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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Comments (11)
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  • MerryMarjie says:

    Imagine censorship dictating the notes of music. It’s as if someone drew a bigger smile for the Mona Lisa and made that the “official” version.

    There will always be someone who thinks change is poison, thus, will we always have censors. Whatever happened to, “Do Your Own Thing”?

  • Rod Stasick says:

    I don’t see a mugshot.
    The mugshot I’ve seen elsewhere is
    from 4 years before this arrangement,
    so I’m confused.

  • Sifcell LeNoir says:

    FFS, imagine what those proto-maga goons would have said about Jimi’s version.

  • Bob says:

    I’m a “maga-goon” and I LOVE Jimi’s version. Wake up and stop being such a programmed and predictable tool of the establishment… Remember when YOU were “anti-establishment”? Now you’re just another victim of their psy-ops. Jimi was a patriot, too.

  • RightStuff1944 says:

    Yup, let’s see if we can subtly re-write the Bible to “fit” modern times. Progressives will push the envelope on almost anything revered or sacred. So, just grab your bonnet, and “enjoy” the ride. See Roger Olson’s Against Liberal Theology: Putting the Brakes on Progressive Christianity.

  • Maptex says:

    It was a gift from the heart of a talented composer to his new country. Context. 1944. WWII. A newly accepted immigrant with such new chordal structures, modern music, jazz, avant-garde art…took time to be accepted, and they were. 1944, scary times. People took comfort in tradition. It takes confidence in one’s beliefs and core to embrace the new. America was not confident then. America has always grown to embrace creativity in the arts.
    Freedom to choose among all the beauty.

  • Rumaggi says:

    Castrated of all uplifting spirit.

  • Deplorable and Irredeemable says:

    How are they “protomaga”???

    It’s the BPD, the official shock troops of a thoroughly blue city in a thoroughly blue state.

    For the record, Stravinsky is my favorite ‘Russian Romantic’ period composer. I also loved Jimi’s interpretation of the SSB, he being a patriot that served his country in the USAF.

    Nice try with the ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ but you suck at it.

  • Samizdat says:

    Well, it is an improvement. Although considering it was originally an English drinking song (to be sung drunk, I presume), that’s not saying much.

    I’m fairly certain that the Betelgeuse Death Anthem sung by Ford and Zaphod in the BBC television version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a spot-on parody of our drunken anthem.

    I’d much prefer Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land. Eminently more melodic. And you can even sing it sober.

  • John says:

    You are com0letlyty wrong…may b amerikka embraced arts but not black ,brown people…and neither immigrants of color so welcoming the the new stolen world… have a bubble around you because white immigrants were treated differently then others..

  • Jim says:

    I dont have a problem with it. Not a bit.

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