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The Boston Pops Orchestra

For year after year, decade after decade, the Boston Pops were one of the most popular orchestras in America. Through concerts, tours, and an endless series of record albums, they brought classical music, marches, and contemporary pop to millions of listeners. Over the course of the 20th century, the orchestra was recorded more than any other. They developed a repertoire that functioned as the de facto American classical and pop lexicon. The Boston Pops were populists, emphasizing melody and texture instead of somber, challenging classical pieces. This direction was devised by Henry Lee Higginson, who formed the prototype of the Pops in 1885. The orchestra remained a popular local attraction for the first three decades of the 1900s, but it became nationally famous when Arthur Fiedler was appointed as conductor in 1930. Over the next five decades, he perfected a friendly, accessible sound that emphasized familiar classical pieces with popular tunes, marches, and excerpts from film and Broadway scores. By the time John Williams took over for Fiedler in 1980, the Boston Pops were internationally known, but Williams took great steps to ensure that the outfit remain contemporary, frequently adding new pieces to their repertoire. Williams stayed with the outfit until 1995, when he passed the mantle on to Keith Lockhart. In all three incarnations, the basic sound of the Boston Pops remained unchanged, and the orchestra retained its popularity throughout shifting musical tastes.

The formula for the Boston Pops was unwittingly devised by Henry Lee Higginson, the founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. On July 11, 1885, Higginson gave the first Music Hall Promenade Concert, where the program consisted of "light music of the best class." He had based the program on garden concerts he attended as a student in Vienna, but it also borrowed heavily from the Promenade Concerts Benjamin Bilse conducted in Berlin, copying the style of opening with a light piece, moving to the heaviest composition on the program, and then concluding with another light number. It also had a medley of familiar numbers Bilse performed. Both the medleys and style of the program would provide the template for the Boston Pops. Higginson led the Boston Symphony Orchestra throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. At first, his programs relied heavily on European classical pieces, but as more American composers emerged, he incorporated them into his sets, thereby giving such writers as John Philip Sousa and Victor Herbert invaluable exposure. In 1900, the Promenade Orchestra became a separate entity from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was now known as the Boston Pops.

Higginson passed the leadership of the Pops to Adolf Neuendorff, a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra who followed his predecessor's formula. He was the first in a line of conductors of European descent that dominated the Pops during the early 1900s. Neuendorff didn't stay with the Pops long, and he was succeeded by a number of similarly minded conductors, often promoted from the ranks of the Symphony Orchestra, including Timothee Adamowski, Max Zach, Gustav Strube, and Agide Jacchia. In 1927, an Italian composer and pianist named Alfred Casella was brought in to conduct and direct the Boston Pops. Although his tenure was brief, lasting only two years, it was influential, because it illustrated what the Boston Pops could not do. Casella decided that it was his duty to treat the Boston Pops like a conventional symphonic orchestra, having them perform full symphonies and pieces from contemporary avant-garde composers. Accustomed to "light classics," the audiences complained incessantly. Faced with public dissatisfaction, the Boston Symphony Orchestra decided to let Casella's contract expire in 1929 and hire Arthur Fiedler, a 35-year-old violist from the BSO. Fiedler had previously applied for the conductor position once Jacchia resigned, but the job went to Casella instead. As Casella led the Pops, Fiedler formed a chamber orchestra named the Fiedler Sinfonietta, which performed a series of concerts called the Esplanade Concerts. Once the Pops hired Fiedler, the Esplanade Concerts were folded into the BSO and eventually became a respected, popular Boston tradition.

