John Philip Sousa – Stars & Stripes Forever

Transcribed by Vladimir Horowitz

John Philip Sousa (1854-1932 ) “The March King”The Stars and Stripes Forever was first presented on a May evening in 1897 at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music.  After its performance the audience demanded a second performance, then yet a third!  It was reported that only after the third performance was Sousa allowed to leave the stage!

The Baltimore Sun, on May 18, 1897, reported the following:  “The fervid reception it met with caused the bearded bandmaster to blush with pardonable pride to the very roots of his rapidly disappearing hair.”

The Washington Post, in a preview article published on May 16, 1897, the day of the concert, wrote that while returning from an extended European tour, Sousa was “Sailing up New York Bay in the clear cold of a November morning, Sousa’s eyes were gladdened by the sight of Old Glory floating serenely over the fortifications at the Narrow…   It aroused all the patriotism of the composer’s impressionable nature, and inspired him to write one of the most beautiful melodies he has ever penned.”

In 1880 at the age of 26, Sousa became director of the U.S. Marine Band.  In 1892 he formed his own band, and this band gave over 3500 concerts in 400 different cities in its first seven years.  Sousa became a mainstay in the catalog of the Victor Talking Machine Company.  Sousa gave his last performance in 1932.

Sousa introduced ragtime to Europe on his 1900 tour.  It has been said that he influenced such composers as Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Grainger and Milhaud.

The Stars and Stripes has found a secure place in history.  On December 11, 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed into law federal bill S. 860 which states the following:

“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the composition by John Philip Sousa entitled “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is hereby designated as the national march of the United States of America.”

Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989)

Horowitz, like Liszt, was one of the greatest pianists of all times.  Some consider him to have been the greatest pianist.  The focus of “greatest pianist” here, I believe is on his pianism not his musicianship: Though he was a great musician.  His fame, I believe, was based on his unique mastery of the technique required to draw a wide variance of color and sound from the instrument, and for his amazing yet to be duplicated agility, color, sound, and composure at the instrument.  Not to mention that he played more concerts than you could shake a stick at!  And across the globe to boot!

Horowitz immigrated to the United States and in 1942 became an American citizen.  He was a patriot of this great country.

The main technical challenges of this arrangement are strength, agility about the keyboard, finger independence (especially the small fingers of the right hand) fast mental imagining, leaps, huge handfuls of notes, and did I say power!  The left hand, while rapidly leaping long distances over the keyboard, must set the fingers in air and grab sounds without hesitation.  In many instances the performer is unable to view the many physical motions as they occur at the extreme ends of the keyboard simultaneously.  Many times the fingers must simply “do the walking” out of sight, but the walking must be clear in the minds eye.  Getting tired is not an option.  As a past pedagogue would say, “One must be a trooper!”  In this case to march!

This Horowitz arrangement of the “Stars and Stripes” was recorded in 1950 and it was a signature piece and a called upon encore during his very lengthy career.