I hope everyone has fun plans that keep you safe–and cool!–for the 4th of July holiday tomorrow! In honor of the holiday, I thought I would pass along some history on piccolo’s most famous solo: The Stars and Stripes Forever, by John Philip Sousa. Even if you don’t know it by name, you probably recognize the famous piccolo part at the end.
“The Stars and Stripes Forever” is a patriotic American march widely considered to be the magnum opus of composer John Philip Sousa. By a 1987 act of the U.S. Congress, it is the official National March of the United States of America. In his autobiography, Marching Along, Sousa wrote that he composed the march on Christmas Day, 1896. He was on an ocean liner on his way home from a vacation with his wife in Europe and had just learned of the recent death of David Blakely, the manager of the Sousa Band. He composed the march in his head and committed the notes to paper on arrival in the United States. It was first performed at Willow Grove Park, just outside Philadelphia, on May 14, 1897, and was immediately greeted with enthusiasm.
“The Stars and Stripes Forever” follows the standard American military march form. The march begins with a four-bar introduction, which is followed by the first strain and the second strain, which are repeated, the famous trio which is repeated with the obbligato piccolos, the break strain, the final strain, and then the break strain is repeated again. In the final repeat of the trio (grandioso), the low brass joins the piccolo players with a prominent countermelody.
Sousa explained to the press that the three themes of the final trio were intended to represent the three regions of the United States. The broad melody, or main theme, represents the North. The South is represented by the famous piccolo obbligato, and the West by the bold countermelody of the trombones. The three come together in the climax, representing the Union itself.
So there you have it! I had no idea until I started reading about its history, for as many times as I have played it, about the three themes’ representation. Enjoy your holiday, and here is a wonderful performance of America’s March by the U.S. Marine Band!