A Kennedy Portrait (Contextures III)

for Narrator and Orchestra

William Kraft

Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

When Ben Zander contacted me to discuss the possibility of my composing a musical portrait of John F. Kennedy, I was immediately very excited by the idea, since Kennedy had such a profound effect on me, as he did on so many others.

The quotations used in this piece fall into four loosely defined areas, each separated by an orchestral interlude:

I. Brief introductory quotes expressing Kennedy?s vision of America ? its position and relationship to humanity.
II. Kennedy?s belief in the arts ? their significance and relevance to the nation?s well-being; also, the effect of the arts on America?s place in history.
III. Social justice and Kennedy?s view of liberty and democracy.
IV. Brief concluding remarks taken from the speech Kennedy was to deliver in November 22, 1963.

The words which introduce each area are my own, the opening stemming from something Ben Zander had said at our initial meeting.

Musically, it was impossible for me to ignore Copland?s ?Lincoln Portrait,? nor would I necessarily want to, for it is a wonderfully effective work that I have long loved and respected and one which has such a fine ?American? feel to it.

Fortunately, two intervals characteristic of Copland?s ?American? style, the major 2nd and the perfect 5th, are common to the mode I have used since 1980 to effect my own style. Thus, heavier emphasis was applied to these intervals than found otherwise in my music.

Certain metaphorical references are involved.

At times the major 2nd is used linearly and ascending to suggest We Shall Overcome, so clearly associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights campaign. When the 2nd is set rhythmically (i.e. long, short, long) it refers to a brief but poignant motive in Mahler?s Symphony No. 9 (1908), a work foreshadowing cataclysmic events and contemplating the evanescence of earthly life.
Most significant is the prominent incorporation of a colonial song, Jefferson and Liberty, paraphrased later as Lincoln and Liberty.

A Kennedy Portrait is subtitled ?Contextures III? because of its relationship to Contextures: Riots ? Decade ?60 and Contextures II: The Final Beast, a piece opposing war and its atrocities.

To me, and of course many others, the profoundly tragic trilogy of assassinations ? John and Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ? are tantamount to the assassination of the nation, for no one has more clearly epitomized the necessary concern for humanity with the courage and vision to implement that concern regardless of the potential consequences.

If I have done anything to breathe a new life into the words, thoughts and image of John F. Kennedy, I am grateful, and I am to Ben Zander, Charles Kelley, and the Boston Philharmonic for giving me the opportunity to, at least, try.

A Kennedy Portrait is dedicated to Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.

Available on Rental

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and Charles J. Kelley, to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Composition Date 1988
Duration 00:18:00
Orchestration 3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3(B.Cl.) 3 - 4 3 3 1; Timp. 3Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str.
Premiere 19th November, 1988. John Shea, Narrator, Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Benjamin Zander.

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