Did Fleming Play Fast, Loose With Anthem? You Bet
By Arthur Kaptainis
A lot of money was riding on the outcome Sunday evening. I refer, of course, to the duration of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as sung by Renée Fleming.
One popular over/under betting line was two minutes and 25 seconds – a time within sight of Alycia Keys’ noteworthy 2013 Super Bowl mark of 2:35.
Some might argue that all bets are off for R&B singers, who are likely to follow the curvature of the melody instinctively, add fanciful decorations at will and hold notes for as long as it suits them. Opera singers follow a beat.
But which beat did Fleming follow? Not the three-four time signature of the usual version of the melody, as codified by a committee (including John Philip Sousa) in 1917 and adopted (along with words by Francis Scott Key) as the U.S. national anthem in 1931.
Nor the six-four meter seen in a c. 1790 publication of “The Anacreontic Song” (to which this tune, composed by the Englishman John Stafford Smith before 1780, was originally attached).
Rather Fleming punched it out in a solemn four-four – common time – stretching the first beat into two. The effect can be heard most clearly at the words “And the rockets’ red glare.” In Fleming’s version, at the 1:45 mark, this line comes out distinctly as: “And the rawwww-kets’ red glare.”
There are smaller rhythmic nips and tucks, as well there might be in any vocal performance. And the four-four tread, with its attendant first-beat distortion, does not last. At the words “Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave,” Fleming picks up the tempo, or at least seems to, by reverting to the usual (and more energetic) three-four time. The fermatas – pauses – on “wave” and “free” are traditional. As for the flourish on “brave” – the final word of the poem (or its first stanza) – this can surely be accepted as reasonable musico-poetic license.
It should be recognized that three-four time is not entirely sacrosanct. Edwin Eugene Bagley‘s National Emblem March incorporates a feisty duple-meter rendering of the first 12 notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This composition (otherwise free of quotation) dates from 1902.
By my stopwatch Fleming’s rendition of the anthem (including a 10-second instrumental introduction) landed at 2:12. It was a soaring and noble performance, and distinctly a good thing for the public image of operatic performers. But without the time-signature switcheroo it would never have crossed the two-minute mark. I plan to discuss the matter with my local bookmaker.
Arthur Kaptainis writes about music for The Gazette (Montreal) and the National Post (Canada).Date posted: February 5, 2014
Search this site
Help Us Grow
Support quality coverage of the performing arts.
Click here to help Classical Voice North America resound!
CLASSICAL VOICE NORTH AMERICA – LOOK AROUND!
Welcome to Classical Voice North America (CVNA), an online journal of classical music criticism and commentary written by the expert members of the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA), with occasional guest contributors. We aim to convey the richness of musical life in the U.S. and Canada at a time when traditional print media is shrinking, and to bring classical music to life via digital images, audio samples, video and more. Full Story →
Are you a music writer? Join us. CVNA is writer-run, writer-written, and writer-friendly.
If you like what you see, become one of our sponsors. No contribution is too small!
We want to hear from you. Questions? Suggestions? Tell us at CVNA.email@example.com.
Classical Voice North America is on Twitter
Stories We Like: Recommended by Members
Exploratory 'First Take' presents six operas in progress -- By Mark Swed at the L.A. Times
Memorable work from Jacobs, Bronfman and the Cleveland Orchestra -- By Daniel Hathaway at ClevelandClassical
LPO returns to Orpheum Theater and sets a 'Resurrection' season for 2015-2016 -- By Chris Waddington at NOLA.com
Alan Gilbert to leave the New York Philharmonic in 2017 -- By Michael Cooper at the New York Times
Edmonton Symphony shines under conductor Bill Eddins -- By Mark Morris at the Edmonton Journal
Grammys 2015: 'City Noir,' L.A.'s Partch take home awards -- By Saba Hamedy at the L.A. Times
America's orchestras grapple with lack of diversity -- By Brian Wise and Naomi Lewin at WQXR
Winnipeg puts New York, California to shame with new music festival -- By Teghan Beaudette at CBC News
Yannick Nézet-Séguin signs with Philadelphia Orchestra through 2022 -- By Peter Dobrin at the Philadelphia Inquirer
Dallas Opera hits a double with 'La Wally' and 'Everest' -- By David Weuste at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Mason Bates named composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center -- By Jaime Prisco at Classicalite
Mozart’s Don Giovanni falls hard under COC’s heavy hand and curtain -- By Arthur Kaptainis at the National Post
Kent Nagano and Toronto's Tafelmusik deliver Beethoven at his best -- By Michael Vincent at the Toronto Star
