Part of the History of The Oratorio Society of New York

Among the many premieres the Oratorio Society of New York has presented in its long career is the "Star Spangled Banner" in the version that is now sung as the national anthem.

When Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the "Star Spangled Banner" he used a song called "To Anacreon in Heaven" for the melody. That song (with a refrain about entwining Venus's myrtle and Bacchus' vine) was written by London composer John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a gentleman's club founded in 1766 for dining and singing "catches, glees, and songs."

In 1916, President Wilson signed an executive order for the "Star Spangled Banner" to be played at the military and naval services. In the years between Key's composition and this order, however, variations on the words and music had crept in. In response, the U.S. Bureau of Education commissioned a standardized version. Walter Damrosch (Music Director of the Oratorio Society of New York and the Symphony Society of New York), John Philip Sousa (composer), Oscar George Sonneck (director of the music division at the Library of Congress), William Earhart (author of books on school music and the 1915-16 president of the Music Supervisors National Conference), and Arnold J. Gantvoort (a noted university professor and author of books about music who in 1911 had been appointed by the Secretary of State to represent the United States at an international music congress in Rome) worked together to produce it.

The standardized version premiered at an OSNY concert at Carnegie Hall on December 5, 1917. The concert was dedicated to Belgium and featured the Symphony Society of New York with Walter Damrosch conducting.

The program consisted of the following:
     Walter Damrosch, John Philip Sousa, William J. Earhart, 
     Oscar George Sonneck, & Arnold Gantvoort: 
     "The Star Spangled Banner"
          Chorus, soloists, and audience
     Edward Elgar: Carillon (text by Belgian poet, Emile Cammaerts)
          Frances Starr, reader
     Gabriel Pierné: The Children's Crusade
Marie Sundelius, soprano; 
          Florence MacBeth, soprano; 
          Albert Lindquest, tenor; 
          Rachel Harris, soprano; 
          Royal Dadmun, baritone; 
          Chorus of 200 Public School Children

Congress voted "The Star Spangled Banner" the national anthem in 1931.

Marie Gangemi
Sept. 11, 1997