About this Recording
8.559029 - SOUSA: On Wings of Lightning
English 

John Philip Sousa
Volume 3: On Wings of Lightning

This recording celebrates Sousa's important early associations with dance and the music theatre. Picture a young John Philip Sousa, a tiny young man aged eleven, confidently standing in front of a group of much older musicians, playing his violin in the style of the famous Strauss and leading his own popular dance orchestra as Washington's society swirls and dances in front of him. It is impossible to overestimate the effect this interaction of the young man, his orchestra and the dancers was to have on the later Sousa -the composer to be. He was once quoted as saying, "I want my marches to make a man with a wooden leg stand up and dance." The dance never left him. Dancing rhythms for ever permeated his compositions, marches and dances alike. A young Dance Prince begat the March King.

Soon also, his musical activities brought him to the theatre, where he began to experience the close and often raucous give and take of audience and performer that constituted the popular side of nineteenth century American theatre and early vaudeville. By the age of 21 he was the leader, arranger and concert master of the orchestra at Ford's Theatre in Washington. Later he led the Chestnut Street Theatre Orchestra in Philadelphia. Once again the magical chemistry of music and rhythm, as it reaches for audiences, became central to the composer's thinking.

While many of the dances found here stem from this early period of Sousa's life, these initial encounters with the infectiousness of music and how it infuses dancers and listeners never left him. Throughout his long and sparkling career he continued to write music for each new craze: waltzes, galops, two-steps, gavottes, tangos, cakewalks, rags, polkas, marches of course, and sometimes even a foxtrot or two.

Keith Brion

Special thanks to Loras Schissel, Music Division, Library of Congress, and to Sousa's biographer, Paul E. Bierley, author of John Philip Sousa, an American Phenomenon.
Programme notes on the individual selections are freely drawn from The Works of John Philip Sousa by Paul E Bierley, Integrity Press, Westerville, OH, USA.

March: The Gladiator (1886)
Nothing among Sousa's memoirs reveals the identity of the "gladiator", but the first printing of the sheet music carried a dedication to Charles F. Towle of Boston. Towle was a journalist who was editor of the Boston Traveller at the time this march was written, but the nature of his association with Sousa is not known. Sousa's daughter, Helen, conjectured that her father might have been inspired by a literary account of some particular gladiator; it is unlikely that he would have dedicated a march to gladiators in general because of their ferocity and deeds of inhumanity, but perhaps one noble gladiator who had been a victim of circumstances might have been his inspiration. There has also been speculation that the march had some Masonic significance, inasmuch as it was written at the time he was "knighted" in Columbia Commandery No.2, Knights Templar, but this lacks substantiation.

For Sousa, The Gladiator brought back both happy and unhappy memories. In 1885 he had written the dirge The Honored Dead for Stopper and Fisk, a music publisher in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. They were so pleased that they asked him to write a quickstep march. He responded with The Gladiator, but they rejected it. Their shortsightedness cost them dearly; Sousa then sold it to Harry Coleman of Philadelphia and it eventually sold over a million copies.

Tango: The Gliding Girl (1912)
According to a story circulated among former Sousa Band members, Sousa's daughter Priscilla gave him the idea for The Gliding Girl. She had just returned from Europe, reporting that the tango was all the rage there. She gave him a demonstration by gliding around the room and he captured her graceful motions in music.

March: The Federal (1910)
Just before embarking on his world tour of 1910-11, Sousa composed The Federal March in honour of the people of Australia and New Zealand, including both in his dedication, "to the Australasians". The title was to have been The Land of the Golden Fleece, but The Federal was suggested to Sousa by Sir George Reid, the High Commissioner for Australia, who heard it in London at the beginning of the tour. The original title was not wasted; Sousa used In the Land of the Golden Fleece later for a second movement of his suite, Tales of a Traveler.

The Presidential Polonaise (1886)
Towards the end of his term, President Arthur engaged Sousa in conversation concerning the suitability of the presidential salutation "Hail to the Chief". When Sousa revealed that it was actually an old Scottish boating song, Arthur instructed him to replace it with a more suitable composition.

Sousa's replacement consisted of two pieces, Presidential Polonaise and the march Semper Fidelis (1888). Presidential Polonaise was used for state affairs at the White House. Curiously, Sousa's band score is entitled In Echelon Polonaise.

Circus Galop from The Irish Dragoon (1915)
Two nearly complete versions of the operetta The Irish Dragoon were discovered in the basement of Sousa's Sands Point estate in 1965. One version is written in the hand of another composer, not identified on the manuscripts. The other is in Sousa's hand. His daughter Helen revealed that he had purchased the libretto from Joseph Herbert and that the first composer's work was part of the package received. Sousa evidently set this aside and composed his own music. Among the songs that were given titles are The Blarney Stone, The Showman’s Song, Their Life and Joy and Whish! Hiroo! The only other selections with titles are the overture and apiece called Circus Galop.

Sandalphon Waltzes (1886)
Rose Cleveland, daughter of President Grover Cleveland, was the young lady to whom the forgotten Sandalphon Waltzes were dedicated. Sousa once remarked that if there ever lived a kinder or sweeter-mannered woman than Miss Cleveland, it had not been his lot to meet her. He did not make known the origin of the title.

March: The Belle of Chicago (1892)
Sousa was criticized for the march The Belle of Chicago which he composed as a salute to the ladies of Chicago. Among the protests made by Chicago newsmen were that "Mr Sousa evidently regards the Chicago belle as a powerful creature, with the swinging stride of a giant, a voice like a foghorn and feet like sugar-cured hams."

