Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for John Philip Sousa

Dr. Bob Prescribes John Philip Sousa Marches

Though he composed many other works – including six operettas – John Philip Sousa’s great and enduring fame rests on his 136 marches.  His first march, Review, was published in 1873; his final march, Library of Congress, begun in 1931, was left incomplete at his death in 1932.  It wasn’t completed until 2003, when the Library of Congress commissioned Stephan Bulla (born 1953, the chief arranger of the United States Marine Corps band) to complete it. Sousa’s marches are so ubiquitous and so well-known that they have taken on the character of American folk music, as if they grew from “the fruited plain” of America’s soil all by themselves.  Whether or not we know them by their titles – Semper Fidelis (the official march of the United States Marines); The Washington Post; The Thunderer; The Liberty Bell; Manhattan Beach; and El Capitan – we recognize them instantly, so much part of the national fabric they have become. Rather than attempt to tell the stories behind all or even a few of the Sousa marches on the prescribed discs, I have decided to tell the story of just one of them, as representative of them all.  And for that I have […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: The March King

We mark the birth on November 6, 1854 – 169 years ago today – of the American composer, conductor, and violinist John Philip Sousa.  Born in Washington, D.C., Sousa died in Reading, Pennsylvania on March 6, 1932, at the age of 77. Timing, Location, Life Experience, and Talent We are told that talent – be it athletic, musical, artistic, culinary, whatever – will only take us so far; that without commitment, hard work, and perseverance “talent” is, in the end, nothing but potential.  But success in any field in which innate, gene-given talent is an underlying necessity requires something more than just blood, sweat, and tears: it also requires timing, location, and life experience. We consider.  How many potential William Shakespeares have been born in times and places in which vernacular, secular theater was not being cultivated to a revolutionary degree?  How many latent Sebastian Bachs lived until one was born into the perfect family and at the perfect time and place to exploit his skill set? How many possible LeBron Jameses existed before the invention of basketball?  I would suggest that what made Mozart “Mozart” was not just his talent and work ethic, but that his father was a […]

Continue Reading

Music History Monday: Whoa

When it comes to a date-oriented blog like this one, there are days and then there are days.  Over the two-plus years since I began this post, I have found that most days offer up one or two major (or semi-major) events in music history. These are the good days, the easy days to write about. Some days are harder as events of any note are few and far between. There are days – more frequent than you might think – during which virtually nothing of interest occurred; when that happens I’ve either juked forward or back by a day or just taken the opportunity to bloviate.  Finally, every now and then, there is a day so filled with notable musical anniversaries that the mind reels and the bladder weakens at the thought of choosing just one, two, or even three events to write about. For reasons coincidental, astrological, or just whatever, October 1 is just such a day in music history: the wealth of events – major and minor – that occurred on this date is crazy. I cannot and will not choose; let’s just wallow, in chronological order. On October 1, 1708 – 310 years ago today – […]

Continue Reading