Opera conductor Karen Keltner broke the gender barrier -- By John Patrick Ford at the San Diego Source
L.A. Opera tackles immigration with `Figaro 90210`-- By Josie Huang at Southern California Public Radio
National Symphony Orchestra hits the clubs, and scores -- By Anne Midgette at the Washington Post
New York's Prototype Festival offers a mix of opera and theater -- By Heidi Waleson at the Wall Street Journal
Carlos Kalmar nails American music plan for Grant Park Music Festival -- by Nancy Malitz at Chicago On the Aisle
Then and now, L.A. women get things done in classical music -- By Mark Swed at the Los Angeles Times
Lyric chief Anthony Freud plots new directions for Chicago opera -- By Mike Silverman at U.S. News
Pianist Simone Dinnerstein goes beyond Bach at the Met -- By James R. Oestreich at the New York Times
Excellent biography of composer Claude Vivier is long overdue -- By Arthur Kaptainis at the Montreal Gazette
Edmonton composers Alissa Cheung and Vivian Fung finding success on bigger stages -- By Mark Morris at the Edmonton Journal
Vocal Arts Ensemble Tells Compelling Christmas Story -- By Mary Ellyn Hutton at Music in Cincinnati
Orchestra London Canada's musicians sound alarm on leadership -- By Patrick Maloney at the London Free Press
New Orchestra of Washington embraces smaller-is-better movement -- By Joan Reinthaler at the Washington Post
Cleveland Orchestra is making money and beautiful music -- By the Editorial Board at the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Board chair gives Curtis Institute of Music $11.5 million -- By Peter Dobrin at the Philadelphia Inquirer
Ten pieces by living Canadian composers that you will love -- By Matthew Parsons at CBC Music
In With the New: It’s time we took more risk in new music programming -- By Barbara Jepson at the Wall Street Journal
Bid for New York City Opera's assets wins board support -- By Michael Cooper at the New York Times
Yuja Wang and Daniil Trifonov are Wunderkinds at work -- By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim at the New York Times
Laser light show goes highbrow at Walt Disney Concert Hall -- By Shaunacy Ferro at Fast Company
Noseda, Teatro Regio hit the mark with a thrill-packed 'William Tell' -- By John von Rhein at the Chicago Tribune
Dallas Symphony conductor Jaap van Zweden plays tough -- By Michael Granberrry at the Dallas News
Boston Symphony's Andris Nelsons: maestro of emotionality -- By Christopher Lydon at Radio Open Source (audio interview)
Finally, a Max Reger moment at the L.A. Philharmonic -- By Mark Swed at the L.A. Times
Alasdair Neal returns to New World Symphony for thrilling Dvořák -- By Lawrence Budmen at South Florida Classical Review
Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra launches in Los Angeles -- Rodney Punt at Huffington Post
The shape of opera to come: 'The Fool' at issue project room -- By John Chiaverina at ArtNews
Atlanta Symphony returns to applause and criticism -- By Mark Gresham at ArtsATL.com
LA Opera's double-bill of Bluebeard's Castle and Dido and Aeneas frustrates -- By Timothy Mangan at the Orange County Register
Atlanta Symphony musicians agree to a four-year contract -- By Howard Pousner at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Pianist asks the Washington Post to remove concert review -- By Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post
Vienna Aisle: Inside reeling mind of Tannhäuser via a bold psychological thriller at the Staatsoper -- By Lawrence B. Johnson at Chicago On the Aisle
Dido & Aeneas , Bluebeard’s Castle in a Duo at LA Opera -- By Rodney Punt at LA Opus
Why failing orchestras are the problem of every American -- By David Donnelly at the Huffington Post
Four New Yorkers offer different perspectives on 'Klingoffer' -- By Moustafa Bayoumi, Kayla Epstein, Alan Yuhas and Eli Valley at the Guardian
Newly created Pennsylvania Philharmonic launches season -- By David Patrick Stearns at the Philadelphia Inquirer
Has veneration of Beethoven stifled his successors? -- By Alex Ross at the New Yorker
United focus, local talent, help Utah Opera find success -- By Whitney Butters at the Deseret News
Boston's Handel and Haydn Society celebrates 200 years -- By Andrea Shea at the Artery (WBUR)
Does classical music sound better when you're high? -- By Chris Walker at OC Weekly
Stop sanitizing, and show the great works as they were created -- By Philip Kennicott at the Washington Post
Protesters disrupt St. Louis Symphony with song for Michael Brown -- By Ed Mazza at the Huffington Post
Gustavo Dudamel leads Mahler's Fifth in Los Angeles -- By Mark Swed at the Los Angeles Times
Dark, funny, musically vibrant ‘Don Giovanni’ raises the curtain on new Lyric Opera season -- By Lawrence B. Johnson at Chicago On the Aisle
Toronto's $32-million Integral House was built for music -- By Robert Everett-Green at the Globe and Mail
Alan Gilbert nears completion of his Carl Nielsen cycle with the New York Philharmonic -- By Anthony Tommasini at the New York Times
Robert Spano and Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed urge ASO and musicians to resolve conflict -- By Jenny Jarvie at ArtsATL