Good Friday, April 14th, 1865. From out of the gloom of a theater box, a shot rang out. With that shot, a hero was mortally wounded and a page turned in American history. Nearly a century and a half later, America is still moved by the dramatic assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Over the years, composers have attempted to portray many aspects of Lincoln's life and death, but few have made such eloquent and evocative music about the man or the critical days of the Civil War that preceded his theatrical end.
Ernst Bacon originally wrote Ford's Theater
as the incidental music to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Horgan's drama about Abraham Lincoln's last moments, entitled, Death, Mr. President
. But the music conveyed a narrative so forcefully that its impact outlasted and outstripped the play's.Ford's Theater
had its first concert performance on 27 April 1946 by the Southern Symphony, in Columbia, South Carolina with Carl Bamberger conducting.
Ernst Bacon's 12 miniatures paint an American story with a quintessential American brush. He was deeply committed to his country's culture, and forged a career alongside his peers, Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland, when no recognizably "American" classical music existed.
Cast a glance at the 12 short movements:
The River Queen
Walt Whitman and the Dying Soldiers
Pennsylvania Avenue, April 9, 1865
The Telegraph Fugue
Good Friday 1865
Moonlight on the Savannah
The Long Rain
Largely self-taught as a composer, Bacon wrote, conducted, and composed with equal dedication. He was also a gifted painter. The watercolors, sketches, and oils he painted were the same American scenes and landscapes heard in his musical explorations of folk songs and melodies. Like Bartók, he also collected and put folk music to paper for posterity. He incorporated the theme of his song setting of Walt Whitman's "The Last Invocation" into the introduction of Ford's Theater
and again in the conclusion. "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" and the ingenious "Telegraph Fugue" are also woven into the piece paving the bridge between folk and high art, which Bacon so easily crossed.
Ernst Bacon conducted the most celebrated performances of Ford's Theater
himself, earning raves at the Detroit Symphony and San Francisco Symphonies. The Vienna Symphony Orchestra recorded the piece on Desto soon after.