Pops on the March
John Williams never met Arthur Fiedler in person, but in a phone conversation not long before Fiedler’s death, the elder maestro asked the composer to write him “a five-minute brilliant march” to commemorate his 50th anniversary as conductor of the Boston Pops. “Unfortunately I had a film to finish,” recalled in Janaury 1980, “so I wasn't able to do it.”
After the Pops named Williams as Fiedler’s successor, he found time to write Pops on the March as a memorial to his predecessor, leading the Pops in its premiere on April 28, 1981. “The piece is built on a rhythmic motto that comes out of the rhythmic way we say Arthur Fiedler’s name,” Richard Dyer wrote in his review of that concert, “and it makes brief and entertaining references to some of the music most closely associated with the late master Maestro, particularly The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Just under five minutes in length, the march begins with brass stating the principal motive in C major. Woodwinds, doubled on occasion by muted trumpet and tuba, take turns presenting the full theme in the first strain, leading to a statement by full orchestra. After a percussion transition, a break strain features the brass tossing about figures based upon the theme, embellished by increasingly manic counterpoint worthy of Paul Hindemith. Horns then introduce an expansive second theme in D♭ major, quickly restated in F major by the strings. Another break strain ensues, this time featuring not only the march theme but bits and pieces of John Philip Sousa’s The Stars Stripes Forever (the piece associated more than any other with Fiedler and the Pops). This evolves into a C major restatement of the first strain — with the piccolo tune from Sousa’s famous march heard as counterpoint but played by the horn section! The exapansive theme repeats in E♭ major, this time more boldly harmonized. The work concludes with an A-major restatement of the principal theme, now embellished by all sorts of bravura counterpoint, and a syncopated coda.
Full of good humor and incredibly well crafted, this march serves as a fitting tribute to Fiedler as well as a virtuoso showpiece for orchestra.
Williams recorded this march for his 1991 Boston Pops CD I Love A Parade (Sony Classical 46747).
The orchestral score and parts to this work are not commercially available.
- “John Williams bows in,” Richard Dyer
The Boston Globe, January 11 1980
- “Williams poised for Pops,” Richard Dyer
The Boston Globe, April 26 1981
- “Hooray, hooray for the Pops!,” Richard Dyer
The Boston Globe, April 29 1981