MUSIC and LITERATUREJohn Philip Sousa (1854-1932) was very interested in the 1882 transit of Venus. In 1882-3 he wrote his 'Venus Transit March'. He didn't write it specifically to commemorate the transit itself, but wrote it to honor the great American physicist Prof. Joseph Henry who had died on May 13, 1878.
The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. asked Sousa to write this march for the planned unveiling of the statue of Henry in front of the Smithsonian Institution in 1883. The music was to be played while dignitaries solomly walked from the museum to a special receiving stand in front of the Smithsonian. Sousa's Transit of Venus March remains a delightful, and rarely-played addition to Sousa's opus of compositions.
Sousa's Transit of Venus March remains a delightful, and rarely-played addition to Sousa's very famous and much loved opus of compositions. If you would like to view the cover page of the 1889 sheet music, play the march on your piano, or listen to two versions of it, see below:
If you want to learn more about Sousa's march, visit the Library of Congress's I Hear America Singing page at http://www.loc.gov/rr/perform/ihas/ where you can download a full band score for this march that your students may be able to play - or your community marching band. The Library of Congress also has an audio version you can listen to online.
Sousa's March doesn't exhaust all of the musical possibilities for this event that can be found at the Library of Congress. For example, here is a list of other musical compositions that probably have something to do with the transit of Venus in one way or another, especially since they appeared at about the same time as the 1874 and 1882 events, such as 'The Transit Polka' and the 'The Rapid Transit'. Going back even earlier, at a time (ca 1774) near the June 6, 1769 transit of Venus the British Public Library has a copy of an old song 'Come ye lads and lasses with speed. The Transit of Venus' published in London, although the author and circumstances are unknown.
Of course, Sousa wasn't the only musician producing music at the time. If you had the opportunity to visit a concert hall or opera, you would be hearing the music by such composers as Claude Debussy, while enjoying a painting by the new school of Impressionism with such young artists as Mary Cassat!
John Phillip Souza, when he was not composing his famous legacy of marches, was himself a writer who penned a short story 'The Transit of Venus' in 1920. It was an imaginative story of a group of women-haters who embarked on a voyage to South Africa to photograph the 1882 Venus Transit. Their goal was to have an adventure and to get away from women for a few weeks.
By the way, the 1882 transit happened a year after the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. In other areas of literature. Jules Verne had written his novel 'Mysterious Island' in time for the 1874 transit towards the end of his career.By the 1882 transit, H.G. Wells was the up and coming new 'science fiction' author of the day. His very first novel 'The Time Machine' was published in 1893.