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Sousa and Tsar Nicholas II’s Birthday: An Unexpected Tour Adventure

2017 American Music Month Exhibit

The Russian imperial capital of St. Petersburg was a major stop during John Philip Sousa’s 1903 tour of Europe.  Sousa planned his St. Petersburg performances to coincide with the tsar’s birthday and the bicentennial of the city’s founding, and anticipated large audiences for these concerts because the band had never before played in Russia.  What resulted, however, was a misadventure.  The concerts occurred at the beginning of Russia’s annual summer vacation when most theaters and concerts halls were closed.  In addition Russian music critics’ responses to his music was tepid.  Sousa was intimidated by the extensive advertising throughout the city for what he initially believed to be his music rival Суза, but eventually discovered that this was the Russian spelling of his own name.

While the St. Petersburg performances were not well attended, the concerts did spark deep patriotism among the American diplomats who were able to attend and the Russian aristocracy and military enthusiastically received the Sousa Band’s renditions of the Imperial Russian and American national anthems.  This exhibit of photographs, music, newspaper reviews, and political cartoons document Russian perceptions of America and Sousa’s music at the beginning of the twentieth century.

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