Igor Stravinsky, arrested for "tampering" with the Star Spangled Banner, 1940

Neil Gaiman sez, "In 1940 Igor Stravinsky re-orchestrated 'The Star Spangled Banner' for the Boston Symphony. Someone alerted the Boston police, who arrived at Symphony Hall, confiscated the instrumental parts to the Stravinsky orchestration and arrested Stravinsky for 'tampering with public property.'"

Stravinsky mugshot (Thanks, Neil!)


      1. Yeah, he was 58 in this photo and it is a mug shot. I think he always had those dark bags under his eyes. I have that too, unfortunately.

  1. Is this law still in power? Can I still get arrested for (intentionally or unintentionally) screwing up a chord?

  2. Would he have got away with writing a new arrangement of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” I wonder?

    And long may the sons of Anacreon entwine
    The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s vine!

    1. Are you sure, Saxtor? The music you linked to sounds like it was performed a cappella. There’s no instrumentation.

    1. Arrested in “Toronto” for drug possession not mangling the Star Spangled Banner.

  3. This is freaking AWESOME! Riots in Paris, arrested in Boston for ‘tampering with Public Property’.

    Stravinsky was SO Punk Rock.

    1. >Stravinsky was SO Punk Rock.

      Or, depending on how your view of chronology goes, Punk Rock was so Stravinsky.

      I’ve been using that photo as my user icon on the GMG Classical Music Forum for a while, but I never knew the story behind it… thanks for the details, Cory (and Neil)!

  4. At least he knew better than to mess with “God Bless America.” The Boston police look like Our Gang next to Irving Berlin’s lawyers.

    1. That’s pretty underwhelming. I mean, it’s not bad or anything, but you’d think Mr. Rite of Spring could have come up with a more creative arrangement than *that*.

  5. My interpretation of the beating photo: He looks like he was punched within the last four hours or so. The mottling is caused by the contusion, broken blood cells below the surface, but they haven’t had time yet to swell and give that big ‘punch mickey’ look. Note the band across the nose, major contusion on the exterior corner of right eye and in the interior corners of both eyes.
    Also maybe a mild laceration on upper right temple.
    I’d say primary beater-up-er was a lefty. What’s scary and I can’t really see is the possible mottling under his neck. But that might just be a film artifact. I draw this from my reservoir of ninja medical experience.

    1. ‘ninja medical experience’

      I’m imagining doctors dropping from the ceiling and punching the cancer out of you.

      1. i don’t know, ya know? i’m not gonna swear on the proverbial stack of sagan memoirs or anything, but that picture link looks more mid-late fifties (glasses, hat, coat style) with accrued age. As opposed to moderate hellish beating.

        1. Actually, Stravinsky was 58 in 1940 – the time of the photo up top. I think the picture I linked to is of him at a later age, but the marks on his face still exist in the same place just a bit darker. I think those were just natural features of his face, not the result of any trauma.

  6. The state law in question barred people from “tampering with national property”, which I suppose would mean poaching in national forests or urinating on the Bunker Hill monument, but a new arrangement of a song? It’s not like the new arrangement erases the old version, which will always exist, nor was the new arrangement meant to be offensive (by Stravinsky’s own description, it was meant as a gift to his new homeland– he became a naturalized US citizen in 1946.) Chalk it up the the red scare– a RUSSKY playing games with our sacred American hymn!

    I’ve always dug this photo too– used it as an avatar/icon for a while. Stravinsky is one of my long time musical heroes, I think classical music ends with “the Rite of Spring”, where so many classical rules are broken and the music is still beautiful and powerful.

    As for “punk rock”– you know he mentored Warren Zevon for a while in the 60’s.

  7. I’ve always been fascinated with the thought process behind bad ideas. Someone had to have the idea that an interpretation (whether jazz or bebop or ragtime, I suppose) of the Star Spangled Banner was so wrong that a law should be made, hundreds of representatives and at least 49 senators had to agree that this was more important than preparing for World War Two and finally, FDR had to decide that it was easier to sign the law than to veto it. Hundreds of high-ranking members of the federal government had to get together to do this in order for a musician to get the crap beat out of him by the police.

    I would be in favor of mandatory beatings of anyone using the Auto-Tune in music, however. Fun fact, Exxon invented the Auto-Tune (it helped interpret seismic readings to detect oil). Exxon pollutes the environment and my ears.

    1. lasttide: because ‘taint a Maj7, it’s a dominant 7th. Sounds quite striking & unexpected when it happens, right near the end.

  8. Boy, the Kronos Quartet better leave town…:
    Star Spangled Banner, by way of Jimi Hendrix:

    On a totally unrelated note, I came across Phillip Glass from Sesame Street while looking for that piece:

  9. Speaking as someone who was in choir in high school and college, and sang the National Anthem at many a sporting event, the Stravinsky arrangement would have been FAR easier on the pipes. Not to mention the fact that the harmonizing would sound far better than the jumpy, herky-jerky rhythm of the original. It’s a hard song to sing.

