July 4, 2013

Fourth of July Playlist

By Michael Zwiebach

America’s midsummer holiday is upon us, and the parades are gearing up, for those who like the big events. But for the thousands who will be retiring to the backyard barbecue after the parade, there’s this playlist, with some of the perennial favorites and a couple of surprises.

  1. The Star-Spangled Banner (arr. Stravinsky).
    Famous composer Igor Stravinsky made this arrangement in all seriousness. There are some harmony changes (notice the chord on “land of the free”), but it hasn’t been “modernized,” just spruced up a bit.
  2. “Strike Up the Band” (Gershwin).
    George Gershwin’s march classic is set to extremely satirical, antiwar lyrics, but this is an instrumental version. Which shows how much a composer’s “intention” matters in music.
  3. “Beale Street Blues” (W.C. Handy) Louis Armstrong.
    Trumpeter Louis Armstrong always believed that he was born on the Fourth of July. He wasn’t, but close enough for this classic performance of one of the great songs in American music to be included here.
  4. Variations on “America” (Charles Ives, arr. William Schuman) Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler.
    Charles Ives was an old-style New England patriot. This is his interpretation of a great tune.
  5. “Semper Fidelis” (John Philips Sousa) Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler.
    Can’t have a Fourth of July playlist without a number from America’s march king.
  6. “Soldier’s Joy” (traditional fiddle tune), Mark O’Connor, violin.
    This tune dates from the time of the American Revolution and is included on the T.V. documentary Liberty: The American Revolution.
  7. “America the Beautiful” (Katharine Lee Bates/ Samuel A. Ward) Ray Charles.
    A classic, sentimental, but powerful rendition of a tune that remains many musicians’ second choice for America’s national anthem.
  8. “Hymn to the Fallen” from the soundtrack to Saving Private Ryan (John Williams), Boston Symphony Orchestra, John Williams.
    Amazing how many Fourth of July concerts will feature the music of John Williams, isn’t it? This now-iconic piece is an always timely reminder of the human cost of war.
  9. “Stars and Stripes Forever” (John Philips Sousa) Philip Jones Brass Ensemble.
    Can’t have an Independence Day celebration without this one.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.