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Tag Archives: 1880s

On this July 1, 2014, America stands divided politically after some contentious Supreme Court business, and yet we are united in our support of Team USA at the World Cup against Belgium this afternoon.  America is also united in looking forward to a nice, long, Fourth of July weekend coming up.  I can think of no better time to explore our unofficial national hymn, America the Beautiful.

The hymn really has two authors.  Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929) wrote the words, inspired by a visit to Pikes Peak in Colorado and other western vistas.  She was a distinguished professor of English at Wellesley College in Massachusetts who agitated for American involvement in the League of Nations and lived with a female partner for 25 years.  Her poem, originally entitled simply America, was published on July 4th, 1895.  Samuel Augustus Ward (1847-1903) wrote the tune, which he called Materna, in 1882.  He was a church organist in New Jersey and the last descendent in a long line of Samuel Wards that started with a Rhode Island governor and Continental Congress delegate.  Ward and Bates would never meet.  Their works were not combined until a 1910 publication, 7 years after Ward’s death, presented them in the form that is still familiar today.

There are few things more American than Mormons, so here is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with a very straight-ahead version of the hymn:

Gospel is certainly among the most uniquely American of musical genres.  Here is one of America’s greats, Ray Charles (who, it should be noted, could never behold the beauty of America himself) in 1972 with a truly heartfelt rendition.  Note that he starts with the third verse (see below), which seems to contain a call for putting country before self:

Of the many arrangements of America the Beautiful that exist for band, Carmen Dragon‘s is by far the most epic.  Dragon (1914-1984) was a conductor, composer, and arranger whose work included numerous film scores, a long engagement with the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra, and a long-running classical music radio show on the Armed Forces Network.  He unleashes the full color palate of the band and pushes the harmonic language as far as is possible in a traditional tune.  Here is his arrangement as performed by the US Navy Band, featuring the Sea Chanters Chorus:

Bates’s poem (presented here in its 1913 revision) captures the glory of the American landscape while calling for goodness, unity, and brotherhood from its people.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Washington, D.C. native and legendary bandmaster John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) wrote a dozen operettas, six full-length operas, and over 100 marches, earning the title “March King”.  He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at an early age and went on to become the conductor of the President’s Own United States Marine Band at age 26.  In 1892 he formed “Sousa and his Band”, which toured the United States and the world under his directorship for the next forty years to great acclaim.  Not only was Sousa’s band hugely popular, but it also exposed audiences all over the world to the latest, cutting-edge music, bringing excerpts of Wagner’s Parsifal to New York a decade before the Metropolitan Opera staged it, and introducing ragtime to Europe, helping to spark many a composer’s interest in American music.

Sousa wrote The Thunderer in 1889.  The origin of its title is unclear.  According to Marcus Neiman, the march was dedicated to Sousa’s Masonic organization, so it may have some connection to part of the Masonic symbolism or a person within the organization.  The title may also refer to the thunderous trumpet and drum parts in the first half of the march.   Whatever the case may be, it has stood the test of time as one of Sousa’s most accessible, easily playable marches.  For more, look at Wikipedia, Answers.com, and the Band Music PDF Library (which also has a full set of performable parts.)  You can get even more free editions of The Thunderer at IMSLP.

Read more about the Sousa Band and its history at naxosdirect.com. Click the link that says “Read more about this recording.”

Sousa shrine – including biography, complete works, and much more – at the Dallas Wind Symphony website.

John Philip Sousa on Wikipedia

The Thunderer in a modern performance by the US Marine Band:

And again by Sousa himself and the US Marine Band in a vintage 1890 recording:

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) was a nationalist Russian composer and master orchestrator famous for symphonic works like Scheherazade and Capriccio Espagnol.  He was born into a family with a history of military service in which he eventually followed.  He started piano lessons at age 6 and composition at 10. Around the time of his graduation from military school, he met Mily Balakirev, who introduced him to fellow young composers César Cui and Modest Mussorgsky, heightening Rimsky-Korsakov’s interest in a composition career.  Eventually, with the addition of Alexander Borodin, these composers would call themselves The Five and advocate for a specifically Russian approach to composition.  Later in his career, Rimsky-Korsakov became the Inspector of Bands for the Russian Navy as well as a professor at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, which now bears his name.

Procession of the Nobles (Cortége) was written in 1889 as part of the opera-ballet Mlada.  Although it was originally begun in 1872 as a collaborative effort with three other composers, the initial project fell through.  Rimsky-Korsakov completed it himself  nearly 20 years later.  I defer now to Eric Bromberger’s excellent program note for the Los Angeles Philharmonic:

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada, first produced in 1892, almost defies the effort to describe it. In form it is half-opera and half-ballet, and its libretto is unbelievably complex, even by the standards of opera librettos. Set a thousand years ago in an imaginary kingdom called Retra on the shores of the Baltic, Mlada tries to fuse Wagnerian opera with ancient Russian legend, and the result is an absolutely fantastic story. Princess Mlada, a role that is danced rather than sung, has been murdered by her rival Voyslava, who sets out to secure the love of Yaromir, Mlada’s lover. The story involves magic, evil spirits, and trips into the underworld, and at the climax an entire village is submerged by an overflowing lake and Yaromir and Mlada are seen ascending on a rainbow.

