The moment when President John F. Kennedy’s assassination was announced, the entire country—if not much of the world—came to a standstill. What happened during the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s (BSO) concert that Friday afternoon in 1963 has become one of the country’s most poignant historical moments. It was broadcast by WGBH Radio, and the recording has now been inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
About 25 minutes into the concert, at the conclusion of Handel’s Concerto Grosso in B-flat major, the performance came to an eerie pause and a hush filled the hall. Conductor Erich Leinsdorf turned to the audience — in itself a highly unusual occurrence — and shared the shocking news of JFK’s death. The quiet was replaced with gasps and cries.
“We will play the funeral march from Beethoven’s Third Symphony,” he said, as sheet music was hurriedly distributed to the musicians. The 15-minute funeral march for a native son, who had attended many concerts in that very hall, was punctuated by sobs and cries from the audience.
The next day, The Boston Globe reported, “The ‘Eroica’ marcia funebre (Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3) is one of the great moments in music. The dread beat of the march cannot be disguised. Yet there is a middle section of the movement, a time of incredible energy and involvement, somehow, or so it seemed Friday, expressing eternal hope.”
The three-minute recording of the BSO’s impromptu performance, one of 20 to be inducted into the Library of Congress from among 800 nominees, is held by WGBH in its archives. This commendation embodies the longstanding bond between WGBH and the BSO; WGBH made its broadcast debut with a BSO concert in 1951 and has broadcast the concerts regularly ever since. Currently, 99.5 WCRB Classical Radio Boston at WGBH is broadcasting “BSO Encores Nightly @8,” a virtual community of concerts performed at Symphony Hall, following BSO performance cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Such recognition from the Library of Congress affirms the importance of preserving this kind of media content,” says Karen Cariani, David O. Ives Executive Director of WGBH’s Media Library and Archives. “WGBH has been on the frontlines of history for nearly seven decades, documenting and safeguarding our collective cultural heritage.”
Musical recordings from Fred Rogers, whose show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a mainstay on WGBH 2, were also inducted to the registry.