Fiedler began his tenure as Pops conductor in 1930. As the first American-born conductor to lead the Pops, Fiedler developed a unique repertoire that came to define the Boston Pops. His Pops performed a wildly diverse variety of music, playing both traditional and contemporary classical music, jazz, opera, film and Broadway scores, and contemporary pop hits. He wasn't shy about incorporating new music into the orchestra's program -- his first concert featured "Strike Up the Band" and Ravel's Bolero, which was no more than a year old at the time -- and he was determined in expanding the Pops' repertoire far beyond light European classical music. Fiedler was also prescient about recordings, knowing that they were vital to the success of not only the Boston Pops, but classical music in general. In July 1935, he recorded 40 compositions for RCA Victor, including Jacob Gade's recent "Jalousie." When it was released as a single, "Jalousie" sold over a million copies, becoming the first major hit orchestral record, as well as the first RCA Victor single to sell a million copies. (The name the Boston Pops Orchestra wasn't official until these RCA recordings, since the label needed a sharp, catchy name to put on the records.)

The recordings, in addition to constant touring, established the Boston Pops as national phenomenons, but instead of resting on his laurels, Fiedler continued to push the orchestra forward, showcasing new (usually American) composers and soloists. He also skillfully promoted his orchestra through recordings and media. In 1952, the Boston Pops began broadcasting locally. Ten years later, their radio broadcasts were syndicated nationally and remained on the air until 1992. In 1969, he arranged for Boston Pops concerts to be broadcast on American Public Television as Evening at Pops. These televised concerts brought the Pops to a huge audience, not only in America but throughout the world. During the '70s, the Boston Pops were inarguably the most popular orchestra in the world, and their success culminated with a spectacular Fourth of July concert on the American Bicentennial in 1976.

Through a combination of talent, innovation, and savvy, Fiedler established the Boston Pops as the world's pre-eminent orchestra, and he stayed with the ensemble until his death on July 10, 1979. He left behind a legacy that was seemingly impossible to fill, and for a while, it looked like the Boston Symphony Orchestra had no idea who could replace him. Harry Ellis Dickson, the associate conductor, finished the 1979 concerts, along with a series of guest conductors. Finally, in January 1980, John Williams was named conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra. Williams was best-known for his scores for such hit films as Jaws and Star Wars, yet his musical background was vast and deep. A classically trained musician, he had also worked as a jazz pianist and a pop arranger. Prior to the Pops, he had little experience as a conductor, but he had the skill and taste to succeed, as well as the fame to bring new audiences to the Pops.

During his tenure with the Boston Pops, Williams continued to write film scores -- including those for Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial -- but he devoted himself to his orchestra. He made sure the group's repertoire didn't become static by adding new pieces to their canon (including some specially commissioned pieces) and having the orchestra perform symphonic arrangements of film scores. He continued the radio and television broadcasts of the Pops, and he toured the orchestra consistently. Williams also made sure the Boston Pops kept recording, releasing popular albums on the Philips and Sony Classical labels.

On Christmas 1991, John Williams announced he was retiring as conductor at the conclusion of the 1993 season. At the end of the season, he would be given the title Laureate Conductor and serve as Music Adviser. By the time Williams left in 1993, the BSO had found his replacement -- the 35-year-old Keith Lockhart, who had previously served as the conductor of the Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra. During his first few years conducting the Pops, Lockhart continued the orchestra's frenetic pace, performing hundreds of concerts, recording several records for RCA Victor, and appearing on television programs for both PBS and A&E. Lockhart proved to be a worthy successor to Williams, as the Boston Pops posted record attendance levels during his first season as conductor. The Pops maintained their phenomenal popularity into the next century, with recordings like 1998's The Celtic Album and 2000's The Latin Album continuing to reflect changes in mainstream listening tastes. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Swing, Swing, Swing

