Peter Martin writes:

One hundred years ago this month, Camille Saint-Saens composed a work that was his fourth and final original work for wind band as well as a politically charged composition to rally the United States to join the Allies in World War I - but ever since the premiere, little has been known of HAIL! CALIFORNIA.

I'm happy to say that the "2015 Centennial Performing Edition" of the "Finale" to HAIL! CALIFORNIA is now available!

First performed by the Sousa Band at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, this lost gem for wind band incorporates the French and American national anthems in an original work for wind band that is both historically and musically significant.

For more information and to listen to a recording of the "2015 Centennial Performing Edition" by the Ridgewood Concert Band, click the following link:


Camille Saint-Saëns, Hail! California, and the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915

On 17 December 1921, The New York Times ran an obituary: “Saint-Saëns, Great Composer, Is Dead.” The final line of the lengthy tribute reads: “It will be recalled that on his visit to California in 1915 he completed an elaborate work, Hail! California, dedicated to the Panama-Pacific Exposition.” Hail! Californiais mentioned in many articles and biographies of Saint-Saëns, but little is known of the work – sometimes even debating the genre, orchestration, and forces necessary to perform the composition. If The New York Times was privy to the composition a handful of years after it was written, and considered it sufficiently important within Saint-Saëns's oeuvre to be included in the official obituary, why is it not a more formally acknowledged work today?

By 1915, the once young and prodigious Camille Saint-Saëns was now an octogenarian and was being viewed as a pillar of the old guard of music. The elder statesman was appointed by the French government as “First Delegate to the Franco-American Commission for the Development of Political, Economic, Literary, and Artistic Relations” for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, a cultural celebration to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal. For this occasion, Saint-Saëns gave lectures, conducted concerts of his music, and also composed a new work for the occasion: Hail! California, which was scored for a full orchestra of 80, organ, and supplemental wind band of 60.

Previously, Saint-Saëns had composed three known works for band: Orient et occident (1869), Hymne franco-espagnol (1900), and Sur les boards du Nil(1908). With the “Finale” to the massive Hail! California, he in essence composed another work for band, this time featuring the band with orchestral accompaniment and interplay. The final six minutes of the work featured John Philip Sousa's Band at the premiere along with interjections from the orchestra, two organ interludes, and brilliant tutti sections for the entire ensemble. Since the “Finale” is predominantly scored for band, and a full score for the band conductor does exist, it becomes easier to characterize the “Finale” as a work for wind band.

At the end of April 1915, Saint-Saëns embarked on the Rochambeau for a crossing of the Atlantic, an intrepid voyage at a time when naval warfare was being waged by the Germans. He carried with him one strand of the French hopes that the United States, with its many musicians of German origin, would cast its lot with the Allies. What Saint-Saëns composed for the Exposition was a work that attempted to unite France and the United States. What better way to make a statement of the French and Americans joining forces – musically and politically – than incorporating the national anthems of the two countries into his composition for the Exposition? Thus, “La Marseillaise” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” are masterfully woven together in the “Finale” of Hail! California. While the music of Hail! California is most certainly French-inspired and characteristic of Saint-Saëns's oeuvre, the use of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the employment of the Sousa Band lent a distinct American quality in both musical and extra-musical ways.

The premiere of Hail! California featured a full orchestra (reportedly the Boston Symphony Orchestra), Mr. Wallace A. Sabin on organ, and the Sousa Band, and was certainly a spectacle to be seen and heard at the Exposition. “The Festival Hall at San Francisco seated 3,782 persons, although [conductor Karl] Muck described the acoustics as so bad that all orchestras sounded alike. The stage contained a four-manual, [117-rank,] Austin organ, seventh largest in the world, and it was reported that in its most spacious wind-chamber there was room for seventy-five diners. The critic of The San Francisco Examiner noted the pleasure that Sousa and other musicians took in watching Saint-Saëns conduct.” The entire work was performed three times at the Exposition under the composer's direction, although it is the third performance on Sunday, 27 June which may have been what led to the creation of the additional music for winds after an ordeal arose with the organ: “The mighty organ developed a mighty cipher. The moving of the console to and fro had caused friction in the cables and every pipe suddenly sounded simultaneously. An unearthly roar bellowed forth; in a faltering speech the organist (Wallace A. Sabin) tried to explain to the audience that repairs were being done while his inadequate French and the composer's unwillingness to converse in English added to the disorder. It was decided to abandon the instrument, but just as the stage-hands began to move the console the tumult ceased and the organ became as docile as it should have been at the start.”

