Stravinsky’s “Illegal” Arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner” (1944)

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.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Night When Char­lie Park­er Played for Igor Stravin­sky (1951)

Hear The Rite of Spring Con­duct­ed by Igor Stravin­sky Him­self: A Vin­tage Record­ing from 1929

Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Visu­al­ized in a Com­put­er Ani­ma­tion for Its 100th Anniver­sary

Watch 82-Year-Old Igor Stravin­sky Con­duct The Fire­bird, the Bal­let Mas­ter­piece That First Made Him Famous (1965)

Hear 46 Ver­sions of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 3 Min­utes: A Clas­sic Mashup

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Comments (3)
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  • Suzanne R Glaser says:

    It is an improve­ments over the Eng­lish drink­ing tune. Can it be sung?

  • Casey Winstead says:

    My father told me a sto­ry that is a fol­low-on to this one. Stravin­sky was con­duct­ing the Hol­ly­wood Bowl orches­tra (where my dad was a bassist). The sto­ry goes that dur­ing rehearsals Stravin­sky made his dis­dain for the nation­al anthem as a musi­cal piece clear by rush­ing through it in a cur­so­ry man­ner.
    Dur­ing the dress rehearsal, as the anthem con­clud­ed, an L.A.P.D. motor­cy­cle cop rode onto the stage right up to the con­duc­tor’s stand, and wrote Stravin­sky a tick­et for “Speed­ing the Star Span­gled Ban­ner.” Stravin­sky was shocked, but then it was revealed that the cop was the broth­er of one of the musi­cians, and it was all just a prac­ti­cal joke.
    Fun­ny thing is, my dad nev­er men­tioned the run-in with the Boston police, and I nev­er knew about it until read­ing about it here.

  • Blake says:

    How is this “appar­ent­ly” per­formed by the Lon­don Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra? It’s not appar­ent to me. You could have used report­ed­ly, sup­pos­ed­ly, pos­si­bly, alleged­ly, even beau­ti­ful­ly, but you chose to incor­rect­ly use the cur­rent­ly most overused word in the Eng­lish lan­guage. Sigh.

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