Feb. 13, 2014 -- February's Web Exclusives include March of the Month "The Mikado" by John Philip Sousa and the Featured Soloist is principal flute Master Gunnery Sgt. Betsy Hill and her performance of Concertino by Cécile Chaminade.
A composer of operettas as well as marches, Sousa admired the librettist and composer team of W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. As soon as their opera "The Mikado" opened in 1885, set in the Far East with characters bearing the names Yum Yum, Nanki Poo, and Pish Tush, it became wildly popular. In an interview with the New York Daily Tribune, Gilbert said:
"In May, 1884, it became necessary to decide upon a subject for the next Savoy opera. A Japanese executioner's sword hanging on the wall of my library ... suggested the broad idea upon which the libretto is based. A Japanese piece would afford opportunities for picturesque scenery and costumes, and, moreover, nothing of the kind had ever been attempted in England."
In an effort to capitalize on the success of "The Mikado," Sousa composed a march that featured a medley of melodies from the opera. The Marine Band, conducted by then-Director Colonel Timothy W. Foley, performed and recorded this version of the march on Jan. 20, 2002, at the Center for the Arts at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
Download "The Mikado"
The successful French pianist and composer Cécile Chaminade published roughly 400 works during her career and, at the height of her popularity, even had a perfume named after her. Many of her piano works and accompaniments were very accessible to aspiring musicians and audiences alike, and this led to impressive sales of her most popular works and successful concert tours of the United States during the early twentieth century. With the rise of Modernism in the late 1920s and 1930s, Chaminade's unparalleled success may have contributed to the notion that she was simply a composer of lighter salon music.
Despite varying opinions of the substance of her works, Chaminade composed many substantial works for larger ensembles, several of which continue to enjoy performances today. The Concertino, Opus 107 for flute and orchestra is among the most frequently heard, a work that is perhaps emblematic of both the praise and the criticism of her music.
Her Concertino was written in 1902 as a final examination and contest piece for the students of the Paris Conservatory. Compared to the progressive contest pieces by other French composers of the period, the work is more conservative. However, Chaminade's unique gift for unforgettable melodies is readily apparent and has made the Concertino a staple of the flute repertoire for more than 100 years.
The Marine Band, conducted by Director Colonel Michael J. Colburn, performed and recorded Concertino on the 2012 national concert tour to the northeast.