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Summer's Musical Fireworks
by Rex Levang
June 1999


Listen (RealAudio 3.0)
Fanfare for
the Common Man

1812 Overture

ourth of July concerts are a little like Thanksgiving dinners. The items on the bill of fare aren't always identical - some people go with Copland instead of Gershwin, rutabagas instead of mashed potatoes - but there's a strong family resemblance all the same.

So if you're taking John Adams's advice (who said that Independence Day should be "solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and iluminations") and heading out to a Fourth of July concert, here's a look at some of the items you may well hear:

opland: Fanfare for the Common Man
One of a group of fanfares commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony during World War II. Copland's is a classic, the others vanished quickly. When was the last time you heard Eugene Goossens' "Fanfare for the Merchant Marine"?

Listen -Fanfare for the Common Man

vorak: Largo from Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World")
This is the most famous symphony ever written on American soil. You sometimes even hear the claim that Dvorak adapted his Largo movement from a spiritual called "Going Home." Patriotically gratifying, though it's actually the other way around - the spiritual was adapted from Dvorak.

ousa: Stars and Stripes Forever
Did you know it had words?

Hurrah for the flag of the free.
May it wave as our standard forever
The gem of the land and the sea
The banner of the right.
Les despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray,
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

ernstein: West Side Story selections
I'm including West Side Story here to acknowledge that nowadays almost any Fourth of July event will make a nod, sometimes a very big nod, in the direction of popular music - rock, jazz, Hollywood, or Broadway.

It's interesting to look at Bernstein's score: If you had a general impression that he uses "Latin rhythms," you might be surprised how carefully Bernstein distinguishes the different dances he uses - cha-cha, huapango, mambo, paso doble, etc.

chaikovsky: 1812 Overture
What piece of music do you think goes best with fireworks? Beethoven's Ode to Joy? The William Tell Overture? Both go well, but the clear favorite of audiences and orchestras nationwide on the Fourth of July seems to be

Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture - commemorating the Russian defeat of Napoleon - has scant connection with American independence. But audiences have decided that no better music exists to accompany Roman candles, parachutes, hummers, and chrysanthemum shells - especially here in Minnesota! The following sample comes from a 1958 recording by the Minnesota Orchestra.

Listen - The 1812 Overture


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