Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Classics tribute: Apple pays homage to the Captain

We have here, at 0:12, one of the world's great march tunes --

Eastman Wind Ensemble, Donald Hunsberger, cond. KEM-Disc, recorded c1981

by Ken

In the above audio clip I've left in some lead-in, so we can hear the pulse-quickening build-up to the Big Tune, except that when it comes, it comes -- devilishly, given that build-up -- in hushed form! Then at 0:27, when the tune gets its only repetition, it's heard in full voice, after which, all too quickly, it's gone! Leaving us wanting more, no? (We're going to hear one conductor who came up with a solution of sorts to this problem.)


As I mentioned last week, I've been doing some fiddling with my computer, one result of which was to vault me forward from the final version of that eminently satisfactory Mac operating system, Snow Leopard (OS 10.6.8), skipping over Lion (10.7.x) and Mountain Lion (10.8.x) and even OSes that were merely names to me, Mavericks (10.9.x) and Yosemite (10.10.x) all the way to the brand-new OS 10.11, aka -- wait for it -- El Capitan. Since I no longer read computer magazines, or even much in the way of computer news, I didn't know anything about the new OS except that my computer, despite its antiquity, would apparently run it as well as any of the intermediate systems, and that the upgrade from 10.6.8 to 10.11 could be done for free at the App Store (where else?).

But none of that is what I think of when I hear the words El Capitan. When I hear those words, what I hear is El Capitan, one of the indispensable "core" marches by the March King, John Philipp Sousa. The one that goes like this:

Now we've already heard El Capitan the March, in a May 2010 Sunday Classics "march weekend" that culminated in a post (“What stirs the blood better than a military march? This week courtesy of Mozart and Sousa”) that also included the March King's Stars and Stripes Forever, Semper Fidelis, Washington Post, Thunderer, Manhattan Beach, Gladiator, and Liberty Bell. But that's no reason not to hear El Capitan again -- and again and again.

(And, in fact, yet again. I mentioned at the outset that we would have one conductor who found a solution to the brevity of the march -- repeating the whole thing, though without most of the repeats.)

We don't have to dwell long on this luscious little piece. First we have two jaunty tunes in 6/8, then another pair in 2/4, the first of which is a sort of shuffling sort of march -- which, however, as we've already heard, is then made to build splendidly into our Big Tune.

SOUSA: El Capitan March

Morton Gould and His Symphonic Band. RCA/BMG, recorded Oct. 17, 19, and 26, 1956

Concert Arts Symphonic Band, Felix Slatkin, cond. Capitol-EMI, recorded 1958

Band of H.M. Royal Marines, Lt. Col. G.A.C. Hoskins, cond. EMI, recorded February 1983

We heard all of the above performances in the May 2010 post. It occurs to me that you might like to hear the whole of the nicely snappy Hunsberger performance from which I extracted the Big Tune at the top of this post. So here it is.

Eastman Wind Ensemble, Donald Hunsberger, cond. KEM-Disc, recorded c1981


I was going to say "one last performance," except that it's by a vast margin the earliest of our group. It's a cylinder recording that apparently predates the 20th century! The Internet Archive listing for this audio clip notes:
Exact dating of brown wax cylinders can be difficult to impossible. The current research status gives likely the date of late-1897 to early 1898, just before the Band's director William H. Santelmann became its new director. The previous director Francesco Fanciulli was not accepted for re-enlistment after the Memorial Day Parade incident where he refused to play marches by Sousa, despite a given order. El Capitan was one of Sousa's brand new compositions written in 1896.

United States Marine Band. Columbia Phonograph Company of New York and Paris cylinder, probably recorded late 1897-early 1898 (audio transfer by the Cylinder Archive)


Because El Capitan began life as an operetta, which is still performed occasionally, and has even been recorded. (The Ohio Light Opera people got to it in 2010 in their operetta series for Albany Records. There is in fact another, slightly earlier recording, on the Zephyr label, which the only Amazon reviewer who compares them prefers to the Ohio Light Opera version.) The march we know as El Capitan is based on themes from the stage piece.

From which, as it happens, Sousa also fashioned a concert waltz, just as the Viennese operetta masters so often did.

SOUSA: Waltzes from "El Capitan"

Note that Sousa is using the plural "waltzes" in the title here in the same sense as, for example, those masters of the concert waltz, the Strausses of Vienna -- each "waltz" being in fact a suite of waltzes.

By the way, I had an audio recording of the Waltzes from “El Capitan” I might have liked to share, but it’s on a label that once requested the deletion of an audio file I made from one of its recordings. This was entirely within its rights, so much so that I feel obliged to honor that company's apparent fear that readers who heard the ciip might be inspired to buy this and/or related recordings on their label — and we certainly wouldn’t want that to happen.

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