Notes by Dr. Beverly Everett
This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intently, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” – Leonard Bernstein, Nov. 25, 1963, United Jewish Appeal Benefit, Madison Square Garden
No other President did more to champion the arts that John F. Kennedy. In the shadow of his death, artists and musicians around the world used their talents to pay tribute to him, to try to find meaning and hope in the wake of tragedy. Tonight’s concert program is a tapestry woven together of music performed during the Kennedy White House, music performed for his funeral services, and a new work that celebrates the President’s and Mrs. Kennedy’s love for youth combined with his legacy of peace.
Fanfare for the Inauguration of JFK (1963) by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
Leonard Bernstein, a Harvard contemporary of JFK’s, became a familiar face in the Kennedy White House. President-elect Kennedy chose Bernstein to represent classical music at the Inaugural Gala on January 19, 1961 at the National Guard Armory, for which Bernstein composed a brief but vibrant Fanfare. A blizzard paralyzed the nation’s capital, but the show went on. Bernstein arrived at the gala following quite the adventure caused by the blizzard. His journey to the event involved a police escort, with Bette Davis in tow, through the treacherous streets. He conducted an ad hoc orchestra organized for the gala. In addition to his newly penned Fanfare, he also conducted a memorable account of Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Billy the Kid: Prairie Night and Celebration by Aaron Copland (1919-1990)
Using diplomatic occasions at home and abroad to express core national values, the President and Mrs. Kennedy celebrated American history, culture and achievement and enhanced and promoted the role of the arts in national life. As First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy planned elegant state occasions, transforming the White House into a showcase for culture. Authors, scientists, artists, musicians and actors mingled with politicians, diplomats and statesmen. In the East Room, she had a portable stage built for musical and dramatic performances, including a series of performances for young people.
On May 22, 1962 she invited the American Ballet Theatre to give a performance of Billy the Kid at a dinner for the President of the Ivory Coast. Representing some of the Kennedys’ favorite music, Billy the Kid (1938), is also one of composer Aaron Copland’s most successful ballets, and the one through which he seemed to truly find his compositional voice so widely recognized and revered today.
Selections from the Musical Camelot, by Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe
In 1960, a month after Kennedy was elected President of the United States, the musical Camelot opened on Broadway. Composed by lyricist, Alan J. Lerner and composer, Frederick Loewe, the musical is based on The Once and Future King, a book by British novelist Terence Hanbury White. Camelot retold the legendary story of King Arthur and the Round Table. Three years later, the slain president would be forever linked with Camelot.
The Song of the Birds by Pablo Casals (1876-1973)
On November 13, 1961, President and Mrs. Kennedy presented Spanish cellist, Pablo (Pau) Casals, in concert at the White House for the White House State Dinner honoring the Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Munoz Marin. This recital, while one of a vast number of music performances in the Kennedy White House, stands out in its stature because of the depth and importance of having Casals there. The great conductor, Giancarlo Menotti said that evening, “English royalty entertains movie stars. The President of the United States entertains artists.” Violinist, Alexander Schneider, and pianist, Mieczyslaw Horszowski joined Casals. This was one of the very few times that Casals agreed to play in a country that recognized fascist Spain, “to render the homage of great music to a world leader [he] admire[d].” One of the most amazing facts often overlooked in music history is that the famed cellist had performed in the White House once before: for President Theodore Roosevelt.
Present that evening in 1961 were Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, former President Harry Truman and wife Bess Truman, Konrad Adenauer, Dean Rusk, Aaron Copland, Alan Hovhaness, Leonard Bernstein, Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy. Casals and his colleagues played music by Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann, and for an encore the great cellist played a work of his own, The Song of the Birds.
Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat Major, Op. 55, “Eroica” by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) II. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
On Friday afternoon, November 22, 1963, Boston Symphony patrons had gathered at Symphony Hall for the Friday matinee performance of the music of Handel. Radio microphones captured an extraordinary moment in American history. Before the program began it had been reported that President Kennedy had been shot by a sniper while riding in a motorcade in Dallas. During the first half of the concert, fears were confirmed: Kennedy’s wounds were fatal. Monitoring news reports backstage at Symphony Hall, orchestra officials determined to continue the concert, but with a change in the program. Librarians pulled orchestral parts to Beethoven’s “Eroica” funeral march and brought them down to the stage door. Conductor Eric Leinsdorf relayed word to the audience, and led the BSO in a work in tribute to the nation’s fallen leader. This evening, in tribute to that poignant performance, we perform this movement from one of Beethoven’s most powerful and dramatic symphonies, written in 1804, his “Eroica.”
Irish Tune from County Derry (Danny Boy) by Percy Grainger (1882-1961)
Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar (1857-1934) IX. Nimrod
The “Nimrod” Variation from Elgar’s Enigma Variations is the only piece on tonight’s program without a direct tie to the Kennedys. It is, however, one of the most poignant and nostalgic pieces in the orchestral repertoire, and one often played for somber occasions. Elgar composed the set of fourteen variations between 1898-1899, dedicating the work to “my friends within.” Each variation is a musical portrait of one in the circle of his close acquaintances. “Nimrod” depicts Elgar’s friend Augustus J. Jaeger, who was a music editor for the London publisher, Novello & Co. The name of the variation refers to Nimrod, an Old Testament patriarch described as a “mighty hunter before the Lord,” and relates to the name Jäger, which is the German word for hunter.
“I Speak of Peace” (2013) by Adolphus Hailstork (b. 1941)
Commissioned by Bismarck State College for the 2013 Symposium: JFK: 50 Years Later
The piece “I Speak of Peace” is for soprano and treble choir (orig. children) and orchestra. It quotes and paraphrases the first part of the famous “peace speech” that President JFK gave on June 10, 1963. I focused on the loft and most poetic moments of the speech and not on the technical talk about the Soviet Union and nuclear weapons.
Since the speech took place a mere five months before his assassination, we, the listeners, have a unique perspective that colors our reaction today. Also, to have the children sing of the need for “safety” after Newtown, Connecticut, gives another special meaning to those words and to the setting of the piece as a whole.
The sixteenth century canon “Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant Us They Peace)” sung by the choir at a central point of the composition to me summarizes the cry of children throughout the world. At that point the soprano joins in singing “We cherish our children.” The piece is a memorial to JFK, but, more importantly, it is a call to conscience. The work of peace at all levels from school houses to national capitols must go on (“let us dream of peace”). –From the composer
America the Beautiful by Samuel A. Ward, arranged by Carmen Dragon
Eternal Father Strong to Save by J. B. Dykes, orchestrated by Arthur Luck
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