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Vignette
February 28, 2011  |  by Dale Keiger

As the year 1814 entered its last months, the owner of a Baltimore music store sought to profit from the sudden popularity of a new song titled “Defence [sic] of Ft. McHenry.” Thomas Carr, proprietor of Carr’s Music Store on Baltimore Street, apparently didn’t like the song’s name because when he published the tune in October 1814, he changed it to “The Star Spangled Banner.” Perhaps in his haste to capitalize on what a 21st-century publisher would call the buzz about the song, he left off the name of author Francis Scott Key and misspelled an added subhead.

Only 11 copies of Carr’s first edition, thought to be the second-ever printing of the song’s lyrics and melody (an anonymously printed broadside had appeared a few weeks before), are known to exist, marked by that subhead, “A Pariotic Song.” The White House has one, as do the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, Indiana University, the Moravian Music Foundation—and Johns Hopkins. A well-preserved copy resides in the Eisenhower Library, part of the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music. In 1940, Levy bought the copy for $170, about $2,700 in current dollars. Quite the bargain, considering that someone bought another of the Carr editions at a Christie’s auction last December for $506,500.

Carr may not have credited Key (or even heard of him), but on the sheet music he credited himself with the adaptation and arrangement, which he said should be sung con spirito (with spirit). His edition includes a seven-bar introduction and acknowledgment that the octave-and-a-half melody, notoriously tough for bad pop singers at sporting events, was originally “To Anacreon in Heaven,” the official ditty of an 18th-century club for English amateur musicians. Carr published all four verses—sing with me:  “And where is that band who so vauntingly swore . . .”—plus a 16-bar addendum “For the Flute.”


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