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“Ode to the Star-Spangled Banner” and #SSB200

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"Defence of Ft. McHenry" by Francis Scott Key (Baltimore, 1814-first printing of poem), Music Division, Library of Congress
“Defence of Ft. McHenry” by Francis Scott Key (Baltimore, 1814-first printing of poem), Music Division, Library of Congress

Throughout 2014 the Library of Congress’ Music Division is celebrating the 200th birthday of our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” On July 3 Concerts from the Library of Congress will present a symposium and concert, “Poets and Patriotism,” in commemoration of the anthem’s anniversary. We will be joined by internationally-renowned baritone Thomas Hampson for a unique performance of Americana from the Colonial era to the present.

For more on the Library’s “Star-Spangled” treasures visit our Songs of America webpage, and special feature on the anthem.
In September the Music Division will hit the road for a special project in Baltimore. To catch you up on the story, here’s a guest post by Neil A. Grauer, Assistant Director, Office of Marketing and Communications, Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Ode to the Star-Spangled Banner
and the National Anthem Bicentennial:
The Library of Congress Connection

Perhaps it was just a publicity stunt – but it proved to be prophetic.

On  March 3, 1938, André Kostelanetz, a then-celebrated orchestra conductor and arranger of classical music for pops concerts, gave the Library of Congress a sealed container in which he had placed two recordings of contemporary music that he believed would still be popular a half-century hence.

The mystery of what he had put in the container did not last long. Within weeks he revealed its contents as “the works of two noted American composers of the age,” George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and the Cloudburst movement of Ferde Grofé‘s The Grand Canyon Suite.

Both pieces indeed remain orchestral standards. What Kostelanetz did not emphasize was that Grofé figured significantly in both. Not only had he written The Grand Canyon Suite, but he had arranged the Rhapsody in Blue jazz orchestration for its 1924 premiere. He took Gershwin’s piano composition, created at the behest of conductor Paul Whiteman, the self-proclaimed “King of Jazz,” and in just 10 days of round-the-clock work devised the captivating, full orchestral version by which it is known today.

Gershwin’s name, of course, is immortal. His oeuvre is an indelible part of American musical history. Grofé today is less well-known despite his placement on a 1997 U.S. Postal Service stamp as part of an American composers and conductors series that included Leopold Stokowski, Arthur Fiedler, George Szell, Eugene Ormandy, Samuel Barber, Charles Ives, and Louis Moreau Gottschalk.

Francis Scott Key, 1780-1843 (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)
Francis Scott Key, 1780-1843 (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

Even less well-known-indeed, essentially forgotten for the past 82 years-is Grofé’s rousing evocation of the British bombardment of Baltimore’s Ft. McHenry in 1814, which inspired Francis Scott Key, a young lawyer who witnessed it, to write the poem that became “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Grofé wrote what now is known as Ode to the Star-Spangled Banner for impresario A. F. Rothafel, better known as “Roxy,” the man behind the creation of Radio City Music Hall. The piece was to be part of the elaborate, celebrity-studded opening of the hall in December 1932. Except for occasional, scaled-down performances by Grofé’s own jazz orchestra in subsequent years, the full orchestral rendition has not been heard since that 1932 debut, when an audience paid what Billboard magazine called the “ridiculously exorbitant $2.50” price per ticket to attend the glittering Radio City inaugural.

Now the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is poised to give Grofé’s ode its debut in the national anthem’s birthplace, thanks to the history-minded instincts of a 1932 Johns Hopkins University freshman, William S. Grauer. He was in that Radio City Music Hall audience with his father, Albert L. Grauer, also a Hopkins graduate, who fortunately kept the program, and thereby rescued from oblivion what originally was billed as an orchestra-and-tableau performance entitled September 13, 1814.

The unique restoration of this long-lost tribute to “The Star-Spangled Banner” was made possible by the discovery of the program by William Grauer’s son, Neil-Albert Grauer, now a writer for Johns Hopkins Medicine. He recognized it would be perfect for the BSO to perform on the anthem’s bicentennial.

Ferde Grofé (Music Division, Library of Congress)
Ferde Grofé (Music Division, Library of Congress)

First, Grauer enlisted the assistance of Dr. Charles Limb, a Hopkins otolaryngologist, researcher, surgeon and jazz saxophonist with a long association with the BSO, who contacted the orchestra’s musical director, Marin Alsop, and other leaders. Limb also used a contact with the Library of Congress, where the Grofé papers reside, to engage the help of Nicholas Alexander Brown, a music specialist and concert producer for the Library. Through diligent detective work, Brown went through more than 200 boxes of the Grofé papers before he uncovered the original score for Ode to the Star-Spangled Banner.

Next, permission was obtained from a gracious and enthusiastic Ferde Grofé Jr. to allow the BSO to play his father’s piece.

The never-published score needed to be “engraved,” or prepared for printing. This was done by Jari Villanueva, a former U.S. Air Force Band trumpeter and accomplished arranger. To re-create the “tableau” depicting the bombardment, permission was obtained from the Arts & Entertainment Channels to use footage from a 2004 History Channel docudrama on the War of 1812. Jay Corey, a talented Hopkins videographer, now at Williams College, used the documentary’s scenes of the bombardment to create a modern visualization of the “perilous fight” to accompany the music.

In conjunction with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s gala opening performance this September 20 of not only Ode to the Star-Spangled Banner but Rhapsody in Blue, the Library of Congress is organizing a display of rare, historical documents.
Poets and Patriotism:
The 200th Birthday of “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Thursday, July 3, 2014 (Thomas Jefferson Building)

Panel Discussion (12:30pm-Whittall Pavilion)
Mark Clague, University of Michigan
Susan Key, Star Spangled Music Foundation
James Wintle, Music Division, Library of Congress
Free, no tickets required

Concert (2:00pm-Coolidge Auditorium)
Thomas Hampson, baritone
Matthew Thompson, pianist
University of Michigan Alumni Chorus
Free, tickets required. Advance tickets sold-out. RUSH tickets available at the box office, beginning at 12:00pm.

Comments (2)

  1. would have enjoyed taking part-i authored the only academic or infact only study of J. charles linthicum and his wife helen. j charles was responsible for making the song the national anthem and saving fort McHenry
    some information on the linthicums is to be found on my wb pages much more in the two volume book -a link to the book is on the web page
    conrad bladey

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