Tuesday, July 4, 2017

an 1814 banner ... sort of



Some time ago, I searched around for a modern, fair copy of the original arrangement of "The Star Spangled Banner," as it was first published with music. It's different in several ways from the way we sing it now. I didn't find one.

So I started doing my own, copying the arrangement as it was, but with the awareness that it's now our national anthem, which means it's for group singing.

The original is for a soloist, then repeats the last line for group singing, so I took out that repeat. The original also has a piano interlude that seems to symbolize the faint bugle-calls and cannon-fire of the battle at Fort McHenry; I took that out too. The original has just a single-note right hand and left hand piano part, with the lyrics between; I followed standard sheet-music practice by writing a vocal staff and a piano part that's nice and full, while keeping to the harmonies of the original. I also kept the original notes and rhythms.

The result is, then, true to the original, but far from it. If you could go back to Mr. Key, tell him this is now our national anthem, and play him what the Air Force Band played today, followed by what I wrote, he might be puzzled at the band version but less puzzled by mine, which has the tune closer to how he sung it.

If he looked at the sheet music, though, he'd marvel at the inhumanly superb engraving, remark on the strange notation ("Stems on the left side of a half-note?! Jupiter!"), and wonder why on earth I couldn't count on pianists to realize (to use the old word) their own part, filling out what's implied from the melody and bass.

So. Here you go: click on the page to get a brand-spankin'-new edition of the national anthem as it would have been sung in 1814, notated for modern patriots. Play it and sing it, con spirito.




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