program notes by composition > F > The Fairest of the Fair

The Fairest of the Fair

John Philip Sousa

The Fairest of the Fair was composed for the annual Boston Food Fair of 1908. It is claimed that Sousa was inspired by the memory of a pretty girl he had seen at an earlier fair.

John Philip Sousa (1854 1932) was known particularly for military marches. He started playing the violin at the age of six and had perfect pitch. When Sousa reached 13, his father, a trombonist in the United States Marine Band, enlisted him as an apprentice. Sousa served a seven-year term. He rejoined the Marines a few years later as director. He resigned again in 1892 to form a civilian band of his own which quickly attracted the finest players and gained a tremendous reputation.

Sousa said a march ‘should make a man with a wooden leg step out’, and his surely did. He was no mere maker of marches, but an exceptionally inventive composer of over two hundred works, including symphonic poems, suites, songs and operettas, for both orchestra and band.

Superb programming was a hallmark of Sousa’s phenomenally successful forty years of band touring. He pleasingly packaged classical standards and orchestral treatments of popular fare, establishing a standard style reflected today in the pops concerts of symphony orchestras. The principal commodity Sousa sold, however, was pride in America and American music. In the quarter century before radio, improved electronic records, and finally, the miracle of talking pictures, Sousa and his band and his music was America’s greatest musical attraction. He personified the innocent energy of turn-of-the-century America, bringing classical music to hundreds of towns and representing America across the globe.

Last updated on July 2, 2023 by Palatine Concert Band