Silver Spray Schottische (1878)
American songs with "Silver Spray" or "Silver Fountain" in their titles were common in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Some of them were doubtless inspired by the award-winning fountain designed by Frederic Bartholdi for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. Sousa's schottische was dedicated to a Washington acquaintance, Charles F. Eaton.

Foxtrot: Peaches and Cream (1924)
The foxtrot Peaches and Cream was introduced as an encore on the 1924 Sousa Band tour. According to one newspaper review, Sousa composed it "after seeing his young granddaughter dance".

Myrrha Gavotte (1876)
The piano sheet music of Sousa's Myrrha Gavotte bears the dedication "To Hon. William Hunter, Department of State, Washington, D.C." Sousa was showing his appreciation for Hunter's earlier generosity. It was Hunter who gave Sousa and three others regular employment as a string quartet in Washington and who tried to persuade him to seek a musical education in Europe. This period when Sousa played in Hunter's house every week is clearly reflected in the classical strains of the Gavotte.

March: The Fairest of the Fair (1908)
The Fairest of the Fair is generally regarded as one of Sousa's finest and most melodic marches. It was an immediate success and has remained one of his most popular compositions. It was composed to honour the sponsors of the 1908 Boston Food Fair, an annual exposition and music jubilee held by the Boston Retail Grocers' Association, for which the Sousa band was for several years the main musical attraction. In fairs before 1908, Sousa had been impressed by the beauty and charm of one particular young lady who was the centre of attention of the displays in which she was employed. When the invitation came for the Sousa Band to playa twenty-day engagement in 1908, he wrote this march. Remembering the comely girl, he entitled the new march The Fairest of the Fair.

Because of an oversight, the march almost missed its premiere. Nearly three months before the fair, Sousa had completed a sketch of the march for the publisher. He also wrote out a full conductor's score from which the individual band parts were to have been extracted. The band had just finished an engagement the night before the fair's opening and had boarded a sleeper train for Boston. Louis Morris, the band's copyist, was helping the librarian sort music for the first concert, and he discovered that the most important piece on the programme - The Fairest of the Fair - had not been prepared. Considerable advance publicity had been given to the new march, and the fair patrons would be expecting to hear it. In addition, the piano sheet music had already been published, and copies were to be distributed free to the first five hundred ladies entering the gates of the fair. Morris worked the entire night, and the parts were nearly finished when dawn broke. When Sousa, who had arisen to take his usual early morning walk, asked about the frenzied activity, there was no choice but to tell him exactly what had happened. Sousa did not mention the subject again, but Morris found an extra fifty dollars in his next pay envelope - the equivalent of two weeks' salary.

Caprice: The Coquette (1887)
In 1901 the short dance The Coquette was one of three pieces integrated into a suite called Maidens Three. A verse found in Sousa Band programmes described the maiden called "the coquette" as follows:

I know a maiden fair to see,
Take care! Take care!
She can both false and friendly be,
Beware! Beware!

Galop: On Wings of Lightning (1876)
The inscription on the sheet music of the lively On Wings of Lightning reads:
"As played by Hassler's orchestra at the Chestnut Street Theatre, Phila."

Three Quotations (1895)
The quotations on which Three Quotations was founded were more familiar when it was written than they are today. The first two can be traced to sixteenth­ century writings, and the third was a conversational phrase. No doubt they are to be found somewhere in the rare books of Sousa's personal library.

March: Venus (1883)
It is not known whether or not Sousa witnessed either of the two transits of Venus that occurred in his lifetime, but the phenomenon was the basis for the title of his Venus march and one of his three novels.

March: Hail to the Spirit of Liberty (1900)
It was with great pride that Sousa and his band represented the United States at the Paris Exposition of 1900, This was the first overseas tour of the band, and it was received throughout Europe with enthusiasm. The band displayed the finest American musicianship Europe had ever seen and helped dispel the notion that the United States was an artistic void.

A statue of George Washington was unveiled on 2nd July, but the highlight of the Paris engagement was the unveiling of the Lafayette Monument on 4th July. At the unveiling the Sousa Band gave the first performance of the march composed specifically for that moment, Hail to the Spirit of Liberty. Immediately after the ceremony, the band made one of its rare appearances in a parade as it marched through the main streets of Paris.

Certain sections of the march evidently were taken from an unidentified earlier operetta, because in 1965 fragments which were probably meant to be discarded were found in a stack of manuscripts at the Sands Point estate. The march was so successful that it is difficult to reconcile a story often told by Sousa's daughter Priscilla: she said that her father had entered the march in a contest shortly before it was published, and that the contest had been won by an "unknown" composer whose march was promptly forgotten.

Razumovsky Symphony Orchestra
The Razumovsky Symphony Orchestra was established in 1995 and consists of the best players of the Slovak Philharmonic, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), Slovak Chamber Orchestra and Opera Theatre Orchestra. The ensemble records exclusively for the Naxos and Marco Polo labels.

Keith Brion
Conductor Keith Brion has frequently led his Sousa revival concerts with orchestras throughout America. He has also appeared as a symphony conductor in Europe, Canada and New Zealand. He tours regularly with his own New Sousa Band. His Sousa concerts, like the Strauss evenings which inspired Sousa, consist of familiar light classics and virtuoso vocal and instrumental solos. These programmes are interspersed with Sousa's own marches and orchestral compositions.


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