This was composed on Christmas Day 1896 by John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), known as the American March King. Following an Act of Congress in 1987, it was officially adopted as the national march of the United States of America.
It is still sometimes known as the ‘Disaster March’ because it used to be played in theatres and circuses if there was a life-threatening emergency as a signal to staff to organise an orderly exit without the audience panicking. This happened during the Hartford circus fire of July 6, 1944, when most of the audience of 7,000 were saved, though least 168 were killed.
Here is a lovely performance by a high school band – the hours of rehearsal this must have entailed!
Here it is taken at a tremendous pace by Leonard Bernstein.
The piece was transcribed for piano in 1944 by the great Russian-born player Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) to celebrate his gaining American citizenship. This is the score with him playing it.
And just in case it sounds easy, this is what it looks like in performance. I wonder if those are George Li’s parents on the end of the front row?
George Li has gone on to become a successful professional pianist.