Semper fidelis

John Philip Sousa

Semper fidelis

About this work

After John Philip Sousa became the conductor of the U.S. Marine Corps Band in 1880, he made headway in the public consciousness as a composer of marches. Sousa found a measure of success Sound Off and other works; The Gladiator (1886) was especially widely distributed. However, it was with Semper Fidelis that Sousa had his first runaway hit, in the process creating what is arguably the prototype for the great American march. Most of his earlier efforts, while very good, often harked back to British or Continental models. This march, bearing as its title the motto of the Marine Corps, "Ever Faithful," seems to speak an inherently native language, easier to perceive than describe. It is perhaps no coincidence that Semper Fidelis was the first musical composition to receive the official recognition of the United States Government.

The march has the form AaBbCcDd, and is in 6/8 time. The percussive, commanding intro is like a call to attention, and is followed by a galloping first theme. There is an organic link between the second and closing themes, but what comes between is a contrapuntal tour de force. After a familiar drum tattoo comes the famous "bugle call" melody accompanied by a rolling ostinato in the basses. With the reprise, swirling clarinets are layered on, and with the last reprise a trombone countermelody quite distinctive and equal to the main theme is likewise added to the texture. With this, one of the composer's "big three" marches, Sousa showed himself to be no mere commercial tunesmith, but a skillful composer within his chosen medium.