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Composers Datebook: Flagg's "First Band of Boston"

October 1, 2010

Composers Datebook Audio 10/1/2010

 

"Flagg-waving" in Colonial Boston?

 

On today's date in 1768, two regiments of British redcoats marched into Colonial Boston with colors flying -- and bayonets fixed -- accompanied by martial music provided by their regimental wind band. It was that city's introduction to the exotic sound of massed oboes, bassoons, and French horns.

 

One Bostonian who was very impressed by these new sounds was Josiah Flagg, an engraver by trade, and a boyhood friend of the famous Boston silversmith, Paul Revere. Before long, Flagg had formed his own musical ensemble, which he called "The First Band of Boston."

 

Flagg organized that city's first concert series, presenting music by J.C. Bach, Handel, Stamitz, and other European composers of the day. Occasionally, the First Band of Boston was even joined by musicians from the same British regiment whose entry into town had inspired Flagg's musical ambitions in the first place. But in a few years, all that would change . . .

 

In October of 1773, Flagg presented a gala concert at Boston's Faneuil Hall, which proved to be his last. He included music from Britain -- excerpts from Handel's Messiah -- but closed with his band's rendition of The Song of Liberty, the marching hymn of Boston's patriots. We rather suspect the British troops did not participate in that concert.

 

Soon after, Flagg moved to Providence, where he served as a colonel in the Rhode Island regiment during the American Revolution, and disappeared from our early musical history.

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