GEORGE ROSENKRANS: A Forgotten Hero
As we close out the Month of Marches, WindConductor.com would like to honor a composer who may not be as well-known as Sousa and Fillmore, but made a strong contribution to the wind band idiom: George Rosenkrans.
Many band directors may not recognize George Rosenkrans. However, his contributions to the the world of wind band music were significant. Over the course of his career, Rosenkrans would compose over 200 compositions for band. His music has been performed at major events around the world, including the state funerals of John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill. His march Triumph Battalions was even played at the Liberation of Paris.
As the Month of Marches comes to an end, we honor George Rosenkrans.
George Rosenkrans composed his first march at the age of 17. A pianist and organist, he did not arrange the piece himself. However, after he received a bill for $50 (equivalent to over $1200 in today’s currency) to arrange the composition for wind band, he quickly learned the art of arranging.
George Rosenkrans was the only member of his family to earn a high school diploma. This is all the more interesting, given the fact that his father was a school teacher for a time!
During his most productive period, it is thought that Rosenkrans composed a new march every month! His compositions and their sales were the sole source of his income during the 1920s. Extremely patriotic, his compositions were often written with very pro-American and religious themes.
At the time, paper was a premium and Rosenkrans would often compose as many as four entire compositions on a single sheet paper. He would often begin with the melody and main theme. In a lighter hand, Rosenkrans would compose the counter melody on the same staff. After he had developed the composition to this point, he would then start on the next composition by rotating the paper 180 degrees and beginning once again. After composing two works on the front piece of paper, he would turn it over and continue the same process. In this manner he would have as many as four compositions on one piece of paper!
Although his music was widely performed during his lifetime, Rosenkrans died a pauper. He never considered taking any other job other than composition. As the glory of the Town Bands Era faded, the demand for his style of writing also waned. Income declined, and at one point, he even lost ownership of his house (despite continuing to live there often sleeping in a room covered by newspapers and a single blanket). In 1948, the Navy Band programmed one of his marches and invited him to attend. He declined, citing that he did not have an appropriate suit to wear.
Although many would see his later life and consider his career a failure, Rosenkrans contributed more to the Wind Band idiom than many composer could ever hope to achieve. Performances of his compositions at some of the most impactful events in modern history identify him as a crucial figure in the development of Wind Band Repertoire.
It is with honor that WindConductor.com recognizes the contributions of George Rosenkrans as we close out the Month of Marches!