Sousa, John Phllippe


John Phllippe Sousa was born in Washington on November 6, 1854.

American composer and conductor of brass bands, author of the famous march "The Stars and Stripes Forever", which became the National March of the United States. Sousa left his mark in the history of American music as the "American March King". Sousa aided in the development of the Sousaphone*, a large brass instrument similar to the helicon and tuba.

Both parents of Susa were immigrants: father, Juan Antoniou Sousa, trombonist of the United States Marine Corps “Marin Band”, was born in Spain and was of Portuguese origin, his mother, Maria Elisabeth Trinkaus, was born in Bavaria.

John Philip, the third of ten children in the family, was not in good health and initially he was brought up and educated at home. Later, while still in school, he began to take violin lessons under John Esputa, the theory of music and composition - from George Felix Benkert, also mastering the piano, flute and brass instruments. At the age of eleven, Susa organized his first brass band, and at thirteen, he was about to escape with a traveling circus, but at the insistence of his father he entered the Marine Band. At this time, he performed as a violinist and practiced in composition.

In 1874, Susa left the orchestra, but continued to perform as violinist. He participated in home concerts at the US Under Secretary of State William Hunter. After short collaboration with several Washington theaters as a conductor in 1876, Sousa left for Philadelphia, where he took part in the celebrations dedicated to the centenary of the United States. Jacques Offenbach was invited to conduct the orchestra assembled on this occasion, and Sousa played the first violin in it. Sousa's activities in Philadelphia continued - he concerted and wrote music for theater productions. The arrangements of several operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan were among his works of that time. “Frigate Pinafor”, one of the most popular among them. Sousa wrote new orchestrating for it that was highly praised by the authors.

Commandant of the Marine Corps, Colonel Charles Grymes McCawley attended one of these performances in 1880. Having learned that the music that he really liked was arranged and performed by his former bandsman, he decided to meet with him at dinner, and without thinking twice offered him the post of the conductor of the Marine Corps Orchestra. The orchestra was then not in the best plight and order. Sousa managed to make the team one of the best brass bands in America while he was working with it for twelve years. He actively participated in expanding the repertoire of the orchestra, arranging classical works for it and composing new original music (mainly marches).

The 1880s was the time when Sousa became popular as a composer: his first major success in the operetta genre was “The Beloved” (1883), and “Gladiator” (1886) won great popularity among marches. In 1890-1892, Sousa together with the orchestra went on major tours in the United States.

By that time, Susa began to feel keenly that his position of a not service grade-officer contrasted sharply with his fame and popularity. This fact prevented him from further development as a conductor and composer. Therefore, he accepted the offer of a philanthropist David Blakely to organize his own orchestra and resigned from military service. His new team, known as the "Sousa Orchestra", from the first season of its existence performed with great success throughout the country, in 1900 - at the World Exhibition in Paris, in 1900-1905 - in European countries, and in 1910-1911 performed in the world larger cities. The 1890’s were the boom period in popularity of the operettas by Sousa's, among them “El Capitan” (1895).

The busy concert life of the orchestra was interrupted only in 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, and resumed after the end of war. Only in 1929, after the beginning of the Great Depression, the number of concerts decreased. The last performances of the orchestra took place in September 1931. In the 1920s, Sousa, in addition to managing the orchestra, was involved in the problems of musical education and participated in the jury of various competitions.

Sousa died in 1932 of a heart attack in Reading, Pennsylvania, shortly after a rehearsal with the local brass band. He was buried at the Congress Cemetery in Washington.

Archives of documents related to the name of Sousa are stored in the libraries of the US Congress, the University of Illinois, and the Marine Corps Orchestra. For many years, former musicians of his orchestra have followed the tradition of celebrating their leader’s birthday by meetings and gala dinners in New York.

The brightest section of Sousa’s creative heritage is – his marches for a brass band. John Phllippe Sousa is the author of 136 works in this genre. The marches by Sousa are diverse in nature, but they are all marked by optimism and vitality. Among them - "The Stars and Stripes Forever" (since 1987 - the US National march), Semper Fidelis (which became the unofficial anthem of the American Marine Corps), "The Liberty Bell" and many others. Sousa also wrote fifteen operettas, similar in style to the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, about seventy songs and a number of compositions for a brass band.