VPR Header
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
NPR Classical

Marches Madness: Beware Friday The 15th!

It's Marches Madness! Throughout this month, we're posting some of our favorite marches — from the concert hall, opera stage and parade ground. Got one we should hear? Played any yourself? Let us know in the comments section.

A few mornings ago, I was at the kitchen table with my 6-year-old daughter, going through the family schedule. "Hey, you know what Friday is?" I asked.

"The spaghetti dinner and dance at school?" she responded.

"Well, yes. But it's also March 15th."

And I couldn't believe what came next — she shuddered and cried out, "It's the Ides of March!"

I'm pretty sure most first graders wouldn't blink at the date, but we've been deep in Roman history lately. (She thinks of herself as a budding historian, archaeologist, musician, ballerina and rainforest scientist.) She's both enthralled and horrified by the story of arrogant consul Julius Caesar, who — ignoring both his wife and a soothsayer — blithely went off to the Senate, where he was killed in a bloody coup on March 15th, 44 BCE. But I didn't understand the impact Caesar's gruesome end had on my child until that moment.

She's not the only one to be riveted by the story. There's that little play by Shakespeare and a Handel opera. Let your imagination wander and you can imagine one of Caesar's fearsome armies on their way back to Rome. And maybe — just maybe — a Caesar-led army was the inspiration for the march in Ottorino Respighi's blazing, color-saturated symphonic poem Pines of Rome.

In the composer's own program notes for this last movement, "Pines of the Appian Way," he wrote, "Trumpets blaze, and the army of the Consul advances brilliantly in the grandeur of a newly risen sun toward the Via Sacra, mounting the Capitoline Hill in final triumph."

This evening, after the sock hop, I think I'm going to share with my daughter this New Year's Eve version of "Appian Way," in which Tadaaki Otaka leads the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. After all, a triumphal if somewhat chilling march (ending with flutters of confetti!) makes for a better bedtime than thoughts of a political assassination — and maybe all that brass will help her end unlucky March 15th on a fiercely victorious note.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.