Mlada has not held the stage, and the only familiar music from it is the Procession of the Nobles, the orchestral introduction to Act II, which begins with a festival of tradespeople. The music bursts to life with a rousing brass flourish, soon followed by the processional music, a noble tune for strings in E-flat major. This is music of color and energy, and in the opera it is punctuated by shouts from the crowd at the festival. A central section just as vigorous as the opening leads to a return of the march tune and a rousing close.

Rimsky-Korsakov made an orchestral suite from the opera, of which Procession of the Nobles is the final movement.  You can see the full score here.  Also, there is another great program note from the University of Wisconsin bands.

Here is the standard band transcription, arranged by Erik Leidzen:

And now the original orchestral version:

There is also a very nice version for young band arranged by Jay Bocook:

Want to read a biography of Rimsky-Korsakov on the Internet?  You have a lot of options!  Try Wikipedia, allmusic, ClassicalNet, and Encyclopedia Britannica.  Also check out his collected works on IMSLP.

I conducted this at my very first concert with the Columbia University Wind Ensemble in 2002.  It was then conducted by Ena Shin at our joint concerts with the Yale Concert Band in 2007.  This summer (2013) Bill Tonissen will conduct it with the Columbia Summer Winds.

The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E-flat Major, Op. 42, more conventionally known as the 1812 Overture, may be one of the most recognized pieces of Western art music.  Tchaikovsky wrote it in 1880 on a commission for performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.  It was intended to be part of a festival to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1812 Battle of Borodino, in which Russian forces turned back Napolean’s invading Grande Armee outside Moscow.  This was an utterly improbable victory: the French forces were well-trained, battle-hardened, and large, numbering around 150,000. They had state-of-the-art artillery, and they had never lost a battle.  The Russians had no hope of matching them on any level.   However, the French were exhausted from a long campaign, while the Russians had their people from which to draw reserves.  Both sides suffered heavy casualties during the battle, but the French ultimately felt their losses more profoundly.  The Russians, though, were forced to retreat from Moscow.  Yet in doing so, they burned a large portion of the city, denying the French quarter in the cold.  A deep freeze set in, which froze much of the French artillery to the ground.  At this point, the Russians were able to force a retreat of the exhausted French forces, turning their own artillery against them.  Only about 23,000 Frenchmen made it back across the Russian border.

The 1812 Overture portrays the events in and around that battle.  It opens with a hymn based on the Russian Orthodox Troparion of the Holy Cross as the Russian people, hearing of the impending invasion, pray for deliverance.  Tense preparations for battle follow.  The French can be heard approaching to the tune of La Marseillaise, which grows ever more prominent as they gain the upper hand in battle.  A folk dance (“At the gate, at my gate”) comes in, depicting the Tsar appealing to his people to join the cause.  The battle continues with the French still dominating, followed by more appeals to the people.  With Moscow burning, the tide finally turns as the opening hymn returns punctuated by icy woodwind scales, heralding divine intervention by deep freeze in the Russians’ favor.  The famous finale features scored cannon shots and clanging bells, meant to reflect the Russian appropriation of the French artillery and the celebratory ringing of church bells at the conclusion of the battle.

Tchaikovsky was a rather miserable fellow, and that is evident in his feelings about this piece, which he saw as little more than a vapid propaganda exercise.  There are some truly choice quotes in this discussion of his correspondence relating to the 1812 Overture.  My favorite: “It is impossible to set about without repugnance such music which is destined for the glorification of something that, in essence, delights me not at all.”

Here’s a rousing recording, complete with pealing bells and roaring cannons at the end:

1812 Overture on Wikipedia, the Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra, classical.net, and the Hollywood Bowl.

A nice article from 2003 about how this Russian overture became an American 4th of July tradition.

Tchaikovsky info on DSO Kids, wikipedia, and Tchaikovsky Research.

The 1812 Overture has inspired countless pop culture responses.  Here are just a few:

Vodafone made an ad in which they used 1000 cellphones to recreate the finale of 1812.

An online game in which you fire cannonballs at the conductor.

A Subway commercial uses the finale music to good comic effect.

In case you were wondering, I do not endorse any of the stuff in these commercials.

CFW Band directors: printable parts for this march are available here at no charge!

