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July 3, 2010

Another thought or two on the need for an American '1812 Overture'

The vast reach and untold influence of this humble blog was driven home today by the New York Times, which, in a New York Philharmonic review by Jim Oestreich, mentioned my call for an Americanized "1812 Overture."

In case anyone thought I was totally serious with that idea, let me reassure you that I haven't lost my mind completely (yet). And let me hasten to add that I still like that darn Tchaikovsky war horse, as long as it isn't trotted out too often around me. My main point remains firm, though -- we Americans really ought to find something else to listen to at the finale of Fourth of July concerts.

There may not be anything already in the repertoire that hits the same wonderfully noisy spot as the "1812 Overture," but, assuming no one takes up my awesome challenge to re-do Tchaikovsky's score with a twist of American tunes, I readily admit there are a few pieces out there that deserve the spotlight, or the fireworks. You can start with one being loudly championed by my distinguished Sun colleague, John McIntyre, who has used his own ever-entertaining blog to tout a work by Dudley Buck (1839-1909) -- "Concert Variations of The Star-Spangled Banner."

I hate to say it (because I didn't think of it first), but I think John may have something there. Originally composed for organ, the score makes a suitably rousing impression in its orchestrated guise (maybe a few cannon could be added as needed for concert performances so audiences won't feel deprived should the "Concert Variations" ever be used in lieu of the "1812"). Here's a recording of this ready-for-the-Fourth, all-American music. Let me know what you think. 

Posted by Tim Smith at 2:43 PM | | Comments (2)


No. I am not a professional musician or music critic but - no. The last thing we need is another variation of the Star Spangled Banner. What we need is one official version to keep every wanna-be superstar (and some already stars) at every sporting event from embarassing themself and disrespecting the song, the country and the audience.

In addition, I did not find the piece particularly stirring.

There are enough pieces on the books that could be used as a fitting finale. Perhaps the easiest solution would be use 1812 during the fireworks and make a Sousa medley the finale of the Fourth concerts.

Sounds a little bit French, a little bit music from the movie "Gone With the Wind" and all those wonderful songs at Christmastime.

It is a wonderful life afterall is what this American version of 1812 Overture reminds me of.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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