    I’ve always preferred “America the Beautiful” and mainly because Ray Charles made it into something perfect.

    1. Thank you for posting this link. You are so right about Ray Charles and “America the Beautiful.” There is a poetic grace in a man who grew up in the segregated south and totally blind from seven years old singing about the beauty of America.

  10. I’m calling bullshit on this one. I looked at snopes.com and although they had nothing, it feels too much like an urban legend. The purported facts doesn’t seem to line up neatly. Elsewhere on teh web, I have found assertions that the photo is from 1940, but the scandalous performance wasn’t until 1944, and for that he was only asked not to perform it, or that the sheet music was confiscated by the police, supposedly directly from the music stands of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, yet the only recordings I’ve found that seem to be by Stravinsky are a capella vocal tracks. I’m not buying this until I see something more authoritative. At this point all I will grant is that Igor got busted for something.

  11. But this leaves so much un-answered. Was he indicted? Was there a trial?

    Wikipedia says it was “a Massachusetts law prohibiting tampering with national property,” not a federal law.

  12. Sadly, this seems to be a myth. I’ve heard the anecdote before, but never took it seriously. Surely, this would have been fairly big news, even given all the other things going on then? And it seems to be missing from scholarly biographies of Stravinsky.

    This posting inspired me to do a bit of googling around. The truth, so far as I can tell, is a bit tamer. The revised anthem was played in Boston on January 15, 1944, almost 4 years after the date on the “mugshot.” The arrangement had been performed before (but not in Boston) and there was discussion about its violating MA law, but the concert went ahead anyway: while the performance itself was met with a fair amount of consternation and Stravinsky was reportedly asked not to conduct it there again, he certainly was not arrested. (See for example http://books.google.com/books?id=NLPhVK8NbssC&lpg=PP1&dq=stravinsky&pg=PA502#v=onepage&q=boston&f=false and http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0C12FF34581B7B93C7A8178AD85F408485F9&scp=2&sq=stravinsky+boston&st=p and http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20A1FFE3E59147B93C4A8178AD85F408485F9&scp=8&sq=stravinsky+boston&st=p and further, the conspicuous lack of any mention of an arrest in 1940: http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?frow=0&n=10&srcht=s&daterange=period&query=stravinsky&srchst=p&submit.x=19&submit.y=6&submit=sub&hdlquery=&bylquery=&mon1=01&day1=18&year1=1940&mon2=12&day2=31&year2=1940)

    Would love to know the story behind the mugshot.

  13. For those without NY Times subscriptions, here are some excerpts from the articles linked in my previous comment:

    From the NY Times, January 13, 1944:

    REVISES NATION’S ANTHEM – Stravinsky to Offer in Boston His Harmonization of Work. BOSTON, Jan. 12 (AP) — Igor Stravinsky will conduct his own harmonization of the national anthem at the Friday and Saturday concerts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The noted Russian composer, who will lead a program of his own works, said he completed the harmonization “two years ago on the Forth of July, curiously enough.

    From the NY Times, January 13, 1944:

    REVISED ANTHEM PLAYED – Stravinsky’s Version Puzzles the Boston Symphony Audience. BOSTON, Jan. 14 (AP) — The modern composer Igor Stravinsky conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in his own arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” today, startling a huge Symphony Hall audience. […] Stravinsky’s version of the national anthem overshadowed everything else on the precedent-breaking program. At the start the audience began to sing with the orchestra in customary manner, but soon the odd, somewhat dissonant harmonies of the 61-year-old composer’s arrangement became evident. Eyebrows lifted, voices faltered, and before the close practically everyone gave up even trying to accompany the score.

    From the NY Times, January 16, 1944:

    Stravinsky Liable to Fine – BOSTON, Jan. 15 (AP) — Composer Igor Stravinsky tonight was informed that he had run afoul of Massachusetts law when he conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in his own arrangement of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The Russian-born musician startled a huge Symphony Hall audience yesterday by his unusual arrangement. Tonight police informed him that he was liable to a $100 fine under Massachusetts law which forbids rearrangement of the national anthem in whole or in part. Boston Police Commissioner Thomas F. Sullivan said there would be no action.

