Assorted Musings on Seasonal Music Part 1

It’s that time of the year, when the sound of John Phillip Sousa and Aaron Copeland and Tchaikovsky are heard through the land, and people who don’t normally like classical music all that much are thumbing through the TV listings in search of the Boston Pops or whoever else might be doing the “1812 Overture” with fireworks. And Lee Greenwood and a few other vocalists get more air-time than the other 361 days combined. Which led to some interesting thoughts about music.

John Williams is well known for borrowing both ideas (the leitmotiv) and “bits” of compositions for movie scores. His original chamber and symphony music is quite different*, and a bit hard to find, but you can tell a John Williams film score as soon as the trumpets come in. However, there is one composition of his that I had not realized contained a nod to another, very well-known* American composer. (Hankie warning. The room might get dusty.)

Now listen to this, and speed up the opening a little:

I recently heard them in relatively close proximity, so to speak, and wanted to thump myself on the head for not catching the similarities. OK, the reason I missed them is because the voice part in Williams is harder than it seems at first, and you are busy counting like mad because the choral parts are written like an orchestra score, but anyway. Williams is borrowing again, and did it so beautifully, and so appropriately, that I’d never, ever caught it.

The other thing that I realized, in part because I was sort of in-and-out of the music for page turning reasons, is how much Americans treat “Stars and Stripes Forever” the way Austrian concert goers treat the “Radetzky March.” Both involve a lot of audience participation, or at least they do now. Listen for the clapping (I can’t find a really good clip, but this one is close.)

Most concert audiences will clap in time, drop out for the B movement and piccolo solo, then come again for the A movement. In comparison (skip to 1:00):

Granted, I’ve not seen many US conductors turn to conduct the audience percussion section on Sousa, but it has happened once that I participated in. 🙂 I also attended a New Years concert in Vienna and we all followed tradition, even though half of us were not Austrian. (Not this one. Tickets are for this one are now in such high demand that they are by lottery and you put your name in almost a year in advance.)

Oh yeah, and when you listen to the piccolo solo, if there is an organ part playing, it really, really sounds like an old-time Calliope. Seriously cool.

*Copeland used to be famous and this composition especially well-known. Now? I have no idea.

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2 thoughts on “Assorted Musings on Seasonal Music Part 1

  1. IIRC the Navy used “Fanfare for the Common Man” in some its TV ads back in the late 90’s or early 00’s. It is well known here in Cincinnati because it was commissioned from Copland by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra during WW2 as one of a series of short patriotic pieces, and first performed here circa 1942. I believe I’ve heard it performed by both the Cincinnati Pops and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra – wonderful piece.

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