Was Igor Stravinsky Arrested for Adding a Chord to the National Anthem?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the music urban legends featured so far.

MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: Igor Stravinsky was arrested for adding a chord to the U.S. National Anthem.

Here’s a great picture that goes along with a great story.

In 1940, Igor Stravinsky was arrested by the Boston Police for adding a new chord to an arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner, which was in violation of a Federal Law that says that you cannot mess with the harmonization of the National Anthem of the United States.

It’s a great story and the visual is awesome.

However, it’s totally bogus.

Stravinsky DID have a problem with his re-arrangement of the National Anthem, but it was not in 1940, it was in 1944, and all the police did was tell him he had to remove the arrangement from his musical programme for the day, which he did. Still, that, in and of itself, is a cool story. He was actually threatened over his arrangement of a song!

However, people couldn’t leave the story there, so it was exaggerated into him being arrested. That is not the case, and the most obvious reason why it is not true is that the mug shot was from 1940, not 1944. It’s right there in the photo!

The “mug shot” from 1940 was taken due to some visa problems Stravinsky was having at the time, which was early in his stay in the United States when he was still living in the Northeast. I do not know if he was arrested as part of his visa issues (I do not believe so, as I think the above photo was actually part of an accelerated visa application to resolve his visa problems) but whatever the origin of the photo, it had nothing to do with the performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Stravinsky did not even WRITE the “offensive” version of the song until a year after the “mug shot”!

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

4 Responses to “Was Igor Stravinsky Arrested for Adding a Chord to the National Anthem?”

  1. Shouldn’t that be cannot mess with the harmonization?

  2. […] to come out of this later period included his arrangements of popular American tunes. First, the National Anthem for the Boston Symphony, which he was rumored to be arrest for "tampering with" in 1944. […]

  3. Stephen Mikesell on July 2nd, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Those police must have been well versed in music! I could not hear any difference when they played it on WPR today. (Or did someone tip them off with a complaint?)

  4. Brian Cronin on July 5th, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    Yeah, I imagine that they were told ahead of time.

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