Monday, May 30, 2016

Borodin, Polovtsian Dance No. 17 (1897)

Music was only a hobby for Alexander Borodin, a Russian physician and chemist who worked tirelessly for women’s rights. In addition to the great music he composed, his legacy includes a School of Medicine for Women, which he established in St. Petersburg in 1872. What a guy! Make sure you stay with this video beyond the beautiful opening themes and don’t miss all the fun that begins at 4:06.


Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Sommernachtskonzert

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Couperin, The Mysterious Barricades (1717) – Guitar

François Couperin was the most famous member of a family that dominated French music throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Between 1713 and 1730 he published 230 pieces for harpsichord that he had composed and organized into 27 ordres or "suites." Each ordre was a series of dances that Couperin identified with a descriptive name, such as The Little Windmills or The Knitters. Embedded below is one of my favorites from Couperin's ordres for harpsichord, The Mysterious Barricades, adapted beautifully by Michael Chapdelaine for steel guitar. (Chapdelaine is a National Fingerstyle Champion and Professor of Guitar at the University of New Mexico, giving me yet another reason to be proud of my home state.)


Michael Chapdelaine, steel string guitar


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Amy Beach: The Only Woman on Boston's Hatch Shell

Historians know the story well — the opportunities of an intelligent, talented woman are restricted by a culture that sees women only as wives and mothers. The musical careers of Nannerl Mozart and Fanny Mendelssohn were never allowed to develop, although both may have been as talented as their famous brothers. Alma Schindler ended her possible career as a composer the day her husband Gustav told her the Mahler family could only contain one composer.

Amy Beach (1867-1944) was a talented musician who confronted the same cultural restrictions as many women who came before her. Amy, however, was unwilling to accept the barriers imposed by the man’s world of composing and performing music, and her determination to overcome cultural restrictions led her to became one of the greatest and most significant musicians in American history.

Born Amy Cheney, she was a child prodigy whose parents opted not to enroll her in a music conservatory. Instead, she studied with private teachers and debuted as a concert pianist to great acclaim when she was only sixteen. By any standard Amy would have been headed for a successful career as a concert pianist — if she had been a man.

When she was eighteen she married Henry Beach, a Boston surgeon who was twenty-four years older. Dr. Beach told Amy to abandon her public performances, and at first she obeyed his wishes. Her creative spirit, however, could not be crushed, and she taught herself musical composition and orchestration. If her husband would not allow her to perform in public, she would at least be able to compose at home. In the process, she became a charter member of the first generation of American composers.

Amy was a product of the Romantic era’s desire to create music with a national sound. She therefore looked to her Irish roots for thematic material and created a sound that was uniquely Irish-American. In 1896, when the Boston Symphony Orchestra played her Symphony in E Minor (the "Gaelic" Symphony) she became the first American woman to compose music performed by a major orchestra. The symphony, characterized by its Irish-American themes, placed Amy in the first rank of American composers.

After her husband died in 1910, she returned to performing in public and toured Europe, playing her own compositions. In her later years she continued to compose and worked hard to promote the careers of young composers. She died of heart disease at the age of seventy-seven.

On July 9, 2000, Amy's name was added to the granite wall on Boston’s famous Hatch Shell, joining eighty-six other great composers. To this day, Amy Beach is the only woman listed on the wall with such composers as Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy.

Amy Beach, Theme and Variations for Flute and Strings



© 2012 James L. Smith

Monday, May 23, 2016

Haydn, Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major, Third Movement (1796)

Musicians playing the valveless trumpets of the eighteenth century were limited to playing notes from a harmonic series and were generally unable, except in higher registers, to provide satisfying melodic lines. However, new developments in the construction of trumpets during the late 1700s allowed the instruments to deliver satisfying melodies in all registers. Anton Weidinger, a trumpet virtuoso in the Vienna Court Orchestra, played a significant role in developing a five-keyed trumpet and then asked Joseph Haydn to compose a concerto for the new instrument. The Concerto in E-flat Major came from that request. 

A lesson for Tyros — a “concerto” provides audiences with a solo instrument accompanied by an orchestra. In the video below Haydn’s orchestral accompaniment has been scored for piano.