Notes on the 2015 Centennial Performing Edition

The present edition aims to incorporate all of the original music for wind band that Saint-Saëns composed in the ending section of Hail! California now edited for contemporary wind bands, as well as including the orchestral material, now arranged for band, into one comprehensive performing edition. Of significant interest, the full score manuscript also includes Saint-Saëns's orchestration of the two organ interludes if an organ was not available – or possibly if technical difficulties occurred much like the third performance at the Exposition. Although measures 1 through 8 (including the trumpets, horn, and trombones in measure 9) and measures 127 through 135 are not part of the band score and were originally penned as organ interludes, the organ content was orchestrated into the orchestral wind sections and is retained in this edition, as orchestrated by Saint-Saëns. The musical material is similar in both organ interludes, though the dynamic level and number of forces in the latter interlude are more substantial than the first, again, exactly as Saint-Saëns orchestrated and intended if an organ was not utilized in performance.

This edition spans a range of the final six minutes of a larger work that some have analyzed as having various sections or themes, whereas there are those that consider the work one continuous tone poem. What is here titled “Finale” encompasses an organ interlude, a military march, and a finale with a second organ interlude before the tutti conclusion. This section of music corresponds to measures 357 through the end of the work, measure 504, of the original composition. The rehearsal numbers and placement in the score, here renumbered 1 through 13, correspond to the original rehearsal numbers 32 through 44.

At all times, adhering to Saint-Saëns's orchestration was of primary concern when completing this performance edition. Where the band was tacet, the orchestral material has been arranged for band, again, with Saint-Saëns's intentions of tessitura and timbre kept in mind at all times. When the two ensembles overlapped, the concessions made were as minor as possible, while splitting sections of the band was utilized to incorporate Saint-Saëns's original intentions of the “band versus orchestra” interplay. There were also a considerable number of errors and inconsistencies across the several sources that were consulted; those errors have been corrected in this edition.

The supplemental band score to Hail! California and the abridged march coincide until measure 55 of the present edition, where Saint-Saëns begins to orchestrate the orchestral accompaniment into the horns and saxophones (retained in this edition from measure 56 through 64). There is also the addition of the percussion from measure 81 through 89 which appear at a similar section in the altered ending of the abridged march. It is not part of the original material to Hail! California and is therefore marked as “Ossia: tacet m. 81-89” in the percussion part and is at the discretion of the conductor whether or not to add the percussion. [It is the editor's suggestion to include the percussion in performance. Though it would not have been present in a full performance of Hail! California, it was a revision by Saint-Saëns in one of the consulted sources.]

Special attention should be made in the performance of the second organ interlude, measures 127 through 135, as well as to the lines that are slurred versus those that are articulated. This organ interlude, like the opening eight measures of this edition, are as composed and orchestrated by Saint-Saëns and would have been performed in this manner depending on the presence of the organ in performance.

A large band is encouraged for performance: A full contingent of flutes and clarinets, and a minimum of six trumpets are required for performance. It is ideal to have double the number of horns and even up to 12 trumpets, three players per part, if possible.

In order to create a more manageable format for this edition, the musical content of the cornets and trumpets from the full orchestral version is now present in the four trumpet parts. It is suggested to have a large trumpet section of preferably/at least two players on each of the four parts as a full performance ofHail! California would have included a total of 12 trumpets and cornets: four orchestral trumpets and another two in the wind band along with six cornet players.

The soprano saxophone part that is retained in this edition may be viewed as optional. The original orchestration was for soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones and are retained in this edition. If a soprano saxophone is not available, two alto saxophones may perform the alto saxophone part, where the soprano saxophone material is transposed and incorporated as an upper divisi in the alto saxophone part where technically and musically suited. As the soprano saxophone mostly doubles the clarinet 1 line, it is up to the conductor and the practical forces that are involved within each ensemble to determine if they wish to preserve the original orchestration with soprano saxophone, or to utilize the more customary two alto saxophones. Both are acceptable ways of performing the work.

The first performance of the “2015 Centennial Performing Edition” was given on 14 November 2014

at the West Side Presbyterian Church, Ridgewood NJ

by the Ridgewood Concert Band, Dr. Christian Wilhjelm, music director