  14. Whoops. Looks like my previous comment didn’t make it through — too many links? The essence was this: sadly, this seems to be a myth. The Boston performance of the revised ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ took place in 1944, not 1940. The piece had been performed earlier – in Los Angeles in 1941, according to one source. As is evident from the articles I quoted above, the performance was met with some consternation, but Stravinsky was certainly not arrested. I searched the NY Times archives for mentions of Stravinsky between 1940-1945 and could find no reference to his being arrested. Surely such an incident would have been big news even given the relatively turbulent times (and Stravinsky was in the news a lot in any case). References to an arrest are also lacking from scholarly biographies of Stravinsky. I won’t repeat links here in case that’s what kept my last comment from posting, but White’s biography is searchable on Google Books, as are others. Try keywords like ‘boston’, ‘anthem’, ‘arrested.’

    I’d love to know the story behind the “mugshot.” Shopped? Not Stravinsky?

  15. Just surfed up to point that this is a myth but someone beat me to it.

    It’s a very good myth, though.

    1. It’s a truly awesome myth, because it is an excellent story that begs to be repeated, and it’s kind of outrageous without being so far out there that it automatically trips the bullshit detectors.

      It is a myth which is too good to check

  16. I’m with Kiscica on this one. (Sorry Neil!) A quick Google with the relevant keywords keeps turning up the same sentence over and over, copied and pasted into a lot of other blogs and articles.

    Here’s a Washington Post article that goes a bit more in-depth on the whole subject (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A33967-2004Aug25.html), and it mentions that while some state laws were in effect at that time, there never has been a federal law addressing this issue.

  17. Law is still on the books:

    “Whoever plays, sings or renders the “Star Spangled Banner” in any public place, theatre, motion picture hall, restaurant or café, or at any public entertainment, other than as a whole and separate composition or number, without embellishment or addition in the way of national or other melodies, or whoever plays, sings or renders the “Star Spangled Banner”, or any part thereof, as dance music, as an exit march or as a part of a medley of any kind, shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars.”

    Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 249, § 9.

  18. Another credible source re: mythic arrest for Star-Spangled Banner. Michael Steinberg, liner notes to “Stravinsky in America”, as cited by Paul Thom in The Musician as Interpreter, Penn State Press 2007, p.50: “after Stravinsky conducted it with the Boston Symphony in 1944, the police informed the composer of a Mass law against tampering with national property, and removed the parts from Symphony Hall.”


  19. I searched the Boston Globe archives for April 1940, the month of the mug shot, and January 1944, the time of the performances of the troublesome arrangement, and their are no articles with combinations the search terms Stravinsky, Stravinski, arrest, arrested, Star Spangled Banner, and Boston Symphony.

    The music critic Alan Rich, who died only last month, once wrote he was present backstage in 1944 when the Boston police came to tell Stravinsky that he was in hot water over the arrangement. The mug shot obviously has no relationship to the Star Spangled Banner incident.

  20. So!
    Stravinsky and Sly Stone do have something in common.
    I mean besides being musicians.

  21. “The “mug shot” from 1940 is actually a photo taken for a visa application, during the time early in his stay in the United States where he was still living in the Northeast.”

    Brian Cronin, Music Legends Revealed #13: Stravinsky

    http://legendsrevealed.com /entertainment/2009/07/08/music-legends-revealed-13/

  22. I’ve always loved Stravinsky’s music and never heard this story. Of course I never read the full (large) bio by Robert Craft from which 2 other stories stand out:

    1. A quote (sorry don’t have the page number just my memory): “Stravinsky’s obsession was mammary.”
    2. Another quote (again, no page numbers): “He once describe an autocoprophagous (sp?) experiment as ‘sans gout.'”
    3. One more Stravinsky tidbit is that he was fanatically obsessed with working out. In a volume of photos called (I believe) “Igor & Vera: A Life in Pictures,” there are two photos of him showing off his physique. He’s wearing nothing in them.

  23. Jeez, it’s a good thing they didn’t ask Schoenberg to do it. He would have been charged with treason.

  24. Since when is a mugshot used for a visa APPLICATION?

    Even if this incident never quite happened, that it has the ring of truth to it is rather telling.

    It calls to mind the incidents during World War 1 when Upton Sinclair was arrested for reading the Bill of Rights and Roger Baldwin for reading the Constitution.

  25. As for the mugshot being used on a visa application — it is probable that two photos were made, one for the application and one to be placed on the visa.

    When I heard the story originally, I heard that Stravinsky was informed that a repeat of the performance would subject him to arrest for “desecration.”

  26. As a life-long resident of the Hub, I want to take this moment to say how proud I am to be living in a city full of reactionary rubes and hicks. Well-dressed and oh-so-refined hicks, but hicks nonetheless. And such a rich history! “Banned in Boston” was once a badge of pride for artists and performers of all kinds – if you could get the Boston Brahmans all a-twitter, you must be on to something!

    It could have been worse – he might have adorned the conductor’s stand with a Lite Brite Moononite. I can see Menino and Patrick in my mind’s eye, practicing their scowls of disapproval before the mirror every morning. Plus c’est change…

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