Markus Würsch, keyed trumpet; Peter Solomon, fortepiano

Friday, May 20, 2016

Separating the Composer from the Music

I often play Death and Transfiguration by Richard Strauss in my music history classes, using it to demonstrate the characteristics of romanticism and define the concept of a tone poem. It’s a piece of music that my students — whether they are teenagers or adults — seem to enjoy. 

How could they not enjoy it? In portraying the transfiguration of a human soul and the metaphorical “white light” that comes after death, it provides orchestral music that might best be described as “spiritual.” It’s guaranteed to raise a few goose bumps and moisten the eyes.

In any case, one of my students recently pointed out that before anyone became too enamored with Strauss's music they should know he cooperated with German Nazis in the 1930s. He dined with Adolf Hitler, socialized with Nazi officials, and served as president of the Reich Music Chamber. Strauss’s defenders point out that he was a reluctant Nazi who was generally apolitical and did not share the Nazi Party’s most disgraceful ideas. In 1935 he was even forced to resign from the Reich Music Chamber for his lack of Aryan loyalty. This defense does little to mollify the victims of Nazism. 

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
And Strauss was not the only notable composer guilty of objectionable behavior or beliefs. Beethoven’s deranged behavior drove his nephew to attempt suicide. Berlioz attempted to kill the fiancé of his lover. Saint-Saëns enjoyed the companionship of adolescent males and reportedly said, “I am not a homosexual, I am a pederast.”

Fortunately, none of these personal transgressions appear in the music these composers created. Their music has brought beauty and inspiration to generations of concert goers. People’s lives have been transformed by listening to their compositions.

And then there’s Richard Wagner — what a lousy, no good human being. He was greedy and ruthless. He ran from debts and had affairs with his friends' wives. He was racist and viciously anti-Semitic. He regarded himself as a god and once said, “I am not made like other people. I must have brilliance and beauty and light. The world owes me what I need.” 

Despite his shameful legacy as a human being Wagner’s music dramas are  filled with messages of the redemptive power of love. His work has moved music lovers to believe in the possibility of personal transformation through love and the purity of the human heart.

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
So what should I make of all this? Should I never again listen to or enjoy the music of  Strauss or Wagner? Should I quit playing music by Saint-Saëns, the pederast, in my music history classes? Should I enjoy works of art created by such misguided, unpleasant, and sometimes evil human beings? 

If I decided not to listen to their music, I would only be denying myself some of the greatest music ever composed. And where would I draw the line? Should I abandon Brahms due to his habitual transactions with prostitutes? Should I not be inspired by the Beatles’s recording of “All You Need is Love” because John Lennon mocked people with physical disabilities? Should I avoid music (or any other art) created by someone whose personal behavior or philosophy I find despicable? 

I think not. Life is short, and I see no profit in denying myself great music because the person who created it was vile or corrupt. Music not only helps me make it through the day, it sometimes serves as my only salvation during those inevitable dark nights of the soul. If I require my composers to be good and decent human beings, I’m not left with much, if any music, to serve my needs. I must accept that some composers are flawed, imperfect, and sometimes odious creatures who nevertheless can create works of exquisite beauty. 

This Sunday (May 22) is Wagner’s 203rd birthday, and I have no desire to commemorate the memory of that loathsome man. I will, however, spend time on the day after his birthday listening to the Overture to Tannhäuser and Isolde’s “Love-Death” from Tristan and Isolde. No doubt I will enjoy the music, even if it was composed by an abhorrent human being.


Tannhäuser, Overture (Zubin Mehta conducting the New York Philharmonic)


Tristan and Isolde, "Love-Death" (Waltraud Meier under the direction of Daniel Barenboim at Scala Milan)





© 2011 James L. Smith  (originally posted on SonataForm.blogspot.com)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Barber, Adagio for Strings – Quartet (1938)

Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings has been labeled “the saddest music ever written,” gaining status in the United States as the unofficial anthem of national mourning. During times of collective tragedy — such as the assassination of John Kennedy or the attacks of September 11 — Adagio Strings will certainly make an appearance. It has also been used with tragic effect in numerous films, such as The Elephant Man and Platoon. Although the Adagio is traditionally performed by string orchestra, Barber originally composed it as the second movement of his String Quartet, Op. 11. The version embedded below is from the original version for string quartet.





Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Alive Inside: The Power of Music

"The imagining of music, even in relatively nonmusical people, tends to be remarkably faithful not only to the tune and feeling of the original but its pitch and tempo. Underlying this is the extraordinary tenacity of musical memory, so that much of what is heard during one’s early years may be ‘engraved’ on the brain for the rest of one’s life."
– Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

As a follow-up to a blog I posted two days ago titled "Music and the Doctrine of Ethos," I have embedded two film clips below that show how powerfully the memory of music is imprinted in our minds.

The first clip shows an old man named Henry reacting to music from his past. Henry is an Alzheimer’s patient who has spent over ten years in a nursing home. He is depressed and normally unresponsive when people speak to him. He comes alive, however, when listening to music. As seen in the film, music has the power to liberate Henry's memories more than any other form of therapy.

The clip I have embedded comes from Alive Inside, a documentary about the power of music and the social worker who uses it to help patients with dementia and Alzheimer's.

Man in Nursing Home Reacts to Music


“[Music] gives me the feeling of love, romance! … The Lord came to me and he made me a holy man, so he gave me these sounds.” – Henry

The second film clip comes from ABC’s Nightline and shows U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords finding her voice through music. In January 2011, Giffords was shot in an assassination attempt. Although the bullet passed through her head, she has recovered some of her ability to walk, speak, read, and write. She owes her life and partial recovery to many talented doctors and physical therapists. I have embedded this clip to show how music therapy was a large part of her recovery.

Gabby Giffords Finds Her Voice Through Music


2500 years ago the Greeks believed that the right kind of music had the power to heal the sick and shape personal character in positive ways. In modern times the doctrine of ethos seems to have modern science on its side.





© 2012 James L. Smith

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048 (1721)

“I love the Brandenburg Concertos and think they are so rhythmic, and so full of life, and so related in a way to jazz.” – Dave Brubeck, 2007

1st and 2nd Movements (2nd Movement begins at 5:53 – a short movement)


3rd Movement

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra

Monday, May 16, 2016

Music and the Doctrine of Ethos

Music has the power to magnify emotions.

Notice how music is used in films to exaggerate the drama, horror, or comedy in a story. It might be tragic enough to see an innocent child die in a film, but if the death is accompanied by the right music, the film can make you sob until you are honking like a goose.

A belief of the ancient Greeks held that music had a magical power to speak directly to human emotion. In what has come to be known as the doctrine of ethos, the Greeks believed that the right kind of music had the power to heal the sick and shape personal character in a positive way. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that when music was designed to imitate a certain emotion, a person listening to the music would have that emotion.

"We accept the division of melodies proposed by certain philosophers into ethical melodies, melodies of action, and passionate or inspiring melodies, each having, as they say, a mode corresponding to it". 
– Aristotle, Politics,  Bk 8, Pt 7

In Aristotle’s mind, someone listening to the wrong type of music would become the wrong type of person. Certain instruments and modes would take one toward either the logos (rational) or pathos (emotional), and it was essential to raise children with the right kind of music.

"Shall we argue that music conduces to virtue, on the ground that it can form our minds and habituate us to true pleasures as our bodies are made by gymnastics to be of a certain character?" 
– Aristotle, Politics, Bk. 8, Pt. 5

In a similar manner, many people in modern times believe music can be used to help educate children and promote good health.

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music can be used to "promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication, and promote physical rehabilitation."

In an article posted on the Huffington Post," Therese J. Borchard, who is the author of the Beyond Blue column, writes that music can be used as therapy. “Everything with a beat moves my spirit,” writes Ms. Borchard. “I can't get enough of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, because I think so much better when these guys are playing in the background.”

