John Williams, the composer known around the world for his scores on films such as Star Wars, Schindler’s List, the first three Harry Potter films, and many more, has teamed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to bring the epic biopic of the sixteenth president a masterful and memorable score.
The main theme, “The People’s House,” is a light and gentle piece relying on woodwinds, violins, and piano to evoke the gentleness of Lincoln’s personality, before shifting to reflect the bright light of hope that shone on the horizon for the United States at the dawn of 1865 – when Union armies in the field were slowly seizing victory after victory from Confederate Armies.
Throughout the score, Williams has evoked motifs and rhythms from popular music of the Civil War era, including brief recalls of the 1862 Stephen Foster song “Was my Brother in the Battle?” in “The People’s House.”
No track, however, harkens to the Civil War more than 7, “Call to Muster and Battle Cry.” With a rattle of snare drums, the cheery whistle of a fife, and a marching cadence, the Chicago Symphony Chorus joins in a spirited rendition of George F. Root’s classic “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” a popular marching song of the Union Army.
Track 8, “The Southern Delegation and the Dream,” seems to hinge on one of the film’s main plot points – a summit between President Lincoln and the Vice President of the Confederate States, Alexander Stephens. The Hampton Rhodes Conference, as it was called, was a reunion of old friends – Lincoln and Stephens had been friends in Congress before the war. It lasted four hours and achieved nothing.
The second half of the track is a much darker and moody theme. Its name, “The Dream,” is telling. It is recalled by Lincoln’s close friend, Ward Hill Lamon, that Lincoln had a dream which predicted his assassination. Lamon quoted Lincoln:
“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers, ‘The President,’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.”
Could the name of this track mean that we will get to see Lincoln’s dream play out in real-time on the screen?
Another track, “Remembering Willie,” implies that Abraham and Mary Lincoln share an emotional scene in which they mourn the loss of their son, Willie Lincoln, who died in 1862.
“Appomattox, April 9, 1865” is the name of track 15. With Joseph Gordon Levitt cast as Robert Lincoln and Jared Harris as General Grant, it seems likely that this track will play under a scene featuring the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox, Virginia.
The very next track is named “The Petersen House and Finale.” The house, owned by William Petersen, was where Lincoln was taken to die after being shot in Ford’s Theater by Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.
A final track, “With Malice Towards None (Piano Solo),” appears to be the song which will play over the credits at some point. It’s interesting to note that the melody is highly reminiscent of one of Lincoln’s favorite songs, “For the Dear Old Flag I Die,” which tells of a drummer boy who died at the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg.