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“I have dared to say that a Sousa march is as good as a Beethoven symphony.” Arthur Fiedler, Boston Pops Conductor 1930-80
The U.S. Marine Band released Volume 3 of The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa on Dec. 12, 2016, in conjunction with its performances at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago. Volume 3 covers marches composed from 1889-1898, a very prolific and profitable period for the March King. It was also about this time that his royal sobriquet was coined. In his autobiography “Marching Along,” he wrote, “Some obscure brass-band journal, published in England, declared that America was entitled to the palm for the best military marches, and cited among the composers in America, who were doing good work in that line, Graffula, Downing, Reeves, Messud, Brooks, and Sousa. The article continued, ‘The last named, who, we understand, is conductor of the Government band at Washington, is entitled to the name of ‘March King’ quite as much as Strauss is to that of ‘Waltz King.’…The title has remained with me ever since.”
The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa is a multi-year recording project with an added bonus educational element. In addition to the recorded marches to download and listen to, users will also be able to download for free full scores, parts, scrolling videos, historical notes, and performance practices for each march. Marine Band Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig and Music Production Chief Master Gunnery Sgt. Donald Patterson edited and annotated each score, and Lt. Col. Fettig rehearsed and recorded the band in each selection. The culmination is now three volumes of freshly restored Sousa marches that are available to educators, community bands, and fans alike. The musical decisions included in these editions were influenced by the work of several outstanding Sousa scholars combined with many decades of Marine Band performance tradition. These editions would not be possible without the exceptional contributions to the study of Sousa’s marches by Capt. Frank Byrne (USMC, ret.), Jonathan Elkus, Col. Timothy Foley (USMC, ret.), Loras Schissel, Dr. Patrick Warfield, and “The March King’s” biographer, the late Paul Bierley.
“Volume 3 is the heart and soul of Sousa’s work,” Fettig said. “Many of these marches are his best and most enduring and pure gems for the listener. Sousa really hit his stride during this period and incorporated different styles into his marches, to include bugle strains, patrols, and medleys from his own operettas. The sheer number of masterpieces is remarkable, and I think his newfound celebrity status during this time can be attributed in many ways to his experiences as a bandmaster for ‘The President’s Own.’”
Those who dig deep into the performance practice notes will notice that there are a number of recommendations and suggestions from Frank Simon. Simon was a Sousa Band assistant director and solo cornet player who went on to teach at the University of Arizona and Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and served as president of the American Bandmasters Association. Sousa biographer Paul Bierley interviewed Simon for his books, so Simon’s recollections of performing for and with Sousa have become integral to the Complete Marches project.
Volume 2 of the Complete Marches concluded with the first of four marches Sousa wrote in 1889. Volume 3 picks up with the other three: “The Quilting Party,” “The Washington Post,” and “The Thunderer.” Sousa had a knack for weaving together popular tunes of the day into his marches. “The Quilting Party” (1889) march was a “mashup” of the well-known “Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party” tune with Gilbert and Sullivan’s “When a Wooer Goes a-Wooing” from Yeomen of the Guard. Sousa Scholar Jonathan Elkus further notes that “The Quilting Party,” like so much of Sousa’s concert music but unlike most of his marches, tells a story: a young man goes to Aunt Dinah’s quilting party to woo Nellie, his lady friend. He dances with her there and afterward sees her home.
“The Washington Post” at one time was danced to more than it was marched to. In the late 1800s The Washington Post was just one of four newspapers in the District of Columbia vying for readers. But in January 1889 owner and founder Stilson Hutchins sold the newspaper to Washington insiders Beriah Wilkins and Frank Hatton. In an effort to boost readership they created The Washington Post’s Amateur Author Association, which was open to all school-aged children in the city. The Association sought to encourage the study and practice of writing, and membership required that students submit an application through their teachers. When all was said and done, nearly 22,000 kids applied, giving Wilkins and Hatton access to thousands of families—and potential new customers.
By the deadline, about 1,500 Association members submitted essays. Local teachers helped whittle down the list of contenders. The committee of final judges, which included Frederick Douglass, would announce 11 winners in a gala ceremony on the Smithsonian grounds attended by President Benjamin Harrison, his cabinet, the finalists, and their families. The medals would be awarded by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Samuel F. Miller.
In the meantime, while walking down the street Hatton ran into a fellow member of the Gridiron Club, John Philip Sousa. He told Sousa about the contest and award ceremony and asked if he would be willing to compose some music for the occasion. Sousa obliged with a march, which he and the Marine Band premièred at the ceremony on June 15, 1889.
The march’s release coincided with the emergence of a dance called the “two-step,” which was quickly becoming a “dance craze.” The 6/8 time signature of “The Washington Post” march lent itself to the two-step better than anything else at the time. As the dance took off around the world, it took the march with it. According to Sousa scholar Bierley in his book, “The Works of John Philip Sousa,” “When two-steps were danced in Europe, they were called ‘Washington Posts.’ Pirated editions of the music appeared in many foreign countries … [Sousa] delighted in telling how he had heard it in so many different countries, played in so many ways—and often accredited to native composers.”
Bierley also suggested that the inspiration for Sousa’s “Thunderer” was more than likely a fellow Mason, but unnamed in his research. In 1886 Sousa was initiated as a member of the Columbia Commandery No. 2, Knights Templar, of Washington, D.C. “The Thunderer” march was composed and dedicated to these Masons on the occasion of the 24th Triennial Conclave of the Grand Encampment in October 1889. According to Sousa’s daughter Helen, “The Thunderer” was a favorite of Sousa’s biggest fan—his wife Jennie.
The year 1890 brought three more marches: “Corcoran Cadets,” “The Loyal Legion,” and “High School Cadets.” Bierley explained in his book, “The Works of John Philip Sousa,” that the Corcoran Cadet drill team had a band of their own. “Although it is not recorded, they probably made a formal request for this march,” he wrote. “Sousa’s affirmative response, ‘to the officers and men of the Corcoran Cadets,’ was no doubt tendered by an earlier association with William W. Corcoran, for whom the Cadets were named. It was he who nearly changed American musical history by considering Sousa for a musical education in Europe. Sousa had declined this opportunity, and the march was probably a belated expression of appreciation.”
“The Loyal Legion” was written in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, an organization made up of American Civil War officers and their descendants. Bierley’s research revealed that the anniversary celebration was held in Philadelphia on April 15-16, 1890, and the U.S. Marine Band was ordered by Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Tracy to participate.
The unexpected fame of “High School Cadets,” as well as later marches “The Belle of Chicago” (1892) and “The Beau Ideal” (1893) is best explained by Sousa himself, in “Marching Along:”
At this time the march which rivaled in popularity the far-flung Washington Post was The High School Cadets. I had written it for a company of high school cadet students in Washington and they had paid me twenty-five dollars for the dedication. At that time I had no adequate idea of the value of my compositions, and sold Semper Fidelis, The Picador, The Crusader, The Washington Post, High School Cadets, and several others, under a contract with Harry Coleman, the music publisher, in Philadelphia, for thirty-five dollars apiece…I had understood from [manager] Mr. Blakely that he would undertake the publication of my compositions, since he had a large printing establishment in Chicago, so my first piece written after I went with Blakely was offered to him. This was the well known Belle of Chicago March. Blakely rejected it and when I questioned his decision, he wrote me: “My dear Sousa, a man usually makes one hit in his life. You have made two, The Washington Post, and The High School Cadets. It is not reasonable to expect you to make another, so I am willing to let Coleman publish The Belle of Chicago.” Coleman took it and The Beau Ideal as well, two marches which made another little ripple on the River of Success.
