If you are one of the 14 million people who watched the acclaimed PBS series "The Civil War" every night for a week this past September, you don't need to be reminded how important the music was in contributing mood and texture. The music was carefully chosen; only contemporary compositions were selected, and many were played on period instruments.
Now some of that music has been compiled into a soundtrack recording that is a choice collection of Americana."As best we could," said "Civil War" producer Ken Burns, "we have told the story of the war in the voices of the men and women who actually lived it. . . . It is our belief that, so far as possible, the documents of the past must be allowed to speak for themselves."
The same could be said for the music. These are the tunes that were played by the marching bands and dance orchestras, that were sung in homes and churches. These are the sounds of the times - the marching songs, the laments, the love songs and the stirring patriotic tunes that were an integral part of life.
Among the well-known songs featured are "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," "Battle Cry of Freedom," "Dixie" and "Marching Through Georgia."
Others may be less familiar: "Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier," "All Quiet on the Potomac," and "Palmyra Schottische."
The theme to the series, the hauntingly evocative "Ashokan Farewell," opens and closes the 28-track recording.
Several tunes are repeated in different forms, and help to tell another aspect of the story. For example, the first time we hear "Dixie," it is a jolly, upbeat version that conjures up visions of rowdy soldiers marching off to an adventure. The war has taken its toll by the time we hear "Dixie" again; this time it is a solemn guitar solo.
The songs are mostly instrumentals, played by brass bands or with piano, guitar and fiddle. There is also some recorder, banjo and mandolin. And even some euphonium is worked in.
A quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes on the "incommunicable experience of war" sets the stage for the music, and a love letter from a Union soldier to his wife serves as the finale - a touching, telling end to the musical experience.
This is a recording that stands on its own as a collection of Americana - even if you didn't watch the series, you can enjoy this bit of musical history - but it also captures the soul of what was "the most horrible, necessary, intimate, acrimonious, mean-spirited and heroic conflict the nation has known."