Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Stravinsky's 'subversive' anthem

Carly Carioli, writing for the Boston Globe, recalls Igor Stravinsky’s World War II-vintage arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a modest re-harmonization that the composer thought would make the anthem easier to sing but was denounced by some as “subversive.”

At a 1944 concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Carioli writes, police “were apparently ready to arrest Stravinsky on the spot if the conductor attempted to perform his version of the anthem. ‘Let him change it just once,’ one reporter quoted [Radical Squad Captain Thomas J.] Harvey as saying, ‘and we’ll grab him.’ ”


Stravinsky’s version of the anthem is still rarely performed. The only times I’ve heard it live were at several Richmond Symphony concerts in the 1980s.

A performance by the London Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas conducting:

Contrast the troubled history of Stravinsky’s “Star-Spangled Banner” with that of Benjamin Britten’s 1961 arrangement of “God Save the Queen,” the British national anthem, lauded by Queen Elizabeth II: