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Piano Transcriptions from Ken Burns' 'The Civil War' Soundtrack

Piano Lessons in Brighton, Music Teachers in Brighton and Hove

The Civil War is a documentary film created by Ken Burns about the American Civil War. Approximately 40 million viewers watched it during its initial broadcast, making it the most-watched program ever to air on PBS. It was subsequently awarded more than 40 major television and film honors. The nation was captivated by the film, drawing praise from many critics.


My first experience of this documentary was as I unknowingly listened to the soundtrack as a child on long car journeys with my Grandfather. Twenty years later, having redicovered the cassette tape, I reconnected with this beautiful collection of 19th century songs. I was particularly struck by Jacqueline Schwab's piano arrangements. Indeed, her performances were praised at the time. Musicologist Alexander Klein wrote:


           "Upon watching the full documentary, one is immediately struck by the lyricism of Schwab’s playing and, more importantly, her exceptional arranging skills. What had been originally rousing and at times bellicose songs such as the southern “Bonnie Blue Flag” or the northern “Battle Cry of Freedom” now suddenly sounded like heart-warming, lyrical melodies due to Schwab’s interpretations. The pianist not only changed the songs’ original mood but also allowed herself some harmonic liberties so as to make these century-old marching tunes into piano lamentations that contemporary audiences could fully identify with".


To my disappointment, I could find no sheet music and almost no videos of any of the arrangements. I therefore took it upon myself to make my own transcriptions. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I enjoyed transcribing them. 


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