Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes: The Star-Spangled Banner

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post focused first on Igor Stravinsky’s arrangement and orchestration of The Star-Spangled Banner and the circumstances surrounding its having been, literally, “banned in Boston.” The post then went on to explore the decidedly non-American origin of the music of The Star-Spangled Banner.  During the course of yesterday’s Music History Monday post, a link to a performance of Stravinsky’s arrangement was provided.  That linked performance – by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas – is the first cut on the prescribed disc, “Stravinsky in America”, about which more will be said later in this post.

The hubbub surrounding Stravinsky’s arrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner is not the only time a performance of the anthem caused a scandal.  After a quick review of yesterday’s post, I will present to you three other performances of The Star-Spangled Banner that made eyebrows arch and tsk-tsk-ers “tsk.”

Francis Scott Key circa 1825
Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) circa 1825

The Star-Spangled Banner began its life as an English drinking song entitled Anacreon in Heav’n, the words of which celebrates the twin delights of Venus and Bacchus (sex and booze).  Its music was written by a teenager named John Stafford Smith in the mid-1760s.  Thus constituted, Anacreon in Heav’n was the official song of the Anacreontic Society, a London-based gentlemen’s club for amateur musicians.  Fitted out with new words written in 1814 by a 35-year-old lawyer named Francis Scott Key (1779-1843), The Star-Spangled Banner was officially declared the national anthem of the United States on March 3, 1931.

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was born in Oranienbaum, Russia, and raised in St. Petersburg.  As a refugee from the Russian Revolution and Civil War, he lived in France from 1919 to 1939 (he became a French citizen in 1934).  As a refugee from Germany’s invasion and occupation of France, he moved to Los Angeles in 1940 and became a citizen of the United States on December 28, 1945.  …

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