- Making the March King: John Philip Sousa’s Washington Years, 1854–1893 by Patrick Warfield
The available literature, both popular and scholarly, on John Philip Sousa is immense. At its core are three books by Paul E. Bierley; a number of well-researched and wonderfully informative articles by Patrick Warfield; and Six Marches, a critical edition edited by Warfield and published in the AMS’s series Music of the United States of America (Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2010). Although the general outlines of Sousa’s career as a performer and composer are well known, the details of his early career have been shrouded in vague generalizations taken mostly from Sousa’s recollections as they appeared in the popular press. In Making the March King: John Philip Sousa’s Washington Years, 1854–1893, Patrick Warfield examines legends and myths that have long been taken at face value and probes their validity, drawing upon the many documents he has unearthed. The result is an eye-opening reappraisal of how the young Sousa, through a careful consideration of his potential and some unexpected luck, engineered his nascent career to become Sousa the March King.
Warfield divides his book into three sections, “The Apprentice,” “The Professional,” and “The March King,” each of which has three chapters. In the “Prelude,” which precedes part 1, he sets the context for his investigation, noting that “the story told in this book . . . is a tale of perseverance rather than predetermination” (xvii). Warfield notes that the March King who ascended the podium at Manhattan Beach in 1893 “was not born a band conductor; rather, he grew up in the theater as a violinist” (xvii). Chapter 1 examines Sousa’s early education and musical studies in Washington, D.C., as the child of an immigrant family. Warfield calls into question the story Sousa told about how he enlisted in the Marine Corps when he was thirteen, offering a convincing alternative account. In chapter 2, Warfield follows Sousa’s career as a pit musician during the 1870s. It was during this period that Sousa began to compose; Warfield discusses and analyzes the early songs, most of which remain unpublished, as well as several instrumental works, showing how Sousa was influenced by earlier composers and how he developed his own voice. In this chapter Warfield again calls into question a story from Sousa’s biography, in this case his claim to have once declined an opportunity to study composition abroad through the help of Washington philanthropist William Corcoran. In this case, as in several other instances, Sousa used a “polite fiction” to further his public image as an American composer who had not been trained in Europe, as most others had been. Chapter 3 traces Sousa’s early career as a member of the U.S. Marine Band, a violinist, and a traveling musical director.
The next three chapters document Sousa’s rise from local musician to one with a burgeoning national reputation. Warfield vividly explores the many positions Sousa held as he actively, though not obtrusively, promoted himself. He was a member of Jacques Offenbach’s orchestra; an editorial assistant with several [End Page 475] Philadelphia publishers; the musical director of the Amateur Opera Company, which performed Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore in various East Coast cities; and ultimately the leader of the Marine Band. In fleshing out Sousa’s life during this period, Warfield skillfully details Sousa’s marriage and examines how his growth as a composer of theater works, songs, and marches helped him to achieve more of a national reputation.
In the final three chapters, Warfield brilliantly explains how Sousa consolidated the various threads of his multiple talents to become one of the most famous figures in American music. In “America’s Court Composer,” he skillfully recounts how Sousa’s tenure as leader of the Marine Band transformed it into a first-class ensemble, how its reputation was enhanced by early recordings, and how Sousa’s...