I recommend reading what Ms. Borchard has written and then listen to the pieces I have embedded below to get a sense of what she is saying. Both pieces are referenced by Ms. Bochard in her article “Music Therapy: Got the Blues? Play Them."

Whether we call it music therapy or the doctrine of ethos, the concept is simple to grasp. At its best, music has the potential to affect our emotions so deeply that it can cleanse our soul and connect us with something that might only be described as “spiritual.”

Sarah Brightman singing “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera

Rachmaninoff, Prelude in C-sharp minor (Ruslan Sviridov, piano)


© 2012 James L. Smith

Friday, May 13, 2016

Mozart, Clarinet Concerto, Second Movement (1791)

This clarinet concerto was the last significant work Mozart finished before his death in December 1791. London’s Classic FM audience recently ranked the concerto at #8 in it’s 2015 Hall of Fame poll for favorite pieces of classical music. 


Martin Fröst, clarinet (Christoph Poppen conducting the German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mascagni, Cavalleria Rusticana, Intermezzo (1890)

Here’s a wonderful performance of one of classical music’s most beautiful pieces of music. Mascagni inserted this interlude into his opera Cavallaria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) to denote the passage of time. If it sounds familiar, you may have heard it in the film Raging Bull. (The music begins at 0:40 after much encouragement from the audience for an encore.) 


Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Gothenburg Symphony

Monday, May 9, 2016

Paganini, Caprice No. 24 (1809)

The legend of Niccolò Paganini includes a story that his mother made a pact with the devil and traded his soul for musical virtuosity. Not true, of course. Like most great musicians, Paganini was probably just born with some natural talent and then worked like a dog to develop that talent.



Sunday, May 8, 2016

Falla, Fire Dance (1915)

This piece is taken from Manuel de Falla’s ballet El Amor brujo (The Bewitched Love). During the ballet, the ritual fire dance is performed by gypsies to help a widow exorcise the ghost of her dead husband. Originally composed for a small ensemble of winds and strings, this version is performed by a dozen cellos.


Crocellomania directed by Valter Dešpalj

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Brahms and Tchaikovsky: A Lesson for All of Us

Two icons of classical music were born on May 7 — Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).
In addition to sharing a birthdate, Brahms and Tchaikovsky shared a traditionalist approach to composing music that had their contemporaries placing them on the same side during the Romantic “wars” of the late 1800s. They were both viewed by their defenders as standing in opposition to the "art of the future" coming from Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner.

Brahms and Tchaikovsky were also united by history in offering a lesson in how to separate "the person" from "the work." Although Brahms and Tchaikovsky had much in common as composers and liked each other personally, neither one liked the music of the other.

Tchaikovsky, especially, seemed to detest the music that Brahms composed.

“The other day I played over the music of that scoundrel Brahms. What a giftless bastard! It irritates me that this self-inflated mediocrity is hailed as a genius.... Brahms is a chaos of utterly empty dried-up tripe.” (1866)

“Brahms is a celebrity; I’m a nobody. And yet, without false modesty, I tell you that I consider myself superior to Brahms. So what would I say to him: If I’m an honest and truthful person, then I would have to tell him this: ‘Herr Brahms! I consider you to be a very untalented person, full of pretensions but utterly devoid of creative inspiration. I rate you very poorly and indeed I simply look down upon you.'" (1878)

Brahms' view of Tchaikovsky’s music was not as vitriolic, but was nevertheless critical. Brahms disliked Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite No. 1, except the first movement. History also provides a story stemming from Brahms’ attendance of a dress rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony that, if true, provides evidence of Brahms’ indifference to Tchaikovsky’s music. According to legend, Brahms slept through the entire rehearsal. Legend or not (it may have been nothing more than a symptom of Brahms’ sleep apnea), it is true that Brahms later told Tchaikovsky he did not like the symphony.

In spite of these differences both men seemed to enjoy the company of the other.

Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky
They met only twice. The first time was in January 1888 when Tchaikovsky was on a tour of western Europe and attended a rehearsal of Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 3 in Leipzig. Tchaikovsky expected to meet a “conceited” celebrity, a man who was certain to behave with pomposity and arrogance. Instead, Brahms treated Tchaikovsky with warmth and kindness. In a letter to his publisher, Tchaikovsky expressed genuine admiration for Brahms, admiration that may have been enhanced by the alcohol they shared at a party after the rehearsal.