Washington, D.C. native and legendary bandmaster John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) wrote a dozen operettas, six full-length operas, and over 100 marches, earning the title “March King”.  He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at an early age and went on to become the conductor of the President’s Own Marine Band at age 26.  In 1892 he formed “Sousa and his Band”, which toured the United States and the world under his directorship for the next forty years to great acclaim.  Not only was Sousa’s band hugely popular, but it also exposed audiences all over the world to the latest, cutting-edge music, bringing excerpts of Wagner’s Parsifal to New York a decade before the Metropolitan Opera staged it, and introducing ragtime to Europe, helping to spark many a composer’s interest in American music.

Marcus L. Neiman of the Band Music PDF Library says of Washington Post March:

During the 1880’s, several Washington, DC, newspapers competed vigorously for public favor. One of those, the Washington Post, organized what was known as the Washington Post Amateur Authors’ Association and sponsored an essay contest for school children. Frank Hatton and Beriah Wilkins, owners of the newspaper, asked Sousa, then leader of the Marine Band, to compose a march for the award ceremony.

The ceremony was held on the Smithsonian grounds on June 15, 1889. President Harrison and other dignitaries were among the huge crowd. When the new march was played by Sousa and the Marine Band, it was enthusiastically received, and within days it became exceptionally popular in Washington.

The march happened to be admirably suited to the two-step dance, which was just being introduced. A dancemaster’s organization adopted it at their yearly convention, and soon the march was vaulted into international fame. The two-step gradually replaced the waltz as a popular dance, and variations of the basic two-step insured the march’s popularity all through the 1890s, and into the 20th century. Sousa’s march became identified with the two-step, and it was as famous abroad as it was in The United States. In some European countries, all two-steps were called “Washington posts.” Pirated editions of the music appeared in many foreign countries. In Britain, for example, it was known by such names as “No Surrender” and “Washington Grays.”

Next to “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” “The Washington Post” has been Sousa’s most widely known march. He delighted in telling how he had heard it in so many different countries, played in so many different ways — and often accredited to native composers. It was a standard at Sousa Band performances and was often openly demanded when not scheduled for a program. It was painful for Sousa to relate that, like “Semper Fidelis” and other marches of that period, he received only $35 for it, while the publisher made a fortune. Of that sum, $25 was for a piano arrangement, $5 for a band arrangement, and $5 for an orchestra arrangement.

Today, at a community room in Washington, a spotlight illuminates a life-size color portrait of the black-bearded Sousa, resplendent in his scarlet Marine Band uniform. This is the John Philip Sousa Community Room in the Washington Post Building. It is the newspaper’s tribute to the man who first gave it worldwide fame.

Read more about the Sousa Band and its history at naxosdirect.com. Click the link that says “Read more about this recording.”

Sousa shrine – including biography, complete works, and much more – at the Dallas Wind Symphony website.

John Philip Sousa on Wikipedia

Washington Post is one of many Sousa marches (and other pieces by turn of the 19th-20th century composers) available at the Band Music PDF Library for free.  I encourage any enterprising band directors to take a look.

This is really how Washington Post ought to sound.  At the Festival of Winds, we will likely do it with a bit less dynamic nuance.

Still, Washington Post appears in many different incarnations, some more authentic than others.  Observe:

Sir Arthur Sullivan indeed composed the music that is in this piece.  However, he had been dead 50 years at the time of Pineapple Poll‘s genesis.  This idea came about in 1950 due to copyright law: Sullivan died in 1900, and so in 1950 his music became public domain.  However, Sir William Gilbert, his serpent-tongued lyricist partner, died several year later, so his portion of the famous Gilbert and Sullivan work was still under copyright.  This necessitated that any use of the Gilbert and Sullivan material be purely instrumental.  And so it was, in the form of the ballet Pineapple Poll.  Sir Charles Mackerras took pieces of the existing material wholesale and essentially stitched it together in different forms to create the ballet music.  To create a story for the ballet, choreographer John Cranko referred to Gilbert’s poem “The Bumboat Woman’s Story”, one of his early, satirical Bab Ballads.  In it, an old woman tells the story of falling in love with a sea captain, then dressing as a man to follow him to sea, only to find the rest of the crew had done exactly the same thing.  The band suite, arranged for wind instruments by W. J. Duthoit, appeared in 1952 as no. 768 in Chappell’s Army Journal, a serial subscription service for new band music.

Note: the “Poll” of the title is pronounced like the first syllable of the name “Polly”, for which it is short.  It is not like North Pole.

More on Gilbert & Sullivan at wikipedia.

The Gilbert & Sullivan Archive – a must-see for fans of the duo.

The Bumboat Woman’s Story in full, basis for Pineapple Poll‘s plot.

More information about the original ballet on wikipedia.

Now some videos.   First, the band suite in 2 parts as performed by Stetson University Symphonic Band:

Finally, a segment of the ballet which features some of the material that made it into the third movement of the band suite: