22 March 2007

Longfellow Bicentennial Concert, 25 March

On Sunday afternoon, 25 March, there will be a free concert at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s birth in 1807.

Longfellow was the most popular American writer in the world in the late 1800s. Because so many American schoolkids memorized and recited his poetry, and because he wrote rhyming, metrical, and often narrative verse that went out of fashion in the early 1900s, people started to associate his work with children. There have been some excellent picture-book editions of his poems while some of his longer and more mature work faded.

Long out of favor, Longfellow now seems to be gaining a bit more respect from the academic world, especially because his interests dovetail with two current broad concerns:

  • internationalism: Longfellow was a professor of languages, a translator, a traveler, and a correspondent and champion of poets around the globe.
  • multiculturalism: For his time Longfellow was unusually interested in minority cultures within the US, researching and writing poems about Acadians, Ojibway, Jews, and African-Americans. (Longfellow supported Abolutionism while his father-in-law, who paid for his mansion in Cambridge, was a major textile mill-owner, making family discussion of the issue somewhat awkward.)
This concert, in the same site as a centennial celebration of Longfellow one hundred years ago, will feature:
  • The Boston Landmarks Orchestra, under Charles Ansbacher, performing musical works Longfellow enjoyed and Julian Wachner’s musical setting of “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”
  • Christopher Lydon, host of the WGBH radio discussion show Open Source, as master of ceremonies
  • Matthew Pearl, author of the historical crime novel The Dante Club, featuring Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Lovell, and other Boston literary figures
  • David Connor in the role of Paul Revere
  • Baritone Brett Johnson performing “A Psalm of Life”
  • A local children’s chorus singing a setting of Longfellow’s poem “Snowflakes”
This free family concert starts at 2:00, with the theater open at 1:30. Seating is not reserved.

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