“I’ve been on the booze with Brahms. He is tremendously nice — not at all proud as I’d expected, but remarkably straightforward and entirely without arrogance. He has a very cheerful disposition, and I must say that the hours I spent in his company have left me with nothing but the pleasantest memories."

They met again the following year in Hamburg when Tchaikovsky toured western Europe a second time. After a rehearsal of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, the same rehearsal that may have put Brahms to sleep, the two men shared a meal. As they sat together, Brahms provided harsh criticism of the finale of Tchaikovsky’s symphony. In turn, Tchaikovsky confessed his aversion to Brahms’ compositional style. In spite of the mutually disparaging remarks, the two men seemed to have enjoyed each other’s company and parted as friends. Tchaikovsky even invited Brahms to visit him in Russia, a trip Brahms was never able to make. 

Johannes Brahms
The same lesson can be found in looking at the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two men who were hostile political opponents in the early years of United States history. Twice they ran against each other for president in bitterly contested elections, with Adams winning in 1796 and Jefferson in 1800. After Jefferson’s presidency ended, however, the two began a written correspondence in which they demonstrated a genuine admiration for each other in spite of their political and philosophical differences.

As a U.S. history teacher, I often used the Adams-Jefferson story to demonstrate how political and philosophical differences do not require us to demonize our opponents. It’s possible, as I liked to tell students, not to sanction the product of someone’s public work and yet still enjoy their company socially — to like them as a person. I suppose the opposite is also true. We might approve of someone’s public work but not like them as a person.

Brahms and Tchaikovsky can be used to teach the same lesson.

Adams and Jefferson both died on the same day — July 4, 1826. Brahms and Tchaikovsky were both born on the same date — May 7. The stories of both friendships can by used as lessons in how human beings might live together, and even like each other, in spite of their differences.



Brahms, Symphony No. 1, Simon Rattle conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker



Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 4, Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony



© 2011 James L. Smith 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Scriabin, The Poem of Ecstasy (1908)

Kirill Petrenko, a 44-year-old Russian-Austrian conductor, was recently named chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the world’s great orchestras. Petrenko will replace Sir Simon Rattle, who has served as principal conductor since 2002. Rattle will leave the Berlin Philharmonic in August 2018. 


Kirill Petrenko conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in 2012

Thursday, May 5, 2016

An Illustrated History of Music

There's an old saying that talking about music is like dancing about architecture, which makes me wonder whether the person who first said it (the original source is unknown) ever considered using drawings to "talk" about music.

Take a look at the seven-minute video below and see how illustrations can serve as an introduction to music history. (A little better than dancing about architecture, I'd say.)

I'm amazed at how many styles of music and significant composers the video found time to include.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Feeling a Teacher's Influence after 70 Years

In 1980, I interviewed Bryan "Skipper" Hall, a man who had spent fifty years as a Methodist minister in New Mexico. He was eighty-three years old and willing to talk openly and honestly about his life and religious philosophy. Like almost anyone his age, he had endured tragedies throughout his life. Even so, he radiated an infectious optimism that I found inspiring. To this day, he is one of the most thoughtful and philosophically mature people I have met.

At the time of the interview I was a young man facing many crossroads. I was struggling through my first year of teaching high school and beginning work on a graduate degree. I was also two months away from getting married — to Skipper's granddaughter. I went into the interview with Skipper figuring it would make a good oral history project for my masters in history. I left having learned invaluable lessons about how to live a good life, lessons that have remained with me to this day. I also learned an unforgettable lesson about the importance of teaching that has carried me through an almost forty-year career in education.

In 1974, Skipper's home, one that he and his family had built with their own hands, was destroyed in a forest fire. Skipper and his wife lost virtually everything they owned. When Skipper talked to me about the tragedy he expressed little sentimentality and kept his emotions about the awful loss under control. Life goes on, I suppose.

