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The Stars and Stripes Forever

Contributed by Jack Kopstein

First Published 1897. Written on Christmas day 1896.

Composer John Philip Sousa

“The Stars and Stripes Forever” is a patriotic American march widely considered to be the finest work of composer John Philip Sousa. In fact, the march received the great honor of being selected by an act of Congress as the National March of the United States of America in 1987.

Surprisingly, John Philip Sousa’s great American patriotic march, “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” was written not in the aftermath of a great battle, but on an ocean liner as Sousa and his wife were returning from a European vacation. In his autobiography, Marching Along, Sousa wrote after he learned of the recent death of David Blakely, then manager of the Sousa Band, that he suddenly had an epiphany and had written the march in his head. He committed the notes to paper soon after his  arrival in America on Christmas Day 1896.  It was first played by the Sousa band on May 1st 1897 in Augusta Maine. At that time the march was unnamed . It was on May 14th 1897 in a Philadelphia concert that the march was premiered as the “Stars the Stripes Forever” and  received rave reviews in the press.

Sousa tells the rest of the story in his autobiography, Marching Along.

Here came one of the most vivid incidents of my career. As the vessel (the Teutonic) steamed out of the harbor I was pacing on the deck, absorbed in thoughts of my manager’s death and the many duties and decisions which awaited me in New York. Suddenly, I began to sense a rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain. Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distinct melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed.

The march was an immediate success, and Sousa’s Band played it at almost every concert until his death.

Sousa usually had the custom of sketching out the scores of his marches in pencil and then later inking out the full score and for  parts to be e extracted by the copyist. Many of the pencil sketches are still preserved.  It is interesting to note however that not one single sketch of the “Stars and Stripes Forever” has been located. This bears out the contention that the march was indeed conceived completely in his head

*The original Sousa instrumentation of the march included:

Piccolo in Db

Two Oboes

Two bassoons

Clarinet in Eb

Two Clarinets in Bb(1-2)

Alto saxophone

Tenor Saxophone

Baritone saxophone

Three Cornets(1-2-3)

4 Horns in Eb(1-2-3-4)

Three Trombones(1-2-3)

Euphonium

Tuba

Percussion

The first known recording of the march was made by Berliner Recording Company on August 18th 1897 (#61) in New York, followed by Columbia (#532) in Washington. Later recordings by Edison and Victor were conducted by Arthur Pryor. Although Sousa would conduct performances of his march at virtually every concert until his death, only one recording of Sousa performing the march with his band which was, made on August 7th 1909 by Edison (#285 and #2104) in New York is known to survive today. Sousa disliked recordings and radio, and most of the Sousa band recording sessions were conducted by Herbert L Clarke.

“The Stars and Stripes Forever” follows the standard American march form. Its trio is the most famous part of the march. Most bands adopt the Sousa Band practice of having one or three (never two) piccolo players play the famous obligato in the first repeat of the trio. In the second repeat (marked “Grandioso”), the low brass joins the piccolo players with a prominent counter melody. The official version, as played by the United States Marine Band, is performed in the key of E-flat.

Sousa wrote lyrics to the piece, although they are not as familiar as the music itself.

Let martial note in triumph float

And liberty extend its mighty hand

A flag appears ‘mid thunderous cheers,

The banner of the Western land.

The emblem of the brave and true

Its folds protect no tyrant crew;

The red and white and starry blue

Is freedom’s shield and hope.

Other nations may deem their flags the best

And cheer them with fervid elation

But the flag of the North and South and West

Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free!

May it wave as our standard forever,

The gem of the land and the sea,

The banner of the right.

Let despots remember the day

When our fathers with mighty endeavor

Proclaimed as they marched to the fray

That by their might and by their right

It waves forever.

Let eagle shriek from lofty peak

The never-ending watchword of our land;

Let summer breeze waft through the trees

The echo of the chorus grand.

Sing out for liberty and light,

Sing out for freedom and the right.

Sing out for Union and its might,

O patriotic sons.

Other nations may deem their flags the best

And cheer them with fervid elation,

But the flag of the North and South and West

Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free.

May it wave as our standard forever

The gem of the land and the sea,

The banner of the right.

Let despots remember the day

When our fathers with mighty endeavor

Proclaimed as they marched to the fray,

That by their might and by their right

It waves forever.

Where on high the Almighty falters never.

Our banner for two hundred years!

Oh pioneers! Here’s to the stars and stripes forever!

Altissimo Recordings is proud to report that the march continues to thrill our clients as never before and is featured on 61 of our albums.  Here are a couple of featured albums that include the famous march:

http://www.militarymusic.com/marines-sousas-greatest-hits-and-some-that-should-have-been-p-75.html
http://www.militarymusic.com/marines-heritage-of-john-philip-sousa-vol-p-4523.html

*The instrumentation given  is contained on the holograph score which is in Sousa’s hand and is the inked score he wrote on or about April 25/26  1897in Boston.

References: Perspectives on John Philip Sousa- James R Smart-Music Division Library of Congress 1983

The Incredible band of John Philip Sousa – Paul Edmond Bierley Published University of Illinois Press
(Buy the book on MilitaryMusic.com for only $34.95) http://www.militarymusic.com/books-incredible-band-of-john-philip-sousa-p-134.html

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