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Francesco Fanciulli
Marine Band Director / Leader Francesco Fanciulli

The following is excerpted from an article written by Frank J. Cipolla and printed in the February 1979 edition of the Instrumentalist:

Born in Porto San Stefano near Rome in 1853, Fanciulli’s early life included a musical education at the Conservatory of Music in Florence, touring Italy as a cornet virtuoso, and becoming known as a young opera conductor and composer. In 1876, at age twenty-four, Fanciulli came to the United States, establishing himself in New York City as a church organist and voice teacher. On the trip to this country he composed The Voyage of Columbus which the leading American bandmaster Patrick Gilmore later described as “the greatest piece of descriptive music ever written.” Fanciulli had a flair for writing music of this type, much of which was written expressly for the Gilmore Band. For example, following Gilmore’s European tour of 1878, Fanciulli wrote Gilmore’s Band Tour in Europe, a symphonic poem blending the national airs and musical styles of the various countries visited on the tour. A Trip to Manhattan Beach musically describes a day’s visit to that famous Coney Island resort where the Gilmore Band held forth for so many seasons. A Trip to Mars, From Italy to America, and Our National Patrol were also performed repeatedly by the Gilmore Band. As a result of the esteemed position and popularity of that organization, Fanciulli’s name and music became widely known.

For the next several years Fanciulli directed the Mozart Musical Union, an amateur orchestra association in New York. In the summer of 1892 at the suggestion of Patrick Gilmore, Fanciulli changed positions and became successor to John Philip Sousa as director of the United States Marine Band.

The next five years brought him his greatest successes as well as the lowest point in his musical career. In assuming the Marine Band directorship, Fanciulli placed himself in a very difficult position. John Philip Sousa was extremely popular, so his successor, although treated cordially, was not easily accepted and had to prove himself to a skeptical Washington society. Fanciulli’s natural unassuming manner and personal dignity were soon recognized and within the first month of assuming his new post, the Washington Star printed a lengthy feature detailing a visit to a rehearsal with most favorable remarks about him both personally and as a conductor. The first official concert of the Marine Band under Fanciulli’s direction was January 20, 1893. The Washington Post, the next day, had this to say:

“…the new leader [of the U.S. Marine Band] is a thorough and cultivated musician and a very worthy successor of the popular Sousa…Signor Fanciulli is a master of his profession, and it is safe to assert that never has the band done more artistic and perfect work…Every number was a gem…”

Perhaps the turning point in Fanciulli’s overcoming the Washington popularity of Sousa happened in February, 1893. The Marine Band was in competition with the Sousa Band to provide the music for the inauguration of President Grover Cleveland. Tradition and “The President’s Own” finally won out, but one can imagine there must have been considerable sentiment and support to bring Sousa back to Washington for such and important occasion.

Fanciulli’s own popularity grew steadily and his concerts were attended by ever increasing audiences. He continued to compose, writing a number of marches for band. Among these were the Grand March Inaugural for the Cleveland inauguration and The Evening Star March dedicated to the Washington Star. The height of Fanciulli’s popularity came the following November when he was honored by a musical testimonial of appreciation attended by an audience of 3,000. It was a memorable night and after all the speeches, music and applause, Fanciulli acknowledged that it was the proudest moment of his life.

Fanciulli’s Marine Band career came to a sudden halt only months later through an unfortunate Memorial Day Parade incident. Considerable coverage was given to the incident by the press beginning that evening in the Washington Star:

“There was but one unpleasant incident connected with today’s parade, and that resulted in the technical arrest of Prof. F. Fanciulli, leader of the Marine Band, which band headed the line and subsequently took part in the ceremonies at Arlington. It occurred while the line was forming on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue, and the band stood at the rest just above Willard’s Hotel awaiting the signal to start. The arrest was due to a disagreement between Prof. Fanciulli and Lieut. T.L. Draper of the United States Marine Corps, commanding the Marine contingent of the parade, concerning the character of the music furnished.

“It appears that Lieut. Draper was not entirely satisfied with the marches played by the band on the way from the barracks to the starting point, and that he had taken occasion to suggest the playing of ‘El Capitan.’ He subsequently said he didn’t care anything about who composed the music, but he did want the band to play marches as would enable the troops to make a better appearance on parade.

“Hence it was that when the organization was about to start off at the head of the procession, Lieut. Draper stepped up to Prof. Fanciulli and suggested that he order the band to play a march with a ‘full swing’ to it. The professor did not take this suggestion at all in good part and told the officer that he ‘would play what he saw fit,’ adding that while he was ready to play whenever and wherever he was ordered, he reserved the right to select the music himself. The conversation, which began quietly, soon assumed a more serious phase.

“ ‘You’ll play what I order you to play,’ exclaimed Lieut. Draper to Prof. Fanciulli. The latter again disputed the right of Lieut. Draper to interfere with what he considered his own special province, with the result that the Lieutenant ordered him to return at once to the Marine Barracks and report himself under arrest to the officer in charge.”

The Washington Post of June 1st and 2nd carried essentially the same facts with a few added details. For example, the marches that had been played up to the point of the argument were:" Old Hickory" (Fanciulli), "Semper Fidelis" (Sousa), "Naval Rendezvous" (Fanciulli), "El Capitan" (Sousa), and "National Recorder" (Fanciulli)…As the Court of Inquiry went on it was obvious that the incident was being treated as a grave breach of discipline, but even so, the final verdict of guilty with recommendation for dishonorable discharge came as a severe shock to most people. Fortunately, the ruling was set aside by the Acting Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt as being too harsh and Fanciulli continued as leader of the band. However, the following November when his five-year enlistment was up, Fanciulli was not accepted for re-enlistment for it was felt that Marine Corps discipline might suffer were he to be reappointed. He left Washington and as he said in a letter to the Post, “to begin again from the bottom.”


Hume, Paul. “Marine Band Center of Strife 55 Years Ago When Leader was Arrested on the Avenue. “ Washington Post, June 1, 1952, p. 40.

Lovallo, Lee. “A Brief Study of the Life and Works of Francesco Fanciulli.” Buffalo, N.Y., 1974. (typescript).

New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, Library and Museum of the Performing Arts, Americana Collection. Francesco Fanciulli, Scrap-books of Clippings and Manuscripts.

Proctor, John Clagett. “Marine Band History and Its Leaders.” Washington Star, May 8, 1932, pp. 6-7.