John Philip Sousa: Music for Wind Band 21. © 2021 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd

CD Spotlight

A Very Special CD

Band music by John Philip Sousa, recommended by GERALD FENECH

'... Keith Brion's conducting is vigorously animated, drawing some superb playing from his Birmingham ensemble.'


John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) personified turn-of-the-century America. His ever-touring band represented the nation across the world and brought music to hundreds of American towns. Born on 6 November 1854, he climbed to the top with startling speed. In 1880, aged twenty-six, he became conductor of the USA Marine Band. In the space of just twelve years Sousa and his band won high praise for their performances, and the man himself earned the title of 'The March King'. In 1892 Sousa formed his own proper band and this earned him world acclaim. In its first seven years the band gave some 3,500 concerts, not only in America but all over the globe. Europe was the host in 1900, 1901, 1903 and 1905, and a world tour in 1910-11, the zenith of the band era.

The popularity of the Sousa Band came at a time when few American orchestras existed, and up until then no finer band than Sousa's was ever heard. Indeed, Sousa modified the brass band by decreasing the brass and percussion while increasing its woodwinds and adding a harp. His genius attracted the best musicians, and the band became the benchmark for all aspiring ensembles. His marches were considered the cream of the crop, and even today they remain unsurpassed. Although Sousa standardized the march form as we know it today, he was no mere maker of the genre, but an exceptionally inventive composer of over 200 works, including symphonic poems, suites, operas and operettas. Indeed, his robust, patriotic operettas of the 1890s helped introduce a truly native musical attitude in American theatre.

This wonderful 21st volume in Naxos' ongoing cycle of Sousa's music for wind band includes selections from three of his stage-works: Chris and the Wonderful Lamp, Sisterhood of the States and Showing Off Before Company.

Chris and the Wonderful Lamp (1899) was Sousa's musical re-telling of the Aladdin legend. The show opened in New Haven's Hyperion Theatre in October of that same year, and on 1 January 1900 it opened on Broadway to highly favourable reviews at Hammerstein's Victoria Theatre.

Listen — Sousa: Chris and the Wonderful Lamp
(track 1, 0:00-0:58) ℗ 2021 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd:

Sisterhood of the States was part of an extravaganza associated with the opening of the newly built New York Hippodrome, at the time the world's largest theatre. The show was called 'Hip Hip Hooray' and it was the most elaborate stage extravaganza New York had ever seen. Sousa's Band accompanied a 'ballet of the states' in which each of the forty-eight states was represented by a sextet of dancing girls. For his performances Sousa arranged characteristic tunes from each state, climaxing with 'The Stars and Stripes Forever'.

Listen — Sousa: Sisterhood of the States
(track 2, 7:58-8:47) ℗ 2021 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd:

Showing Off Before Company was a clever musical routine that was inspired by band members coming back late from lunch. The piece was frequently employed to open his matinee concerts, since when ready, individual sections could emerge from off-stage, performing solo pieces for their section, and then take their place on the stage. In the meantime, Sousa waited in the wings. After the band was fully assembled, the players would break into 'Semper Fidelis'. At the very end Sousa would stride out onto the podium to just conduct the march's final stinger.

Listen — Sousa: Showing Off Before Company
(track 3, 32:12-33:04) ℗ 2021 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd:

This latest helping is, to my mind, one of the best in the series, if only for the choice of the music, which is some of the rarest in Sousa's output. As in previous issues, Keith Brion's conducting is vigorously animated, drawing some superb playing from his Birmingham ensemble. Also, the clear and beautifully balanced recording is an added bonus to the enjoyment of this very special CD. Recommended, even if you have not purchased the previous issues.

Copyright © 16 July 2021 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta






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