1. Opus One

2. Begin The Beguine

3. Sunrise Serenade

4. Tuxedo Junction

5. Satin Doll

6. In The Mood

7. Sing, Sing, Sing

8. Stompin' At The Savoy

9. Moonlight Serenade

10. A String Of Pearls

11. By The Sleepy Lagoon

12. Song Of India

13. Snowfall

14. Swing, Swing, Swing


Track List: Night Fever

1. Medley: Stayin' Alive, Night Fever, Manhattan Skyline, Night On Disco Mountain, Disco Inferno

2. Bachmania


Track List: Gershwin Without Words

Title: Girl Crazy, Musical
Title: Lady, Be Good!, Musical
Title: Love Is Here To Stay, Song (from The Goldwyn Follies, Film)
Title: A Foggy Day (in London Town), Song (from A Damsel In Distress, Film)
Title: Funny Face, Musical
Title: Love Walked In, Song (From The The Goldwyn Follies, Film)
Title: Oh, Kay!, Musical
Title: Lady, Be Good!, Musical
Title: Girl Crazy, Musical
Title: Lady, Be Good!, Musical
Title: Girl Crazy, Musical
Title: Of Thee I Sing, Musical
Title: Girl Crazy, Musical
Title: Show Girl, Musical
Title: Girl Crazy, Musical
Title: Porgy And Bess: A Symphonic Picture (arr. Robert Russell Bennett)
Title: Strike Up The Band, Song (from Strike Up The Band; Both Versions)

17. Strike Up The Band, Song (from Strike Up The Band; Both Versions): Strike Up The Band


Track List: Classics For Kids

Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Title: Nutcracker, Ballet, Op. 71
Composer: Leon Jessel
Title: Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers, For Chorus & Band
Composer: Camille Saint-Saëns
Title: Carnival Of The Animals, Zoological Fantasy For 2 Pianos & Ensemble
Composer: Claude Debussy
Title: La Fille Aux Cheveux De Lin, Prelude For Piano, L. 117/8
Composer: Aaron Copland
Title: Rodeo, Ballet
Composer: Claude Debussy
Title: La Boîte À Joujoux (The Toybox), Ballet, L. 128
Composer: Zoltán Kodály
Title: Háry János, Suite From The Opera For Orchestra
Composer: Maurice Ravel
Title: Ma Mère L'oye, Ballet For Orchestra
Composer: Richard Rodgers
Title: The King And I, Film Score
Composer: Victor Herbert
Title: Babes In Toyland, Operetta "extravaganza" In 3 Acts
Composer: Raymond Scott
Title: The Toy Trumpet

19. The Toy Trumpet: The Toy Trumpet

Composer: Paul Dukas
Title: The Sorcerer's Apprentice (L'apprenti Sorcier), Symphonic Scherzo For Orchestra
Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Title: The Sleeping Beauty, Ballet, Op. 66
Composer: Johannes Brahms
Title: Wiegenlied ("Guten Abend, Gut Nacht"), Song For Voice & Piano, Op. 49/4

Track List: American Visions

Composer: John Williams (Composer)
Title: A Hymn To New England, For Orchestra

1. A Hymn To New England, For Orchestra: Hymn To New England

Composer: Aaron Copland
Title: Rodeo, Selections From The Ballet (Including "Four Dance Episodes")

2. Rodeo, Selections From The Ballet (Including "Four Dance Episodes"): Buckaroo Holiday

Composer: Ferde Grofé
Title: Mississippi Suite

3. Mississippi Suite: Father Of Waters

4. Mississippi Suite: Huckleberry Finn

5. Mississippi Suite: Old Creole Days

6. Mississippi Suite: Mardi Gras

Composer: Charles Ives
Title: Orchestral Set No. 1: Three Places In New England, For Orchestra, S. 7 (K. 1a5)

7. Orchestral Set No. 1: Three Places In New England, For Orchestra, S. 7 (K. 1a5): III. The Housatonic At Stockbridge

Composer: Howard Hanson
Title: Merry Mount, Suite From The Opera, Op. 31

8. Merry Mount, Suite From The Opera, Op. 31: Prelude To Act Ii/maypole Dances

Composer: Leonard Bernstein
Title: On The Town, Musical

9. On The Town, Musical: Act I Finale: Times Square

Composer: Ron Nelson
Title: Savannah River Holiday, For Orchestra (Or Concert Band)

