Aural Icons and Social Outcasts

Beethoven, Lincoln, and “His Master’s Voice”


As conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra in the early decades of the twentieth century, Walter Damrosch gave a series of radio broadcast children’s concerts in which he used an analogy between Lincoln and Beethoven as a pedagogical device for interpreting the symphony for an audience of young schoolchildren. The story of Beethoven’s dedicating the Eroica Symphony to Napoleon, then changing his mind, and the famous “fate” theme of the Fifth Symphony appear throughout the literature on the music curriculum. Weaving the themes of moral suffering, creation, freedom, and sacrifice around visual images of Beethoven and Lincoln1 marshaled the kind of attention that made classical a patriotic exercise.2 Lincoln’s oratory and Beethoven’s deafness connected miraculous speech to hearing and both to grand sacrifice. Speech and music were linked their portraits to imaginaries of a united nation and cultivated public. In the post-Civil War era, oratory interlaced familiar notions of citizenly worthiness and whiteness that would command the airwaves of home and school a few decades later.3


African American Student School Lunch Program Music Lesson Music Teacher Unfinished Work 
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© Ruth Gustafson 2009

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