About this Recording
8.559730 - SOUSA, J.P.: Music for Wind Band, Vol. 14 (Central Band of the Royal Air Force, Brion)

John Philip Sousa (1854–1932)
Works for Wind Band, Volume 14


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, 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 colour influenced many classical composers. His robust, patriotic operettas of the 1890s helped introduce a truly native musical attitude in American theatre.

[1] March of the Royal Trumpets (1892)

After leaving the Marine Band to form his own professional band in the summer of 1892, Sousa composed this grand processional march as a feature for his new professional band’s upcoming first tour. As a highlight, the trumpet parts were performed on a special set of five-foot long “Aida style” herald trumpets. Sousa later refashioned much of this same music as the final movement, Her Majesty the Queen, for his suite In the King’s Court.

[2] Overture to The American Maid – Operetta or Overture ‘The Glass Blowers’ (1909)

This brief but brilliant show overture opens with the bubbly and hammering Song of the Factory. It continues with several martial segments from the show that later became transformed as the Sousa march From Maine to Oregon.

[3] The Triton Medley – March (1892)

This music expands an earlier Sousa composition for violin and piano. In 1892 Sousa enlarged that score by adding several additional strains and re-titling it as the Triton ‘Medley’ March.

[4] Listen to My Tale of Woe – Humoresque (1888)

Sousa based this humoresque on a catchy popular tune by Hubbard T. Smith. The words begin pleasantly enough:

“A Little Peach in an orchard grew,
Listen to my Tale of Woe”

but eventually the story leads to a sad demise:

“Under the turf where the daisies grew,
Listen to my tale of woe,
They planted John and his sister Sue,
And their little souls to the angels flew.”

[5] The Lambs – March (1914)

Sousa was but one of The Lambs Club’s famous theatrical members. His Lambs March was expressly written for the New York club’s annual “Gambol” parade. A surviving news photo shows Sousa elegantly dressed in evening wear and sporting full theatrical makeup and leading a band and the club’s members as they marched up Broadway.

[6] Esprit du Corps – March (1888)

Today this stirring march, composed during Sousa’s time as leader of the Marine Band, continues to symbolize the great spirit of the United States Marines.

El Capitan and His Friends – Suite (1885–1898)
[7] I. El Capitan (1895)
[8] II. The Charlatan (1898)
[9] III. The Bride Elect (1897)

During the mid-1890s, in a remarkably short period of four years, Sousa composed and produced three highly successful operettas: El Capitan, The Charlatan, and The Bride Elect. To celebrate these great successes he combined the most popular tunes from each show into a suite of three charming medleys.

[10] The Circumnavigators Club – March (1931)

Since he had taken his entire band on a tour around the world in 1911 Sousa was well qualified for his treasured membership in New York’s exclusive “Circumnavigators Club.” For that club’s annual meeting in December 1931 he composed and dedicated what was to become his last march. Three months later on 6 March 1932, Sousa passed away.

[11] The Loyal Legion – March (1890)

After the Civil War the U. S. officers who had served the Union formed a fraternal organization called “The Order of the Loyal Legion.”

For the 1890 Loyal Legion meeting Sousa and the Marine Band premièred a new march which he dedicated to them. Some of the materials were drawn from Sousa’s earlier 1885 operetta The Queen of Hearts.

[12] The International Congress – Fantasy (1876)

During the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 an all-star festival orchestra was created under the leadership of French composer Jacques Offenbach. Sousa was asked to perform in the first violin section and also invited to work with Offenbach as an arranger. At Offenbach’s request and in consideration of the international nature of the Exposition, the 21-year-old Sousa (his formidable compositional and arranging gifts already in full flower) fashioned a grand medley comprising national anthems, folk music, classical music and patriotic airs, titled The International Congress. Well-known patriotic or characteristic melodies were assembled from the United States as well as major countries of Europe including England, France, Ireland, Germany, Russia, Finland, Austria, Poland, Denmark, Italy, and Greece. Sousa’s skilled arrangements and elegant transitions mingle throughout, managing to create a singularly unified and unique composition. The twenty-five minute work opens with Yankee Doodle, here transformed as a clever fugue, and concludes with Sousa’s stirring setting of the Star-Spangled Banner, arranged in the style of Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture.

Keith Brion

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

Close the window