10. Savannah River Holiday, For Orchestra (Or Concert Band): Savannah River Holiday Overture

Composer: Harl McDonald
Title: Nocturnes (2) For Orchestra "San Juan Capistrano"

11. Nocturnes (2) For Orchestra "San Juan Capistrano": Fiesta

Composer: Jerome Kern
Title: Mark Twain Suite, For Orchestra

12. Mark Twain Suite, For Orchestra: Hannibal Days

13. Mark Twain Suite, For Orchestra: Gorgeous Pilot House

14. Mark Twain Suite, For Orchestra: Wandering Westward

15. Mark Twain Suite, For Orchestra: Mark In Eruption


Track List: Summon The Heroes

Composer: John Williams (Composer)
Title: Summon The Heroes, For Orchestra
Composer: Carl Orff
Title: Carmina Burana, Scenic Cantata For Soloists, Choruses & Orchestra
Composer: John Williams (Composer)
Title: Olympic Fanfare And Theme, For Orchestra
Composer: Mikis Theodorakis
Title: Canto Olympico, For Tenor, Bass, Chorus, Piano & Ochestra
Composer: Michael Torke
Title: Javelin, Overture For Orchestra
Composer: Leonard Bernstein
Title: Olympic Hymn, For Chorus & Orchestra (withdrawn)
Composer: Dmitry Shostakovich
Title: Festive Overture, For Orchestra In A Major, Op. 96
Composer: Vangelis
Title: 1492: Conquest Of Paradise, Film Score
Composer: Miklós Rózsa
Title: Ben-hur, Film Score
Composer: Josef Suk (composer)
Title: Towards A New Life, Festive Sokol March For Orchestra, Op. 35c
Composer: Vangelis
Title: Chariots Of Fire, Film Score
Composer: John Williams (Composer)
Title: Olympic Spirit, For Orchestra

Track List: Offenbach: Gaïte parisienne; Rossini-Respighi: La boutique fantasque [Hybrid SACD]

Composer: Jacques Offenbach
Title: Gaîté Parisienne, Ballet (Music By Offenbach Arranged By Manuel Rosenthal)
Composer: Ottorino Respighi
Title: La Boutique Fantasque, Ballet After Rossini, P. 120

Track List: Stars & Stripes Forever and the Greatest Marches

Composer: Giuseppe Verdi
Title: Aida, Opera

1. Aida, Opera: Grand March From Aida

Composer: Victor Herbert
Title: March Of The Toys, For Orchestra (from "Babes In Toyland")

2. March Of The Toys, For Orchestra (from "Babes In Toyland"): The March Of The Toys

Composer: John Philip Sousa
Title: Semper Fidelis, March For Band

3. Semper Fidelis, March For Band: Semper Fidelis

Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Title: Suite No. 1 For Orchestra In D Minor, Op. 43

4. Suite No. 1 For Orchestra In D Minor, Op. 43: IV. March Miniature

Composer: Morton Gould
Title: Yankee Doodle

5. Yankee Doodle: Yankee Doodle

Composer: Robert G. Morse
Title: Up The Street March, For Band

6. Up The Street March, For Band: Up The Street

Composer: Hector Berlioz
Title: Marche De Rákóczy (Rákóczy March), For Orchestra (Le Damnation De Faust), H. 109

7. Marche De Rákóczy (Rákóczy March), For Orchestra (Le Damnation De Faust), H. 109: Marche Hongroise

Composer: Mikhail Mikhaylovich Ippolitov-Ivanov
Title: Caucasian Sketches, Suite For Orchestra, Op. 10

8. Caucasian Sketches, Suite For Orchestra, Op. 10: Procession Of The Sardar

Composer: Robert Planquette
Title: Le Régiment De Sambre Et Meuse

9. Le Régiment De Sambre Et Meuse: Sambre Et Meuse

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Title: Ruins Of Athens, Incidental Music, Op. 113