As Director of the Marine Band, Sousa was successful in convincing President Benjamin Harrison to take the band away from the White House and Washington, D.C., on a national concert tour in 1891 and 1892. The tours were so wildly popular that Sousa decided to leave the Marine Band in 1892 to form his own civilian band, the Sousa Band. He also wrote a slew of marches that year: “Homeward Bound,” “March of the Royal Trumpets,” “On Parade/The Lion Tamer,” and “The Triton.” “Homeward Bound” and “March of the Royal Trumpets” were never published. “Homeward Bound” was discovered in a trunk in Sousa’s basement more than 30 years after he had died. Bierley surmised that it was written during one of the first two Marine Band tours. Sousa wrote “March of the Royal Trumpets” for the Sousa Band’s first tour in 1892 and used six Egyptian trumpets, nearly five feet long for the performance. Sousa added the march which came to be known as “On Parade” to the orchestration of Goodwin and Stahl’s operetta “The Lion Tamer” and went on to publish the march under both titles of “On Parade” and “The Lion Tamer.” “The Triton” march was revised, renamed, and republished so many times and caused so much confusion that it never had the chance to capture the public’s attention, unfortunately.
By 1893, Sousa’s star was well on its rise and he was beginning to become a household name. It seemed that Sousa’s pen had the Midas touch, as each composition gained more popularity than the last. The Sousa Band was gainfully employed that year with a string of residency engagements and Sousa’s business acumen also became more sophisticated. He changed music publishers to earn more than the $35 he had netted previously for marches such as “Semper Fidelis” and “The Washington Post.” According to Bierley, the first march he released under his new publisher, “The Liberty Bell” in 1893 earned him more than $40,000 in seven years. Inspiration struck Sousa in a number of ways for this march: when he overheard one of his soprano soloists whistling a tune, he asked her permission to use it in a march. After writing the march, Bierley wrote that Sousa and one of his managers, George Frederick Hinton, saw a show that featured as its backdrop a large painting of the Liberty Bell, during which Hinton put forward the notion that “The Liberty Bell” might be a catchy name for his next march. Bierley said, “By coincidence, the next morning Sousa received a letter from his wife in which she told how their son had marched in his first parade in Philadelphia–a parade honoring the return of the Liberty Bell, which had been on tour. The new march was then christened ‘The Liberty Bell.’”
His next three marches were named after places the Sousa Band performed where Sousa received the royal treatment. Manhattan Beach, the celebrated New York summer resort, featured concert band entertainment all season but the Sousa Band brought crowds like no other. Sousa wrote and dedicated his “Manhattan Beach” (1893) march to owner Austin Corbin, who returned the favor by presenting Sousa with an extravagant medal. Bierley wrote that “‘Manhattan Beach’ became a staple of bands all over the world, but the Sousa Band performed it differently by playing the trio and last section as a short descriptive piece. In this interpretation, soft clarinet arpeggios suggest the rolling ocean waves as one strolls along the beach. A band is heard in the distance. It grows louder and then fades away as the stroller continues along the beach.” Later that year, the Sousa Band performed at the St. Louis Exposition. The concerts left such a positive impression that the Board of Directors held a ceremony during which the governor of Missouri, David Rowland Francis, presented Sousa with an even more elaborate medal of gold, rubies, and diamonds. “King Cotton” (1895) was named the official march of Atlanta’s Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895, a true testament to Sousa’s star-power. Bierley wrote that the exposition officials “attempted to cancel their three-week contract with the Sousa Band because of serious financial difficulties. At Sousa’s insistence they honored their contract, and at the first concert they became aware of their shortsightedness. Atlanta newspapers carried rave reviews of the band’s performances. …The Sousa Band did indeed bring the exposition ‘out of the red,’ and the same officials who had tried to cancel Sousa’s engagement pleaded with him to extend it.”
