“The Invincible Eagle” (1901)
Blanche Duffield, soprano of the Sousa Band in 1901, witnessed the creation of this march, and she provided this rare description of Sousa composing:
It was [on] a train between Buffalo and New York. Outside the coach the lights of towns along the route flashed by like ghosts fluttering at the window panes.The night was dark and the few stars above twinkled fitfully. Mr. Sousa sat in his chair in the dimly lit Pullman. At the further end of the car a porter diligently brushed cushions. At intervals the engine whistled as if in pain.
Suddenly and without previous warning Mr. Sousa began to describe circles in the air with a pencil, jerking back and forth in his seat meanwhile. Gradually the circumference of his pencil’s arcs diminished and Mr. Sousa drew a notebook from his pocket, still humming to himself. Notebook and pencil met. Breves and semi-breves appeared on the page’s virgin surface. Quarter notes and sixteenth notes followed in orderly array. Meanwhile Mr. Sousa furrowed his brow and from his pursed lips came a stirring air—rather a martial blare, as if hidden trombones, tubas, and saxophones were striving to gain utterance. Now Mr. Sousa’s pencil traveled faster and faster, and page after page of the notebook were turned back, each filled with martial bars. [I] looked on from over the top of a magazine and listened with enthusiasm as Mr. Sousa’s famous march, “The Invincible Eagle,” took form.
I tried to attract Mr. Sousa’s attention while he was supplying the accompaniment of flutes, oboes, bassoons and piccolos, but it was not until he had picked out the march on a violin on his fingers, put his notebook in his pocket, his [imaginary] violin in his case and his cigar back in his mouth that he finally turned toward me and casually remarked that it was a very dark night outside.”
The march was dedicated to the Pan-American Exposition, held in Buffalo in the summer of 1901. It outlived a march entitled “The Electric Century” by Sousa’s rival, Francesco Fanciulli, whose band also played at the Exposition. At first Sousa thought “The Invincible Eagle” would surpass “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as a patriotic march, although he nearly entitled it “Spirit of Niagara.”
Paul E. Bierley, The Works of John Philip Sousa (Westerville, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1984), 43. Used by permission.