10. Ruins Of Athens, Incidental Music, Op. 113: Ruins Of Athens

Composer: Kenneth J. Alford
Title: Colonel Bogey March For Orchestra/band

11. Colonel Bogey March For Orchestra/band: Colonel Bogey March (From 'Bridge On The River Kwai')

Composer: Daniel Decatur Emmett
Title: Dixie ("I Wish I Was In Dixie's Land"), Song

12. Dixie ("I Wish I Was In Dixie's Land"), Song: Dixie's Land

Composer: Morton Gould
Title: American Salute, For Orchestra

13. American Salute, For Orchestra: American Salute

Composer: George Gershwin
Title: Strike Up The Band, Song (from Strike Up The Band; Both Versions)

14. Strike Up The Band, Song (from Strike Up The Band; Both Versions): Strike Up The Band

Composer: Johann Strauss I
Title: Radetzky-marsch, For Orchestra, Op. 228

15. Radetzky-marsch, For Orchestra, Op. 228: Radetzky Marsch

Composer: Sir Edward Elgar
Title: Pomp And Circumstance March No. 1, For Orchestra In D Major, Op. 39/1

16. Pomp And Circumstance March No. 1, For Orchestra In D Major, Op. 39/1: Pomp And Circumstance No. 1

Composer: Camille Saint-Saëns
Title: Suite Algérienne, For Orchestra In C Major, Op. 60

17. Suite Algérienne, For Orchestra In C Major, Op. 60: Marche Militaire

Composer: Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov
Title: Mlada, Suite For Orchestra

18. Mlada, Suite For Orchestra: Procession Of The Nobles

Composer: Johannes Hanssen
Title: Valdres March For Band (or Orchestra)

19. Valdres March For Band (or Orchestra): Valdres - Johannes Hanssen

Composer: Edwin Eugene Bagley
Title: National Emblem, March For Orchestra (or Band)

20. National Emblem, March For Orchestra (or Band): National Emblem

Composer: John Philip Sousa
Title: The Stars And Stripes Forever, March For Band

21. The Stars And Stripes Forever, March For Band: The Stars And Stripes Forever


Track List: Holst: The Planets

1. The Planets, Op.32: 1. Mars, The Bringer Of War

2. The Planets, Op.32: 2. Venus, The Bringer Of Peace

3. The Planets, Op.32: 3. Mercury, The Winged Messenger

4. The Planets, Op.32: 4. Jupiter, The Bringer Of Jollity

5. The Planets, Op.32: 5. Saturn, The Bringer Of Old Age

6. The Planets, Op.32: 6. Uranus, The Magician

7. The Planets, Op.32: 7. Neptune, The Mystic


Track List: White Christmas - A Christmas Festival

7. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

11. White Christmas


Track List: On Stage

1. There's No Business Like Showbusiness

2. A Chorus Line - Arr. Marvin Hamlisch: Overture "A Chorus Line"

3. Here You Come Again

4. Sophisticated Ladies

5. Cats - Arr. Eric Knight: Memory

6. A Salute To Fred Astaire

7. Slaughter On 10th Avenue


Track List: Pops Around the World: Digital Overtures

Composer: Dmitry Kabalevsky
Title: Colas Breugnon (Kola Bryun'yon), Opera, Op. 24/Op. 90 (2 Versions)
Composer: Franz von Suppé
Title: Boccaccio, Operetta
Composer: Daniel-François-Esprit Auber
Title: Bronze Horse, Opera
Composer: Mikhail Glinka
Title: Overture: Ruslan And Ludmilla, G. Xivov
Composer: John Williams (Composer)
Title: The Cowboys, Film Score
Composer: Gioachino Rossini
Title: Overture To L'italiana In Algeri (The Italian Girl In Algiers)
Composer: Leonard Bernstein
Title: Overture To Candide, For Orchestra


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