Star-spangled banners and my country

John McIntyre, on his You Don’t Say blog today, savages the 1812 Overture as music for Independence Day in the U.S. — with a suitable alternative:

Eighty-six the “1812”

I have been remiss in the months leading up to this year’s Independence Day, failing to follow up on last year’s exhortation to orchestras to consider incorporating Dudley Buck’s “Festival Ouverture on the Star-Spangled Banner” into the holiday concerts.

It is incongruous that the “1812 Overture,” a piece of schlock despised by its own composer, commemorating Russia’s triumph over Napoleon, and mainly an excuse for firing ordnance, should have become the signature piece for our national holiday. If we must include this monumental piece of kitsch every year, we might at least make an effort to include the work of an American composer quoting our national anthem.

And if artillery is required, by all means write some into the score.

Amen. There’s even a version of the Buck for organ: The Star-Spangled Banner Concert Variations, Op. 23.

I took on revolutionary music in general last year, here, with references to music from various revolutions, including music by William Billings (for our own Revolution), and “Yankee Doodle”:

I don’t seem to have a “straight” version [of “Yankee Doodle”] on my iTunes, though I do have two wonderfully over-the-top versions, Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s “The Union” (Op. 48), a concert paraphrase (for the piano) “on the national airs Star Spangled Banner, Yankee Doodle, and Hail Columbia” (played by Cecile Licad), and Henri Vieuxtemps’s “Souvenir d’Amérique — Variations burlesques sur Yankee Doodle” (Op. 17), for an unhinged violinist (Joshua Bell, in this case).

Then there’s “America” (“My Country ‘Tis of Thee”). A complicated history, which you can begin to appreciate from this iTunes playlist of mine:

Miscellaneous Folk Songs / Welsh Songs, WoO 157: Nr. 1 – “Heil unserm König! Heil!  | Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Michael Raucheisen | Edition Fischer-Dieskau – Vol. III: Ludwig van Beethoven: Folksong Arrangements

Verschiedene Volkslieder WoO 157 – 1. God save the King  (H. Carey) | Janice Watson | Beethoven: Folksong Arrangements ß

Variations on ‘God save the king’ Op. 9 | Ruggiero Ricci | Franck, Violin Sonata & Prokofiev, Violin Sonata Op. 94a, Live at Carnegie Hall | Niccolo Paganini

7 Variations On “God Save The King”, Wo0 78 | Anthony Goldstone (Piano) Beethoven Favourite Piano Music | Ludwig van Beethoven | Seven Variations on “God Save the King” in C Major, WoO 78

Béla Fleck & John Williams | Béla Fleck: Perpetual Motion | Ludwig van Beethoven

Great Britain [God Save the Queen, “God save our gracious Queen…”] | Sarah Tenant-Flowers & Harlow Chorus | Music for London – Music for A Historic City   Classical | Anonymous

God Save the Queen (Live) | Queen | Queen Rock Montreal (Live) [God bless Freddy Mercury!]

God Save The Queen  | The Choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Christopher Dearnley & Barry Rose | Coronation Anthems & Hymns | Thomas Arne

God Save the King | John Wesley Harding | Song of America

God Save Our States | Dorothy Mesney | Patchwork and Powder Horn: Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution

God Save Our Thirteen States | Colonial Revelers | Revelry, Reflection & Revolution

America, My Country ‘Tis of Thee | US Army Field Band | Let Freedom Ring

My Country ‘Tis of Thee | Bill & Gloria Gaither | America, the Beautiful

My Country Tis of Thee | Crosby & Nash | Highlights

My Country ‘Tis of Thee | Aretha Franklin | My Country ‘Tis of Thee

My Country ‘Tis of Thee | The US Military Bands | Patriotic Music for All Occasions | Samuel Smith

My Country ‘Tis of Thee (America) | Mahalia Jackson | The Power and the Glory

My Country ‘Tis of Thee | Eric von Schmidt | 2nd Right, 3rd Row

Variations on “God save the Queen”, Op.9 | Salvatore Accardo | Accardo Plays Paganini- Complete Recordings | Niccolo Paganini

Surely there’s something in there for any taste.

Some notes:

(1) If you don’t know Beethoven’s folk-song settings (especially of Welsh and Scots songs), you really should get acquainted with them. Beethoven obviously adored this music, and spent an absurd amount of time setting it for voice and piano. And Fischer-Dieskau lovingly recorded his favorites.

(2) The Paganini is wonderfully over the top (well, it’s Paganini), so I included two recordings of it in the playlist.

(3) Note the transitional Revolutionary versions “God Save Our States” and “God Save Our Thirteen States”, as the hymn was transformed from British to American. (When I was at Princeton, Chapel services — in a magnificent modern version of a Gothic cathedral, though Princeton’s roots were Presbyterian — always included a singing of “America”. Some of my friends were annoyed that we were obliged to sing “God Save the King/Queen” (in drag, as one said) every Sunday. Yes, Chapel attendance was obligatory then, as in British public schools.)

(4) The reflective and affectionate Fleck & Williams version is a favorite of mine.

(5) If you’d never heard the Gaithers (tv gospel singers who take it to the max, with a big back-up choir), you might find them surprisingly moving.

(6) Then there’s Aretha, a force of nature in herself.

Long may our land be bright / With freedom’s holy light. The words can suit any country; only the title has to change. A nice counterbalance to the war song “Star-Spangled Banner”, and a lot easier to sing.


7 Responses to “Star-spangled banners and my country”

  1. J. Levin Says:

    I’m listening to the Buck as I type. I think it certainly ought to be added to the July 4 repertoire.

    But the reason I’m commenting here is to note with surprise the omission of Charles Ives’ “Variations on America” which I (used to) have both in the original for organ and the orchestration by William Schuman. If you’re not familiar with it, you should listen. [There’s little by Ives I don’t like, but not everyone shares that taste.]

    [Also, I was not aware that 1812 was so popular out in the world – I spent years in New England so I knew the Boston Pops performed it traditionally, but I hadn’t realized that this was the case in a lot of other venues.]

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    I’m listening to the Ives (in several versions, including the New World Guitar Trio playing a guitar transcription) right now. Wonderful stuff.

    In making the playlist (last summer), I was constrained by a length limitation — to about one hour, what I can burn onto a cd. So a lot of good stuff didn’t get used.

    In retrospect, I probably should have bumped 7-9 minutes of other stuff to get one version of the Ives (the organ version? the orchestral version?) in there. Choices, choices.

    (I spent a lot of time on the sequencing of the tracks I used, so just deleting some and slotting the Ives in their place wouldn’t do.)

    Getting the Buck in there would take yet more work.

    • J. Levin Says:

      Arnold: thanks for that addition. I went straight to the store and got a couple of the organ versions and the guitar trio version (which I hadn’t heard of).

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    More American patriotic songs, possibly for posting about next year on July 4th: “America the Beautiful”, “God Bless America”, and “This Land Is Your Land”.

  4. johnwcowan Says:

    “America the Beautiful”, specifically verses 1, 2, 7, and 4 of the final 1913 version, is my choice. Singable, inspiring, unmilitary, and permanently relevant. Also useful if we ever merge (in whole or in part) with Canada, where the motto on the coat of arms is a mari usque ad mari, which equates to “from sea to shining sea”.

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  6. Burlesques, parodies, playful allusions « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Revolutionary music (link) and 7/2/11: Star-spangled banners and my country (link); reference to: Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s “The Union” (Op. 48), a concert paraphrase (for the […]

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