Music for Lincoln’s 210th Birthday

On February 12, 2019, our nation observes the 210th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States. While the Manuscript Division has made the Abraham Lincoln papers available online, birthdays always call for celebratory music. Let’s see the variety of ways President Lincoln appears in the Music Division’s collections!

Abraham Lincoln. Signed calling card, 1862 Feb 4. Francis Maria Scala papers, Music Division.

The Music Division’s Francis Maria Scala papers is a perfect way to start this birthday party with primary sources. Francis Maria Scala (1819-1903) was the first bandleader of the US Marine Corps Band, and composed the march for Lincoln’s inauguration. Scala’s papers include a holograph score of the piano reduction. This collection also contains a signed calling card from President Lincoln dated February 4, 1862 which requests, “Will the leader of the Marine Band, please call and see Mrs. L. to day?”

Francis Maria Scala. Lincoln Inauguration March, 1860. Francis Maria Scala papers, Box 19 Folder 2, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Lincoln also appears in published sheet music. In our vast digital collection of Civil War Sheet Music, Lincoln plays an expectedly large role. His name is part of over 130 titles of dances, music about battles and the troops, songs to raise morale, campaign songs, and memorial music. Since we’re celebrating, an example of a dance for solo piano is Lincoln Schottisch by William Cumming, published in 1860. The Schottische (or Schottisch) as danced in America was a popular social ballroom dance beginning in the 1840s danced in a round with partners moving in steps and hops. It resembled the polka slightly less than its German cousin of the same name. It’s possible that Cumming included Lincoln’s name in the title to capitalize on the patriotism of Union citizens who had access to a Cincinnati music publisher.

Lincoln has also had music written about him since his untimely death on April 15, 1865. In 1881, J.W. Pepper in Philadelphia published J.W. Porter’s Lincoln Medley Quadrille for orchestra – the score even comes with dance instructions! The quadrille was one of the most popular ballroom dances in the 19th century for four to eight couples to dance together. In 1914, a popular song by Jean Schwartz called “I love you like Lincoln loved the old red, white, and blue” conveniently evokes patriotism under the guise of romance during the outbreak of World War I. Even in 1920, George Whitfield Andrews composed “Lincoln Hymn of Democracy” for unaccompanied SATB choir (soprano, alto, tenor, bass).

Of all the music composed after Lincoln’s lifetime, the most significant and widely performed is Aaron Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait of 1942. Originally for narrator and orchestra, Walter Beeler transcribed the piece for narrator and band. The narration incorporates excerpts from many of Lincoln’s speeches, including the Gettysburg Address. The story of how A Lincoln Portrait came to be is best told by two collections in the Music Division, the Aaron Copland collection and the Andre Kostelanetz collection.

Aaron Copland. Detail of holograph piano reduction for A Lincoln Portrait, mm. 249-252. Narration in English and Spanish. Aaron Copland collection, Box 69, Music Division, Library of Congress.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Concert program cover, 1943 Jan 28. Andre Kostelanetz collection, Box 1160 Folder 19, Music Division, Library of Congress.


On December 18, 1941, a prominent American conductor named Andre Kostelanetz (1901-1980) wrote to the composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990) asking if he would be interested in receiving a commission for a piece inspired by a great American. Copland was one of three American composers who were commissioned for this project along with Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) and Jerome Kern (1885-1945). After Kostelanetz received the score, he wrote to Copland on April 19, 1942, “I cannot tell you how happy I am about the Lincoln portrait. You have written a magnificent work which I believe, aside from its wonderful musical value, will convey a great message to the American public.” In this letter, Kostelanetz also thanked Copland for granting exclusive performance rights through May 1, 1943, and for dedicating the piece to him. Kostelanetz conducted the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with actor William Adams on May 14, 1942, for the world premiere. Copland was not in attendance, but his datebook lists meetings with Kostelanetz on April 17 at 6pm, May 1 at 2:30pm, and May 11 at 11am.



Kostelanetz conducted A Lincoln Portrait throughout his period of exclusive performance rights with speakers including Edward G. Robinson, Carl Sandburg, and Will Gear. The piece remained in Kostelanetz’s repertory for decades after the reserved performance rights ended. He conducted orchestras in locations including DC, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Jerusalem, New York, San Diego, and even on the Ed Sullivan Show for Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, 1956. Audience reception related to Copland by Kostelanetz in decades of ongoing correspondence was always positive: “a great ovation” (March 3, 1943 letter), “overwhelming success” (February 21, 1955 letter), and “tremendous” (June 14, 1976 telegram).

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Concert program, page 1, 1943 Jan 28. St. Louis premieres of Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait and Jerome Kern’s orchestral portrait of Mark Twain. Andre Kostelanetz collection, Box 1160 Folder 19, Music Division, Library of Congress.

For Kostelanetz and Copland, A Lincoln Portrait took on an anniversary-worthy life of its own independent from Lincoln’s birthdays. In a letter of December 21, 1966, Kostelanetz wrote to Copland, “Let me be the first to congratulate you upon the 25th Anniversary of your great A Lincoln Portrait. On February 11, I will be conducting it with the [New York] Philharmonic, and Mayor [John] Lindsay will be the narrator.” (Kostelanetz conducted A Lincoln Portrait with the New York Philharmonic six times from 1943-1975. You can see Kostelanetz’s score signed by speakers courtesy of the New York Philharmonic’s Leon Levy Digital Archives.) In 1972 Kostelanetz telegrammed, “I will conduct the San Diego Symphony with E.G. Marshall in celebration of the 30th anniversary of your wonderful composition[.] What do you think of Washington Portrait for 1976[?]” Copland scribbled at the top of the telegram, “said I’d think about it,” but it never came to pass.

Another famous narrator of A Lincoln Portrait was the great African-American opera diva, Marian Anderson. In honor of African-American History Month, enjoy this photo of Copland in rehearsal with Anderson from the Aaron Copland collection. Although not labeled, the photo is likely of Anderson’s 1976 performance of A Lincoln Portrait with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Copland. Marian Anderson first narrated the work under the baton of Kostelanetz in 1969.

With all of this great music for you to listen to, wish a Happy Birthday to President Lincoln!


  1. Sherry L.
    February 11, 2019 at 9:29 am

    Thank you for this wonderful post!

    February 11, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    Ms. Wertheimer,
    You’re writings are inspiring as well as so informative and educational. What a gifted writer you are!
    Mrs. Robin

  3. Rebecca Samawicz
    February 12, 2019 at 6:24 am

    Thanks for putting this material together. Love thr photo of Marisn Anderdon & Aaron Copland together.

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