Most of Sousa’s celebrity was due to his band and marches, but he most aspired to find success as a composer of operettas. He found that success with “El Capitan” in 1896, “The Bride Elect” in 1897, and “The Charlatan” in 1898, all of which he used excerpts to create accompanying marches. Sousa said, “But it was El Capitan, my fourth opera, which captured the hearts of the public. The march of that opera stirred the country and is today one of the most popular of all my marches.”
“After the widespread success of his operetta El Capitan, Sousa regrettably declined an offer of $100,000 for The Bride Elect, from which this march was extracted,” Bierley wrote. “The operetta soon passed from the musical scene, but the march was a favorite of bandsmen for many years to come. … According to Frank Simon, cornetist of the Sousa Band from 1914 to 1920, ‘The Bride Elect’ was among Sousa’s own favorites. He once referred to it as the best march he had ever written.”
Despite Sousa’s claim that “The Charlatan” was musically superior to “El Capitan,” he received mixed reviews from theatergoers, but not from the critics. Alan Dale, theatre editor for the Hearst newspapers in New York, wrote: “The Charlatan is a comic opera of distinct merit. …Sousa is always interesting. To commonplace people he is ‘catchy.’ To those who are not commonplace he has a twist that stamps him with the luminous brand of originality. …The Charlatan had a great many of the charms of El Capitan and The Bride Elect. I am one of Sousa’s wildest admirers. His name alone is sufficient to capture my attention. His work in The Charlatan was no disappointment and those who miss hearing these humorous strains can blame themselves for their omission.”
In the midst of his operetta success, Sousa found himself with a strong case of homesickness while traveling in Europe and an incessant melody on loop in his imagination. Bierley wrote,
Sousa was very emotional in speaking of his own patriotism. When asked why he composed [“The Stars and Stripes Forever”], he would insist that its strains were divinely inspired. In a Sousa Band program at Willow Grove we find this account:
Someone asked, “Who influenced you to compose ‘Stars and Stripes Forever,’” and before the question was hardly asked, Sousa replied, “God–and I say this in all reverence! I was in Europe and I got a cablegram that my manager was dead. I was in Italy and I wished to get home as soon as possible. I rushed to Genoa, then to Paris and to England and sailed for America. On board the steamer as I walked miles up and down the deck, back and forth, a mental band was playing ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ Day after day as I walked it persisted in crashing into my very soul. I wrote it on Christmas Day, 1896.”
The march was not put to paper on board the ship. Presumably it was penned in Sousa’s hotel suite in New York soon after docking. …By almost any musical standard, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is a masterpiece, even without its patriotic significance. But by virtue of that patriotic significance it is by far the most popular march ever written, and its popularity is by no means limited to the United States. Abroad, it has always symbolized America. It has been recorded more often than practically any other composition ever written. Sales of the sheet music alone netted Sousa over $400,000 in his lifetime; radio broadcasts, sheet music, and phonograph records brought his heirs tidy sums for many years. After the copyright expired in 1953, over fifty new arrangements appeared in the United States alone. Looking back at the march’s astonishing success, it is difficult to believe that the publisher had shown little faith in it and that he had even suggested to Sousa that “Forever” be stricken from the title.
“The Stars and Stripes Forever” not only became Sousa’s signature march, but it was named the official national march of the United States in an Act of Congress signed by President Ronald Reagan on Dec. 11, 1987. Nearly 30 years later to the day, the definitive recording of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” on Volume 3 of The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa is available to all to enjoy.
Fettig declared that Volume 3 proves that Sousa is a master of the melody. “He had the innate ability to craft a melody that was interesting, original, and memorable. The accompanying harmonies and rhythms, equally fascinating and sophisticated in their own way, are the frosting on the cake.”
The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa: Volume 3 will be released for free on Dec. 12, 2016, exclusively at http://www.marineband.marines.mil/Audio-Resources/The-Complete-Marches-of-John-Philip-Sousa/, including full PDF scores with parts. All tracks will also be available for listening, with scrolling scores, at www.youtube.com/usmarineband.