In 1939, Igor Stravinsky emigrated to the United States, first arriving in New York City, before settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he delivered the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard during the 1939-40 academic year. While living in Boston, the composer conducted the Boston Symphony and, on one famous occasion, he decided to conduct his own arrangement of the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which he made out a “desire to do my bit in these grievous times toward fostering and preserving the spirit of patriotism in this country.” The date was January, 1944. And he was, of course, referring to America’s role in World War II.
As you might expect, Stravinsky’s version on “The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t entirely conventional, seeing that it added a dominant seventh chord to the arrangement. And the Boston police, not exactly an organization with avant-garde sensibilities, issued Stravinsky a warning, claiming there was a law against tampering with the national anthem. (They were misreading the statute.) Grudgingly, Stravinsky pulled it from the bill.
You can hear Stravinsky’s “Star-Spangled Banner” above, apparently performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, and conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. The Youtube video features an apocryphal mugshot of Stravinsky. Despite the mythology created around this event, Stravinsky was never arrested.
Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.