Composers Datebook®

Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever!" March

John Philip Sousa (1854 - 1932) — The Stars and Stripes Forever (Royal Artillery Band; Keith Brion, cond.) Naxos 8.559093

Composer's Datebook - May 14, 2022


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May 14, 2022


On today’s date in 1897, John Philip Sousa was in Philadelphia and leading his band in the premiere performance of “The Stars and Stripes Forever!” Sousa wrote his most famous march on Christmas Day, 1896, in a New York hotel room—completing the score, he said, in just a couple of hours. The work’s title was a tribute to one of Sousa’s mentors, another legendary bandmaster named Patrick S. Gilmore, whose favorite toast was, "Here's to the Stars and Stripes forever!”

The 1897 premiere of the march went over well, but at first sales didn’t surpass the other Sousa marches available at the time. It was the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the subsequent national eruption of patriotic fervor, and some cagey showmanship on Sousa’s part that catapulted “The Stars and Stripes Forever!” into its unique status. Sousa crafted a touring patriotic pageant involving hundreds of performers, which ended with “The Stars and Stripes Forever!” playing, as soldiers from all three branches of the military marched on-stage with flags unfurled, culminating in the entrance of an attractive local beauty decked out in red, white, and blue.

Despite the thousands of times Sousa and his band were required to play “The Stars and Stripes Forever!” they claimed they never tired of it. And in its now 100+ year history, it’s become one of the most frequently performed pieces of American music worldwide.

Music Played in Today's Program

John Philip Sousa (1854 - 1932) — The Stars and Stripes Forever (Royal Artillery Band; Keith Brion, cond.) Naxos 8.559093

On This Day


  • 1885 - German conductor and composer, Otto Klemperer, in Breslau;

  • 1917 - American composer Lou Harrison, in Portland, Ore.;


  • 1847 - German composer Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, age 41, in Berlin; She was the sister of Felix Mendelssohn;


  • 1723 - Handel: opera "Flavio, re de' Langobardi" (Flavio, King of the Langobards), in London at the King's Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: May 25);

  • 1832 - Mendelssohn: "Hebrides" Overture ("Fingal's Cave"), in London, conducted by the composer;

  • 1914 - R. Strauss: ballet "Josephslegende," in Paris;

  • 1919 - Debussy: Saxophone Rhapsody (orchestral version by Roger-Ducasse), at a Société Nationale de Musique concert conducted by André Caplet at the Salle Gaveau in Paris;

  • 1923 - Holst: "The Perfect Fool," in London at Covent Garden Opera House;

  • 1941 - Cage: "Third Construction" for four percussionists, in San Francisco;

  • 1942 - Copland: "Lincoln Portrait," by the Cincinnati Symphony conducted by André Kostelanetz, with William Adams the narrator;

  • 1953 - American premiere of Stravinsky's opera, "The Rake's Progress," at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, with the composer conducting; The world premiere performance occurred on September 11, 1951, in Venice, again with the composer conducting;

  • 1966 - Ginastera: "Concerto per Corde," by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducting;

  • 1986 - Rautavaara: Symphony No. 5, in Helsinki, by Finnish Radio Symphony, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting;

  • 1987 - Alvin Singleton: "Shadows" for orchestra. By the Atlanta Symphony, Robert Shaw conducting;

  • 1992 - James MacMillan: "Sinfonietta" at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, by the London Sinfonietta, Martyn Brabbins conducting;

  • 1993 - Philip Glass: opera "Orphée" (based on the Jean Cocteau film), by the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass.;


  • 1719 - Handel is commanded by the Lord Chamberlain (Thomas Holles, Duke of Newcastle), to hire singers for the recently established Royal Academy of Music's productions of Italian operas (Gregorian date: May 25);

  • 1974 - Final London concert performance by conductor Leopold Stokowski, age 92 conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall: The program was Symphony No. 4 by Brahms, the "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis" by Vaughan Williams, the "Merry Waltz" by Otto Klemperer, and the "Rapsodie espagnole" by Ravel; This was not Stokowski's "final" concert appearance, however; He was on the podium again in Venice in July of that year, and continued to make studio recordings; He died on September 13, 1977, at the age of 95 in his house in Nether Wallop, Hampshire, England;