Monday, February 17, 2014

More about Abraham Lincoln

Today, Presidents Day, calls Abraham Lincoln to my mind. Here is a story not included in the major biographies.  Lincoln loved to listen to music and visited the opera when performed in Washington.  He is known to have attended nineteen operas during his short presidency.  He was particularly fond of the great soprano Adelina Patti.  (Verdi said of Patti's lyrical voice that she was a "stupendous artist".)  In 1862 he invited the 20 year old  Patti  to the White House where she was cordially greeted by both the Prersident and Mrs. Lincoln who was still in deep mourning over the death of their son Willie. Invited to sing, Patti offered a few arias from popular operas, and then, accompanying herself on the piano, she sang "The Last Rose of Summer".  This traditional Irish melody is featured in Friedrich Von Flotow"s comic opera "Martha" in which Patti would perform that evening. The Lincoln's were visibly moved by the song. The President, who kept his eyes shaded by his had, asked her to sing "Home, Sweet Home".  Neither the Spanish born Patti, nor her accompanist knew the song.  The President went to a small stand at the foot of the piano where there was a song book, already opened to "Home, Sweet Home".  Patti took the music and sang, as requested. In her own words, "Well, I sang the song the very best I could do it". The Lincoln's wept openly.  Patti went on to sing the song often.  There is a recording made in 1905 when she was 62 years old.  It is not hard to put yourself in the room with the Lincolns, removed from the trials of the war, mourning the loss of their child, letting the sweet ballad wash over them.

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