Five years after the fire, one year before my interview with Skipper, his wife passed away, ending a long struggle with ill health and suffering. Only two months later his son was tragically killed in an automobile accident — a horrific event for Skipper. During the interview he spoke to me about the recent loss of his wife and son in a matter-of-fact way, keeping his emotions in check. I never sensed he was apathetic or unfeeling. On the contrary, I sensed deep emotional pain tempered by a rational understanding of how the universe works. Again, life goes on.

During the ten hours I spent interviewing Skipper, he provided only one moment of uncontrollable emotion. He wept openly when talking about a teacher he had not seen for seventy years, a teacher who had tried to keep him from dropping out of school. While talking about the teacher his voice broke, and he could not continue speaking. 

"I had a teacher named Morton and she was one of the best teachers I ever had. She was the only one I remember by name. She begged me not to leave school; in fact, she cried about it. Later in life I tried to find her, I wrote back to San Angelo but they couldn’t locate her.… I tried to find her to tell her I went back to school, but I couldn’t find her." 

His memory got the better of him when he told me the story. He lost his composure and motioned for me to turn off the tape recorder. He needed a moment to wipe his tears and get control of himself.

Bryan “Skipper” Hall
SMU Student Body President, 1925-1926
All teachers should know that story. They should know that in the midst of all their hard work and frustration — during the dark days when they doubt whether they can even remain in the classroom — they can think about Skipper Hall and the teacher who touched him so deeply. Skipper's story should give teachers a broader sense of the importance of their work and the tremendous influence they can have on students. 

If you are a teacher, just think how seventy years from now — in the year 2086 — some elderly person who has already lived a productive and inspiring life might be thinking fondly of you and how you affected them. It's a humbling (and sometimes terrifying) thought.

Skipper Hall taught me that the power of teaching works in mysterious ways, reaching across generations with wisdom, hope, and inspiration.Teaching is, indeed, a noble profession.





© 2012 James L. Smith

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Hamilton Mixtape

I first played "The Hamilton Mixtape" for teachers at my AP summer institutes last July before Hamilton had opened on Broadway. Who could have known at that time that Ron Chernow's great biography of Alexander Hamilton would become such a hit as a musical? With the 16 Tony nominations it earned today, Hamilton broke a record for the most nominations in the 70-year history of the Antoinette Perry Awards. (Prince had called Hamilton the "best history class ever.") All honor to Lin-Manuel Miranda who wrote the music, lyrics, and book for the show. I've embedded a video of Lin-Manuel performing "The Hamilton Mixtape" at the White House in 2009, six years before Hamilton hit Broadway. Lin-Manuel was performing for a White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word.





Monday, May 2, 2016

Bach, Organ Fugue in C minor, BWV 546 (c. 1717)

For the  students in the WILL program at WNMU who attended my recent class on Bach, here's the latest animated graphical score based on Bach's music from Stephen Malinowski and his Music Animation Machine.



Sunday, May 1, 2016

George Washington, the Enlightenment, and the Creation of the United States

"I am sure the mass of citizens in these United States mean well, and I firmly believe they will always act well, whenever they can obtain a right understanding of matters.” – George Washington, 1796 

At 6’2” and 210 pounds, George Washington was a muscular and athletic man who dominated every room he entered. He was a natural leader, and for the last 45 years of his life he found himself at the center of almost every significant event leading to the creation of a new nation — a nation proclaiming a belief in the rights and happiness of its people. As a man of the Enlightenment, Washington led a revolution against the Old World and its appalling superstitions, religious bigotry, and intolerance. 

My presentation for AP U.S. history teachers, titled “George Washington, the Enlightenment, and the Creation of a New Nation,” demonstrates how teachers can frame historical events from 1754-1799 around the life of George Washington. In my opinion, it’s difficult (and almost impossible) to understand the creation of our nation without examining Washington’s remarkable life, a life that ended with a final revolutionary act — the emancipation of his own slaves in his Last Will and Testament. 

This bust of Washington was created from a life mask made in 1785 by the sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. It’s an image of Washington in his early fifties that has been described as one of the most accurate depictions of him in any work of art.