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For a more glorious Fourth

My worthy colleague Tim Smith, The Sun’s music critic, questioned this week why we have to have the 1812 Overture as the centerpiece of every Independence Day concert with fireworks.

Indeed, why associate our national holiday with Tchaikovsky’s gimcrack celebration of General Kutuzov’s thwarting of Napoleon at the Battle of Borodino? Mr. Smith’s suggestion is to rework the Tchaikovsky overture (which the composer apparently despised anyhow) by inserting a version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in place of the czarist hymn at the climax.

But have we no national music worthy of the day? Indeed we do. We have the Festival Overture on “The Star-Spangled Banner,” by Dudley Buck, orchestrated from his set of variations for the organ. It is not frequently heard, and recordings are scarce, but it is available. And you can set off fireworks to it as well as to any other composition.

Too late for this year, but perhaps next Independence Day some conductor will have the grit to Bring Back Buck.



Posted by John McIntyre at 4:35 PM | | Comments (12)


A medley, or set, of Sousa marches would certainly fit the bill as well. Too few are commonly heard anymore...'tis a pity.

How about simply a medley (or full set) of Sousa marches? Too few are heard anymore, anyway...more's the pity.

You can hear a 6-minute portion of Buck's piece here (scroll to item 15):

The Buck piece left me, um, underwhelmed. Besides, The Star-Spangled Banner is played to open many Fourth of July concerts. Once the theme is played, who needs to hear the variations?

Steve Hall's suggestion is good, but I would note that the Boston Pops and the National Symphony already end their concerts with Stars and Stripes Forever, which launches the main fireworks show of the evening. Fireworks around the country tend to be accompanied by a prerecorded medley of patriotic music, although the intended synchronization of music and fireworks is often imperfect.

Well, of course you were underwhelmed. No bells, no fireworks, no cannon fire. You can't expect to get a comparable effect without ordnance.

I have long wondered why the Independence Day concert includes so much music from foreign composers. In my humble opinion American composers have produced enough appropriate music to fill the night.

Mr. Hall is quite right: a serious Sousa deficiency in most of these holiday concerts.

The Capital 4th concerts, which used to be rather splendid, have over the years become hackneyed, tacky showcases for movie stars, terrible singers and badly written (and read) narrations. In addition, they have become a waste of the talents of the National Symphony Orchestra, which has improved immeasurably since the departure of Rostropovich. Most of the music has little to do with America, never mind the Nation's birthday. The Sousa marches are left to the end, to be played whilst the fireworks are launched and the credits roll. I suggest more and earlier Sousa marches, no 1812, and the Ives "Variations on America," arr for orchestra. Also "It's a Grand Old Flag" and any number of similar songs. Problem solved. Happy Birthday, America!

It's the cannons.

Orchestral pieces that use artillery as percussion are few and far between.

The plural of "cannon" is "cannon:" the plural of "Canon" is "Canons," as in "Canons and Fugues."

Also, 1,000 culpae, I mis-spelled "Capitol." It should read Capitol Fourth" concerts. I trust everyone is now happy.

I went home to Tennessee for my fireworks fix and was delighted to find the local hometown celebration has grown to include the a regional community symphony orchestra. They played a number of patriotic standards, including the Southern classic by Lee Greenwood, Proud to Be An American. Some would say it doesn't get any more American than that, but personally I'd suggest Aaron Copeland.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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