In addition to Valentine’s Day, one of the fixtures of the February calendar is President’s Day and the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Copland’s masterwork of musical Americana was one of several musical “portraits” of famous Americans commissioned by prominent conductor André Kostelanetz. It took Copland a while to find his famous American.
Jerome Kern had already snagged Mark Twain, and Copland briefly considered Walt Whitman, but finally settled on the famous president. A little over a decade after the piece premiered in 1942, the political climate in America had undergone significant changes. A smear campaign was directed at Copland for his leftist sympathies, a result of which was the removal of a performance of “A Lincoln Portrait” from the program of a concert celebrating the election of Dwight Eisenhower.