About this Recording
8.559248 - SOUSA, J.P.: Music for Wind Band, Vol. 8 (Royal Artillery Band, Brion)

John Philip Sousa (1854–1932)
Works for Wind Band, Volume 8


John Philip Sousa personified turn-of-the-century America, the comparative innocence and brash energy of a still new nation. His ever touring band represented America across the globe and brought music to hundreds of American towns. John Philip Sousa, born 6 November 1854, reached this exalted position with startling quickness. In 1880, at the age of 26, he became conductor of the U.S. Marine Band. In twelve years the vastly improved ensemble won high renown and Sousa’s compositions earned him the title of “The March King”. Sousa went one better with the formation of his own band in 1892, bringing world acclaim.

In its first seven years the band gave 3500 concerts; in an era of train and ship travel it logged over a million miles in nearly four decades. There were European tours in 1900, 1901, 1903, and 1905, and a world tour in 1910–11, the zenith of the band era.

The unprecedented popularity of the Sousa Band came at a time when few American orchestras existed. From the Civil War to about 1920, band concerts were the most important aspect of U.S. musical life. No finer band than Sousa’s was ever heard. Sousa modified the brass band by decreasing the brass and percussion instruments, increasing its woodwinds, and adding a harp. His conducting genius attracted the finest musicians, enabling him to build an ensemble capable of executing programs almost as varied as those of a symphony orchestra. The Sousa Band became the standard by which American bands were measured, causing a dramatic upgrading in quality nationally.

Sousa’s compositions also spread his fame. Such marches as The Stars and Stripes Forever, El Capitan, The Washington Post, and Semper Fidelis are universally acknowledged as the best of the genre. Sousa said a march “should make a man with a wooden leg step out”, and his surely did. Although he standardized the march form as it is known today, he was no mere maker of marches, but an exceptionally inventive composer of over 200 works, including symphonic poems, suites, operas and operettas. His principles of instrumentation and tonal color influenced many classical composers. His robust, patriotic operettas of the 1890s helped introduce a truly native musical attitude in American theater.

 [1] The High School Cadets (1890)

Sousa’s march The High School Cadets was dedicated to a high school drill team in what was at the time Washington DC’s only high school, later to become Central High School. Since Sousa had already written a march (The National Fencibles) for another drill team, the students asked Sousa to write them “something superior”. In Sousa’s estimation he did write a better march.

[2] The Northern Pines (1931)

Named for the tall and beautiful pine trees that blanket the National Music Camp at Interlochen in northern Michigan, the late and jaunty Sousa march The Northern Pines was dedicated to the students who came to the camp and to Dr Joseph Maddy, its founder. Sousa visited for the occasion and was the guest conductor of the assembled student band for the première.

[3] El Capitan: Selections (1895)

Sousa’s operetta El Capitan was one of the earliest musicals by an American composer to have a successful run on Broadway. Set in colonial Peru, it tells a farcical story of the Viceroy of Peru posing as a fearless rebel leader fighting to unseat himself. The selection comprises the Prelude, I’ve a Most Decided Notion, Beautiful Land of Spain, Finale Act 2, A Typical Tune of Zanzibar, and Finale including the main themes of Sousa’s popular El Capitan March.

[4] Boy Scouts of America (1916)

Boy Scouts of America is a lighthearted, upbeat depiction of scouting, even including a whistling section. An early review said the march “… absolutely breathes the boy; it visualizes the supple step of the boy marching, and not the heavy tread of the man”.

[5] Crusader (1888)

Crusader was written shortly after Sousa was “knighted” as a Mason in Columbia Commandery No. 2, Knights Templar, Washington DC. The Knights Templar are theoretically derived from the Crusades. The march is one of Sousa’s most wild and adventurous, but at the same it is remarkably compositionally integrated with closely connected materials throughout the piece. To date, no one has identified any of the melodies with Masonic music.

[6]O Warrior Grim (1895)

Sousa often employed arias from his successful operettas as cornet solos. O Warrior Grim was a popular soprano solo from the operetta El Capitan. The soloist here is Milton Hinton, principal cornetist of the Band of the Royal Artillery.

[7] On the Campus (1920)

On the Campus was dedicated to “Collegians, past, present and future”. The words were composed by Sousa’s daughter, Mrs Helen Sousa Abert. The arrangement in this recording, echoes the collegiate scenes on the sheet music and adds the flavor of college hi-jinks from the roaring 1920s.

[8] Jack Tar (1903)

Sousa hoped that the march Jack Tar would become as important to navy men as his Stars and Stripes Forever had become to army men. The march had its première in London’s Royal Albert Hall with the King and Queen present and was performed at that time by the joint forces of the Coldstream Guards, Scots Guards, Irish Guards, Himenoa Band of NZ, Sousa’s Band and the Queen’s Hall Orchestra. It is also another of Sousa’s marches based on themes from one of his operettas… in this case the first two strains came from his show Chris and the Wonderful Lamp.

[9] Comrades of the Legion (1920)

Dedicated to “My comrades of the American Legion”, the march Comrades of the Legion was a feature of Sousa’s 1920 national tour. 500,000 copies of the band’s recording of the march were sold in advance of the pressing. The musical outlook is grand, martial and generous.

[10] Pride of Pittsburgh (1901)

The grand march Pride of Pittsburgh was written for the dedication of the Music Hall at the Western Pennsylvania Exposition in Pittsburgh where the Sousa Band played an annual engagement for many years. Sousa claimed it was one of the most difficult pieces he had ever written… since he was trying to combine the themes of Ethelbert Nevin’s very popular tune Narcissus with Stephen Foster’s Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming and a new Sousa march tune, all to be eventually played together. Nevin and Foster were both popular American composers hailing from the Pittsburgh area. The title Pride of Pittsburgh was chosen by a competition in the Pittsburgh papers. Sousa also used the title Homage to Foster and Nevin when he performed the piece.

[11]–[13] At the King’s Court (1904)

The suite At the King’s Court was probably composed in preparation for the Sousa Band’s 1905 tour to England where it was played for King Edward VII at a command performance. The first movement, “Her Ladyship, the Countess, is gracious and elegant. The second, Her Grace, the Duchess, is a lovely waltz. The last movement, Her Majesty the Queen, is a powerfully soaring grand march.

[14] The Washington Post (1889)

The Washington Post is the march that made Sousa famous, the march that made the newspaper famous and the march that made the two-step famous. Composed in 1889 for the U.S. Marine Band to perform at a children’s essay contest on the grounds of the Smithsonian, the march is thought to have been concocted to be the perfect music for a new dance called the “two-step”. The trio melody contains a little melodic half step dip and return that mirrors the sideways tilt used by the partners in the new dance. The jaunty 6/8 march-time has echoes of the older waltz rhythm that was receding in popularity but it adds the peppiness and faster pace of the polka. At any rate the tune caught fire with dancers. By the early 1890s dancing the two-step to the music of Sousa’s The Washington Post March became the popular ingredients that sparked a huge world-wide dance craze.

Keith Brion


Program notes by Keith Brion are freely based on material taken from “The Works of John Philip Sousa,” Integrity Press with the expressed permission of the author, Paul E. Bierley. The introduction is extracted from Roger Ruggeri’s program notes for the Milwaukee Symphony.

Special thanks for their assistance in preparing this recording to: Loras Schissel, Sousa Collection, Library of Congress; John Sousa IV, Pres., John Philip Sousa Inc.; Paul E. Bierley, Sousa’s biographer; John Bierley, cover photo assistance; Brian Holt, New Sousa Band, percussion consultant; The United States Marine Band; and The Sousa Collection at the University of Illinois.

Close the window