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Funeral March For Abraham Lincoln

This funeral march written by John Gross Barnard was performed by the United States Marine Band during the funeral procession from the Executive Mansion to the Capitol for Abraham Lincoln on April 19, 1865. Arranged by Jari Villanueva for Wind Band.

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April 19, 1865 was a warm cloudless day in Washington DC as the funeral of Abraham Lincoln took place in the East Room of the Executive Mansion. This was to be the third of sad services held there since the beginning of the Lincoln administration. The first, in 1861, memorialized 24-year-old Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, a friend of the family who was killed at the beginning of the war in Alexandria, Virginia. The second, in 1862, was a particularly heart-breaking service for the president’s 11-year-old son Willie. At noon 600 specially invited guests were present for the service and listened to Dr. Phineas D. Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, deliver the sermon. “He is dead; but the memory of his virtues, of his wise and patriotic counsels and labors, of his calm and steady faith in God lives, is precious, and will be a power for good in the country quite down to the end of time.”

Following the service twelve Veteran Reserve sergeants carried the casket to the waiting horse drawn hearse that would bear the remains to the US Capitol. It was to be the largest, most elaborate, procession ever held in Washington with military units, bands, clergy, congressional delegations, state officials, generals, and civilian mourners all moving to the slow steady pace of the funeral dirge.

Indeed, many would recall the sound of the muffled drums heard that day for years. Thousands who had been waiting since dawn lined the Pennsylvania Avenue and watched from seats in buildings. It is interesting to note that the scale of the procession would be almost equaled almost a century later when the remains of President John F. Kennedy were borne up the same avenue. Jacqueline Kennedy had requested the same type of funeral for her husband as had been held for the 16th president. We can all remember the sights and sounds that day in November, 1963 The procession started from the Executive Mansion at 2 pm and proceeded up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol amidst the tolling of bells and the firing of minute-guns.

Among the military units was the US Marine Band playing a funeral march written for the occasion by John Gross Barnard, a general who served as Chief Engineer of the Department of Washington from 1861 to 1864, and as Chief Engineer of the armies in the field from 1864 to 1865. He was a distinguished scientist, engineer, mathematician, historian, author and musician. The march is titled: “Funeral March in Memory of the Abraham Lincoln: Played at the Obsequies of the President of the United States by the US Marine Band.”

The funeral march follows the standard format of dirges of the time (most notable are Webster’s Funeral March, Chopin’s Funeral March and March in Saul by Handel) written in minor keys (considered somber) and divided into eight measure phrases which makes it easy for the funeral cadence to be played underneath. This funeral march, like most written during this time, has a transition to a major key (happier sounding). This march goes to the relative major (D minor to D major) key.

Since no parts are extant from the US Band, I was asked to score the march for a modern symphonic band. I hoped to capture the somber drum beat and employed a chime to replicate the bells that tolled along the funeral route. The procession arrived at the east side Capitol at 3 pm and the casket was taken up the steps into the Rotunda where Lincoln would lie in State until the early morning of the 21st when he would begin the long journey home by train.

“Bear him gently home”

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