Bands, Orchestras, and Touring Troupes
Bands, Orchestras, and Touring Troupes
Classical Models. Within the classical arena, the latter decades of the nineteenth century were a period during which there was little new in American music. The most respected American composers of the age—John Knowles Paine (1839-1906), Dudley Buck (1839-1909), Silas Gamaliel Pratt (1846-1916), Arthur W. Foote (1853-1937), Edward MacDowell (1860-1908), Horatio William Parker (1863-1919), and Mrs. H. H. A. Beach (1867-1944)—wrote well-received pieces that were derivative of European classicai music, often from earlier periods. MacDowell’s First Piano Sonata, known as the Tragica, typifies the genre: composed in 1891-1892, the Tragica was played frequently at concerts and parlor gatherings and inspired one leading critic to compare MacDowell to Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). A century later MacDowell and his Tragica are all but forgotten by the music establishment. Yet even as MacDowell and his contemporaries busied themselves emulating European models, a vibrant musical culture emerged on native ground. Bands and orchestras—many of them touring troupes—brought this musical culture to American towns and cities, invigorating classical music with traditional American rhythms.
John Philip Sousa. Born into a lower-middle-class family in Washington, D.C., John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) grew up within the brassy orbit of marching-band music. Sousa’s father, a trombonist, played in the U.S. Marine Band. Young John Philip once threatened to run away from home and join a circus band—but he soon relented and joined his father’s troupe as a teenage apprentice. Trained in harmony, composition, and violin, Sousa began his formal career as a composer in the late 1870s. From 1880 through 1892 he served as director of the Marine Band, a position that gave him free rein to polish and perform his own compositions. Sousa’s first big hit, “The Washington Post March” (1889), proved a perfect accompaniment for the two-step, a new dance that was taking the country by storm. Other popular Sousa marches include “Semper Fidelis” (1888), “The Thunderer” (1889), “The High School Cadets” (1890), “Manhattan Beach” (1893), and “The Stars and Stripes
Forever” (1897). No Fourth of July celebration would be complete without the stirring tones of a Sousa march. Although Sousa also composed dances, operettas, and overtures, he is remembered as America’s “March King.”
The Band Phenomenon. The popularity of John Philip Sousa’s music helped stimulate a band craze that lasted from the late 1880s into the early 1900s. One 1889 estimate placed the number of military bands in the United States at ten thousand. Nearly every town had a bandstand and a band of its own. Americans’ romance with band music attracted bands from across the Atlantic. Big “business bands,” many of them Italian in origin, invaded the United States in the 1890s. The Italian conductor Giuseppe Creatore, whose band toured the Midwest in 1899, transfixed one observer in Kansas City: “Now he leans over the row of music stands, he smiles the smile of a lover—pleading, supplicating, entreating, caressing—with outstretched hand, piercing the air with his baton, like a fencing master. Almost on his knees, he begs, he demands, he whirls around with waving arms. He laughs, he cries, he sings, he hisses through his clenched teeth.”
Theodore Thomas. The audiences that flocked to big-band concerts also packed American symphony halls during the late nineteenth century. Among the musicians who helped to introduce symphonic music to mainstream
America was Theodore Thomas (1835-1905), a German-born violinist who made his mark as an orchestral conductor. Understanding that classical music remained something of a riddle to many of his listeners, Thomas endeavored to “sell” classical music to American audiences by including both familiar and unfamiliar pieces on a program—and by making sure that the “light” music featured musical themes that reappeared in the “serious” work. By such means, the unfamiliar was made familiar, the inaccessible accessible. As director of his own touring orchestra from 1862 through 1876, the New York Philharmonic from 1877 to 1891, and the Chicago Orchestra from 1891 to his death in 1905, Thomas brought symphonic music to the masses. Thomas’s method of mixing musical styles persists in the programs of “Pops” orchestras across the country.
Gilbert Chase, America’s Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992);
John Tasker Howard, Our American Music: Three Hundred Years of It (New York: Crowell, 1946);
Joseph A. Mussulman, Music in the Cultured Generation: A Social History of Music in America, 1870-1900 (Evanston, 111.: Northwestern University Press, 1971).