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Ernst Bacon

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Ford’s Theatre: A Few Glimpses of Easter Week, 1865 (1943)
G Schirmer Inc
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
29 Minutes
Programme Note
Ernst Bacon Ford’s Theatre: A Few Glimpses of Easter Week, 1865 (1943)
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
   Passing Troops
   Pennsylvania Avenue, April 9, 1865
   The Telegraph Fugue
   Good Friday 1865
   Moonlight on the Savannah
   The Long Rain
   The Theater

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.

The Ford's Theater Suite obviously has to do with the profound and dramatic issues connected with Lincoln's death. This is a theme which has attracted more than one composer, but none, in my experience, has handled it with anything like the conviction, originality and depth of meaning displayed in Bacon's score.
Alfred Frankenstein, San Francisco Chronicle (1949),01/01/0001
The Suite is one of those compositions which are marvels of logic, remaining on an easily understandable plane.
J. Dorsey Callaghan, The Detroit Free Press (1948),01/01/0001
The work presented in concert version, is in 12 short movements and was intended to accompany stage action portraying events leading up to Lincoln's assassination in Ford's Theater. It's in the finest traditions of modern "program" music — comparable to Prokofieff's score for Alexander Nevsky and Walton's score for the Olivier Hamlet.
Harvey Taylor, The Detroit Times (1948),01/01/0001
FORD'S an utterly inventive, superbly orchestrated series of romances, laments, marches, etc., including a terrific 'Telegraph Fugue' and a go at 'When Johnny comes Marching Home' that surpasses even Gould's famous AMERICAN SALUTE.
American Record Guide (2009),01/01/0001
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