Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Music for the day after the election

After looking at the results at 1 a.m. today -- some of which cheered me, some of which didn't, like all of you -- I settled into my recliner to listen to a CD titled "American Weekend."

It contained music by patricians and populists. It spoke of the bustle of New York, the common-sense values of the Midwest, quiet days of remembrance for fallen veterans in New England. Quite by accident, the conductors were a little melting pot of their own, men born in India and Germany and Hungary.

Charles Ives, the wealthy insurance salesman for whom classical composition was a hobby, weighed in with his variations on "America." George Gershwin, the son of Ukrainian immigrants, captured the swagger and romance of Manhattan with "Rhapsody in Blue." Samuel Barber, born to a prosperous and cultured family in West Chester, Pa., provided a restrained sense of mourning with his "Adagio for Strings."

The most moving contribution came from Aaron Copland, another immigrant's boy who captured the spirit of the American prairie like nobody else. It was "Lincoln Portrait," his 15-minute tribute to the man many of us consider our greatest president. Gregory Peck read the narration in a voice that was almost certainly more sonorous than Lincoln's, but the words hit home.

They rang out like this: "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." 

And this: "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." 

Lincoln was speaking about America 150 years ago, in the grip of a declared civil war, but his words are just as true today. Will anybody listen to them now?