Composed in 1957, Symphonic Songs for Band is one of Robert Russell Bennett's most famous compositions for wind band. The work was commissioned for the National Intercollegiate Band by Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma, national honorary band fraternity and sorority, as part of the two organizations' commissioning program. Since its premiere, it has become among the most frequently performed works in the wind band repertoire. It is considered to be a cornerstone of the band literature.
Symphonic Songs is a suite of three movements: Serenade, Spiritual, and Celebration. It was premiered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on August 24, 1957, by the National Intercollegiate Band under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel William F. Santelmann, retired director of the United States Marine Band. The band comprised 112 musicians from Utah, Florida, Maryland, Colorado, Ohio, Texas, Indiana, and New Mexico.
Symphonic Songs for Band Wikipedia
Symphonic Songs is scored for piccolo, flutes 1-2, oboe 1, oboe 2 (dbl. Eng. horn), bassoons 1-2, E♭ clarinet, Solo-1st-2nd-3rd B♭ clarinets, E♭ alto clarinet, B♭ bass clarinet, E♭ alto saxophones 1-2, B♭ tenor saxophone, E♭ baritone saxophone, B♭ trumpets 1-2, Solo-1st-2nd-3rd B♭ cornets, F horns 1-2-3-4, trombones 1-2-3, euphonium, tuba, string bass, drums, and timpani.
The work opens in 3/8 with a strong hemiola that gives the listener the impression that the work is in 3/4, with two written 3/8 measures to each perceived 3/4 measure. The hemiola abates somewhat when the main melody begins, but is present until the end of the movement. Clarinet, euphonium, trumpet, and trombone are all featured in solos.
The Spiritual is in A–B–A form with a blues-inspired background over which the euphonium, cornet, horn choir, English horn, flute, and piccolo solo. The movement ends with a split-third chord, resulting in a simultaneous major and minor tonality.
The work ends with a bright celebration reminiscent of a country fair. Instruments evoke the sounds of the calliope and birdsong, and woodwinds act as the "cheering throngs" at a mule race. The movement ends with a "final thrust of full forces on a suspended high chord" with a "stinger" at the end.