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Classical 101

In Remembrance

Return to Camelot Music of the Kennedy White House
WOSU Public Media

"This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."

Leonard Bernstein, November 1963

Funeral Music

Sunday, November 24, 1963
A Tribute to John F. Kennedy from the Arts, a somber variety show featuring classical music and dramatic readings from the Bible and from Shakespeare airs. Host Fredric March recites the Gettysburg Address, Charlton Heston reads from the Psalms and from Robert Frost, and Marian Anderson sings Negro spirituals.

Monday, November 25
A National Day of Mourning: the ceremonial transfer of the president's coffin by caisson from the Capitol rotunda to St. Matthews Cathedral, where the funeral mass is celebrated by Richard Cardinal Cushing, and on across the Potomac River for burial at Arlington National Cemetery... a day filled with moving, solemn sounds including drums and bagpipes, horses' hooves, fighter planes flying overhead, and, at the burial at Arlington, the missed note of a bugle playing "Taps."

The Funeral
We have provided links below to several sites that carry music, histories, and other information about Kennedy's funeral.


Isaac Stern, Violinist 
Isaac Stern was in Dallas the day that his friend, President Kennedy, was assassinated. Sitting in a cafe at the Dallas airport, a devastated Stern and a friend downed a bottle of bourbon. Looking out the window, they could see Air Force One which would carry Kennedy's body back to Washington.

The next night, Stern was scheduled to play the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor with the San Antonio Symphony, but at the morning rehearsal he told the conductor that the piece seemed inappropriate.

The only thing he felt he could play was Bach. That night Stern quoted Augustine to the 4,000 people in attendance, stating that "he who sings prays twice," and insisting that they pray together by playing the "soul-cleansing" music of Bach.

Stern asked the audience not to applaud at the end. While playing the Bach "Chaconne," he wept uncontrollably. After he finished the piece, the audience remained silent. He put his violin back in its case, left the auditorium and flew back to New York.3

Igor Stravinsky, Composer 
On November 22,1963, Stravinsky received word in Catania, Italy, that the President had been assassinated. He and Robert Craft sat stunned by the radio most of the night.

By the next day, "black-bordered photographs of the late President [were] on walls all over the city, the flags on every public building [were] at half-mast, and the line of black, empty carrozze at the hack stand in front of the hotel looked more than ever like a funeral train."

On the day of the burial, Stravinsky conducted a performance at a Roman cathedral of his "Mass for Mixed Chorale" in memory of the President.4

Leonard Bernstein, Composer/Conductor 
Two days after the assassination, Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic in a nationally televised JFK memorial featuring Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony.

The following month, he dedicated his "Kaddish" Symphony to the memory of Kennedy, with its world premiere performance on December 12, 1963, in Tel Aviv, Israel. "We never really knew how different life was with Kennedy in the White House until it was over", Bernstein later commented.

Christopher Purdy, WOSU Producer 
Following the horrific events of September 11, 2001, Christopher Purdy reflected on Kennedy's death with friends.

"The recent events of September 11 have taken me back to the recording of Mozart's Requiem I grew up on. We have all been thinking of the world events which have changed us, which we will never forget.

Prior to this, it's the assassination of JFK in 1963 that baby boomers have remembered. I was in second grade but remember that day very well. Parents were waiting to take the kids home that Friday afternoon. Unusual, since most of us walked to school.

"When I got home from school that Friday afternoon I remember my parents in front of the old box of a black and white, with rabbit-ear antennae aimed at the ceiling. My mother had her rosary beads out and was already praying full speed: 'Jesus, Mary and Joseph.' The phone rang with aunts and uncles and sixth cousins from East Boston checking in.

"We only saw them at funerals, and their litany was well rehearsed: Everything from 'His poor mother and father' to 'Oh, my God! Those kids!' to the most repeated phrase (I remember this clearly) 'Look at Jackie, God love her. She didn't change her dress, poor soul!' It was later reported that Jackie refused to change, saying 'I want them to see what they've done.' The Kennedys were Royalty and not just in Boston.

"Last night I went rummaging for the recording of Mozart's Requiem Mass as performed by the Boston Symphony and the Chorus Pro Musica with the Harvard and Radcliffe Glee Clubs and the Seminarians of St. John's. This was recorded at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston on January 19, 1964.

"The full Requiem Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Cushing, with Mozart's music performed in context. Erich Leinsdorf conducted, and the Kennedy family attended. The ceremony was televised too, and you can bet that we all went to 7 a.m. mass on that Sunday to be home in time. The Mozart Requiem sang and thundered and begged and comforted.

"The soloists still evoke powerful memories for us: Sara Mae Endich, Robert Shaw's favorite soprano who sadly took her own life; Contralto Eunice Alberts; Lexington's (my hometown) own Mrs. Nicholson who sang with Callas in Chicago and was the first operatic voice I heard up close; Mac Morgan who chaired the voice department at Boston University when I was there and was a superb raconteur; and Nicholas DiVirgilio who had an important career in opera.

"Even if "the only song Jack knew was 'Hail to the Chief'" was true, I'll bet the country began healing to Mozart's music in this performance. Even though the TV lights made the Cathedral unbearably hot on that January day, the crowds came to see Jackie and Rose Kennedy, not to hear Mozart, and Cardinal Cushing, in Boston a legend as potent as JFK, typically sang the mass sounding like a vacuum cleaner choking on sand paper, healing still took place during that mass.

