Anacreon’s trap

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July 5, 2016 by AK

As Carly Carioli reports in The Boston Globe, Stravinsky’s attempt to perform his arrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner in 1944 did not get him arrested but…

…the real story of what happened to the composer in Boston is an incredible tale. He did compose a weird arrangement of the national anthem, and the Boston police really did ban him from performing it — sparking a national uproar and a tense showdown that played out live on the radio.

The year was 1944, thirteen years after The Star-Spangled Banner became the official anthem of the United States. However, the song had served as the national anthem in WWI and Massachusetts had elevated it to a near-sacral status:

During World War I, the Massachusetts Legislature had narrowly passed Chapter 264, Section 9, which prohibits the performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as dance music, as part of a medley, or with “embellishment.”

This sounds supremely silly after all the Super Bowl performances of the anthem by various pop artists, some breathtaking, some straightforwardly excellent, most “with embellishment.” The law is still on the books but would unlikely survive a First Amendment challenge upon attempt at enforcement. Back in the 1940s, obviously, the social, legal and cultural environment was rather different.

I wouldn’t say the American version of To Anacreon in Heaven is easy to sing: its critics were not complete wrong on this. But it’s a surprisingly interesting tune.


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