RICH KLEINFELDT: Aaron Copland added words from President Lincoln's speeches and letters to his "Lincoln Portrait." It has been performed many times in the United States. Many famous people have read the words.

To celebrate Presidents Day, here is actor James Earl Jones reading part of Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait."

(MUSIC)

JAMES EARL JONES: “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 … “

Lincoln was a quiet man. Abe Lincoln was a quiet and 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; and 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.”

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: This program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Lawan Davis. Our engineer was Al Alevy. I’m Shirley Griffith.

(MUSIC)

RICH KLEINFELDT: And I'm Rich Kleinfeldt. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.

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