Kennedy's assassination is the first event I remember that stopped the country. His private life, if known, was not discussed, and I'll bet even then it wouldn't have mattered. The adults felt John Kennedy was leading us somewhere, somewhere new and fresh and better.

His picture went up on the walls next to the Sacred Heart and James Michael Curley (still known as "the Mayor" years after his death). We knew we'd never be the same again, just like today, September 11, we know we'll never be the same again. We knew we were vulnerable, that a symbol so important to so many had been destroyed in a few seconds. We knew we had to put differences aside and help each other. We just knew."

Discography of JFK Homages

Amram, David "Three Songs for America" (first song's text by John F. Kennedy) (1969), on An American Original. Newport Classic 85546

"Composed in memory of the three men from whose writings I chose the texts--John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy...These songs are an expression of my gratitude for the lives and labors of these wonderful people."

Barry, John "The Day the Earth Fell Silent," on The Beyondness of Things(1999). Decca 289 460 009-2

"The Beyondness of Things reflects a new and more personal direction, an inward, poetic voyage of discovery."

Bernstein, Leonard "Fanfare for JFK" (1961), on Twenty Fanfares for the Common Man. Koch 3-7012-2 H1

"Written for John F. Kennedy's Inauguration and first performed at the Inaugural Gala, conducted by the composer, on January 19, 1961."

Bernstein, Leonard "Kaddish" (Symphony No. 3) (1963), on Bernstein: Kaddish Symphony. Sony SMK 60595

"...it seems at once ironical and appropriate that Bernstein's "Kaddish", Symphony No. 3, composed in 1963 and based on the Jewish prayer for the dead, should be dedicated to the 'beloved memory' of John F. Kennedy."

Bernstein, Leonard "Mass" (1971), on Bernstein Century--Bernstein: Mass. Sony Classical 63089 

"Alan Titus (Baritone), Orchestra,  Norman Scribner Choir,  Berkshire Boys Choir. This performance was recorded in August, September, and October, 1971 at the John F. Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington D.C. and at Studio B, 49 East 52nd Street in New York City."

Daugherty, Michael "Jackie's Song (1995-96), on American Icons. Decca 289 458 145-2

"I imagine Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis... as a solitary and melancholy figure, after the assassination of her first husband John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1962. My composition is a song without words, for chamber ensemble and solo cello."

Gillis, Don " Requiem for a Hero," excerpt from Symphony "X" ("The Big D") (1967), on Don Gillis: Music Inspired by the American Southwest.Albany Records TROY391

"In its four movements, "The Big D" evokes some very specific images of the city of Dallas: "Requiem for a Hero" [is about] remembering JFK's assassination."

Harris, Roy "Epilogue to Profiles in Courage - J.F.K." (1964), on Roy Harris Symphonies Nos. 7 and 9. Naxos 8.559050

"...a fully characteristic and appropriate response. Elegiac and impassioned strings, reinforced by brass and capped by tubular bells, set the mood of the piece and the commemorative purpose...the work closes quietly, with a sense of calm remembrance."

Howells, Herbert "Take Him, Earth, For Cherishing" (1963): 
on English Choral Music: Howells - Requiem. Naxos 8.554659

"In 1963 Howells... was commissioned to write a motet to be sung at the memorial service [for Kennedy] in Washington Cathedral... the result... is quite simply one of the finest choral motets of the twentieth century."

on Howells: Requiem, Etc; Vaughan Williams: Mass In G / Best.Hyperion 66076

on The St. Paul's Service. Hyperion CDA66260

"Recorded in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, on 8,9,10 June 1987."

McKinley, William Thomas Dallas: 1963 (1995), on MMC 2073

"for baritone and orchestra... an intensely dramatic retelling of, and a lament for, the assassination of John F. Kennedy."

Russo, William "America 1966, Op. 48" (2nd movement: John F. Kennedy) (1966)

Sampson, David "Hommage JFK" (1995), on Monument. Summit DCD 237

"...commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts... the music reflects these two elements: vitality and sudden loss."

Sessions, Roger "Sonata for Piano No. 3 'Kennedy'":
on Complete Works for Solo Piano. Koch 3-7106-2H1

"The concluding movement was written in memory of John F. Kennedy. It is a dirge, music of profound sorrow and tenderness, with an outcry as its central climax."

on In Memoriam J.F.K. Doron Music 3002

"Performer: William Grant Naboré (Piano)"

on Sessions: Sonatas For Piano No 2 & 3; Martino: Fantasies. New World Records 80546

"Performer: Robert Helps (Piano)

Stravinsky, Igor "Elegy for J.F.K." (1964), on The Essential Igor Stravinsky. Sony 9699-89910-2

"Stravinsky and his wife Vera had dined at the White House in 1962 ("Nice kids," the 80-year old composer observed of the Kennedys as he left the executive mansion.) and he shared in the general mourning that followed the assassination in Dallas."

Various Blues Artists Can't Keep From Crying: Topical Blues on the Death of President Kennedy (1994), Testament B000003OQR

"This CD is a unique document of precisely what John F. Kennedy meant to so many, and why he continues to inspire admiration."

3 ("Stern Reflects on His Life in Music" by David Kaplan, Rice News Staff, November 11, 1999.)

4 ("Stravinsky, Chronicle of a Friendship" by Robert Craft)