Reclaiming the 4th Musically

In the last post I outlined my thoughts about programming music for the 4th of July. Unfortunately, we had serious problems with our on-air signal (still recovering from last week’s storm). The program aired in its entirety online, but only some of it was heard over the air.

Not to worry. It’s saved in our online archive, and you can replay it anytime during the next two weeks. The 4th of July special is listed under “Gamut” at the WTJU tape vault. (

So what did I air? Here’s the complete program, with some background as to why I chose each selection.

– Ralph

Liberty Fanfare – John Williams
     Cincinnati Pops Orchestra; Eric Kunzel conductor

John Williams gets played a lot on the 4th — but it’s usually his film scores. I decided to open with a work he specifically wrote for the holiday.

Bunker Hill, a Sapphick Ode – Andrew Laws
Heroism – Supply Belcher
Liberty Tree – Anon. 18th C.
The Sons of Liberty – Anon. 18th C.
  Waverly Consort 

This set of tunes all date from around 1780. They’re excellent examples of patriotic songs that would have been sung by veterans of the Revolution. 

Bold Island Suite – Howard Hanson
   Cincinnati Pops Orchestra; Eric Kunzel, conductor

Howard Hanson was an outstanding American composer, and as a teacher and a conductor was a champion of American music. This evocative work is a good introduction to Hanson’s style.

O come, come away – Anon. 19th C.
School hymn – Anon. 19th C.
Gospel Feast – Anon. 19th C. 
   Boston Camerata; Joel Cohen, director

These hymn tunes were created during the Second Great Awakening of the 1790’s-1830’s. The melodic shapes and harmonies of these hymns were distinctively American. Designed to be sung by amateurs with limited vocal range, they’re nevertheless powerful and attractive works.

Freedom Fanfare – Tim Rumsey
   Kiev Philharmonic; Robert Ian Winstin, conductor

Not all American composers are dead. Many aren’t even middle-aged. This work was written just a few years ago, and is a great occasional piece.

When Johnny Comes Marching Home – Roy Harris
  Louisville Symphony; Jorge Mester, conductor 

In the 1960’s, this work was regularly programmed for patriotic events. Many ofRoy Harris’ works have American themes, or are based on American subjects. It’s always been a puzzle to me why he’s not performed more frequently in this country.

Overture and Opening Credits to “How the West Was Won” – Alfred Newman
   MGM Orchestra & Chorus; Alfred Newman, conductor 

Many 4th of July programs include movie soundtracks — and they’re almost exclusively John Williams scores. “How the West Was Won” was a sprawling epic chronicling three generations of a family as they move west from Ohio through to California (and being a part of every major historical event between 1840-1890). In addition to the rousing original music Alfred Newman wrote for the film, which has more of an American rather than Western character, he also researched music of the period. The overture features a medley of folk songs and ballads spanning the mid-1800’s — perfect for a day which celebrates all things American.

Two Sketches Based on Indian Themes – Charles Tomlinson Griffes
   Kohen Quartet

Charles Tomlinson Griffes achieved international success in the early 1900’s with his tone poems. And while his music does have a cosmopolitan sound to it, he was also looking to American music for inspiration. This string quartet is an interesting experiment, and while today we might not consider the treatment of these themes very authentic, they certainly evoke the romanticized ideal of Native American life.

Battle of San Juan Hill – Albert C. Sweet
   New Columbian Brass Band

In the late 1800’s community bands were an important part of many cities and towns. They often played throughout the warmer months, and most definitely on important events like the 4th of July. This tone poem is somewhat literal, with its bugle calls and cannon fire. But if folks like gunshots with their music, why not give them something relating to American history — instead of the 1812 Overture(which celebrates Russia’s victory over Napoleon)?

Singing School – Anon. 19th C.
Thomas-Town – William Billings
Amazing Grace – Anon. 19th C.
   Boston Camerata; Joel Cohen, director

Shape note singing is a distinctively American art form. Developed in the 1790’s, this music was written with symbols non-musicians could easily understand. And the rudimentary counterpoint in these tunes — called fuguing — is absolutely unique to America. What better music for an absolutely unique American holiday?

Fanfare and Allegro – Clifton Williams
   Eastman Wind Ensemble; Frederick Fennell, conductor

Concert marches are a staple for 4th of July programs. But most concerts seldom venture beyond Sousa. In the latter part of the 20th Century, Clifton Williams was the master of the concert march, many of which entered the band and orchestral repertoire.

American Hymn – Nancy Bloomer Deussen
   Kiev Philharmonic; Robert Ian Winstin, conductor

Another short work written within the past few years. Deussen demonstrates that accessible, well-crafted and tuneful music is still being written in this country.

Dance in Three-Time – Quincy Porter
   Albany Symphony Orchestra; Julius Hegyi, director 

Although seldom played today, Quincy Porter is a quite important American composer. He had a successful career both in America and Europe, and even won the Pulitzer Prize for his second piano concerto. This short orchestral work at least gives the listener a taste of his compositional style.

Hymn, Chorale, and Fuging Tune No. 8 – Henry Cowell
   Northwest Chamber Orchestra; Alun Francis, director

Henry Cowell was an American composer with a distinctively American voice. I thought it appropriate after playing some original fuguing tunes to air one of Cowell’s 1947 interpretations of this American genre. 

Fanfare for the Signal Corps – Howard Hanson
   Cincinnati Pops Orchestra; Erich Kunzel, conductor

During the Second World War, many composers were commissioned to write patriotic pieces. Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” might be the best known, but it’s not the only example. This short fanfare is another — and it happened to fit nicely in the two-minute window I had at the end of the show.

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