Piece of the Week: The Huntress, by Karl King

The Huntress

Back in the days when traveling circuses were a major form of popular entertainment, no composer was better known than Karl King. King ran off with the circus in 1910 (at the age of 19), and in the course of his career he worked for some of the most famous touring shows of the era, including Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and the Barnum & Bailey Circus. King quickly worked his way up, proving himself to be a talented composer and bandleader as well as musician: for example, in 1913 he composed the piece that became the theme song for the Barnum & Bailey Circus, and by 1917 was directing that band.

“The Huntress” was published in 1916, around the time when King was working for the Buffalo Bill show and the Sells-Floto Circus (who toured together and shared a band for one season). SmartMusic has just released two concert-band arrangements of this piece, one from LudwigMasters and one from Barnhouse.

Audio Sample: Gene Milford arrangement, pub. LudwigMasters

Audio provided by LudwigMasters Publications, LLC.

Composition Notes:

One of Karl King’s most popular pieces, “The Huntress” has all the melodic interest and rhythmic vitality you would expect from this celebrated master of circus marches. What makes this particular song unique among Karl King’s marches is the “ragtime” woodwind obligato for the flutes and clarinets in the trio. Ragtime was a popular style at this time, and King had previously composed several pieces in this style, including “Ragged Rozey” (1913), “Georgia Girl” (1914), “Broadway One-Step,” “Kentucky Sunrise,” and “The Walking Frog” (all from 1919).

Audio Sample: Andrew Glover arrangement, pub. C.L. Barnhouse

Audio provided by C.L Barnhouse Co.

Composition Notes:

“The Huntress March” was first published on September 20, 1916. The piece was submitted for publication to King’s friend C.L. Barnhouse in May or June of that year. It would seem logical that King wrote this march in the 1915-1916 circus offseason. He was in-between his second and third (and ultimately, final) season as bandmaster for the Sells-Floto Circus, which toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. That next season, in 1917, was when King began conducting the band for the Barnum and Bailey “Greatest Show On Earth.”

In a move that was not typical for King’s published pieces, the original version of “The Huntress” does not have a dedication. As such, historians have been debating the meaning of the title of this piece for decades. Even if we assume that it was written for the Sells-Floto or Buffalo Bill shows from the previous year (as the timing would suggest), we still don’t know what type of act the march would have accompanied. The title seems to imply a wild animal act, but the march has a very different sound form other King marches often used for animal acts (such as “Royal Decree March” and “The Caravan Club,” which the circus used to accompany lion and tiger acts.) Of note and interest is the influence of the ragtime style in this march, which you can hear in the jaunty piccolo solo in the first trio. “The Huntress March” became one of Karl King’s most famous marches, and has never been out of print.

Composer Biography:

Karl Lawrence King was born in the Ohio village of Paintersville on February 21, 1891, and grew up in Zenia, Cleveland, and Canton. The local town band in Canton stirred his love and talent for music, so at the age of eleven he bought a cornet with money earned by selling newspapers and began taking lessons. He soon exchanged that instrument for a euphonium which he played in the Canton Marine Band (made up of boys his own age). Karl’s only formal music instruction consisted of four piano lessons and one harmony lesson from a musical show director, William Bradford. At age 19, Karl joined Robinson’s Famous Circus (1910) as a baritone player. Over the next several years he played baritone with the Yankee-Robinson (1911), Sells-Floto (1912), and Barnum & Bailey Circuses (1913). It was in that year that he wrote Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite, which became one of the most popular marches in the world. It was soon adopted as the theme song of that circus. Karl King’s gift for composing was apparent at an early age, and he had several compositions published while still in his teens. In all, King published over 200 marches. In addition to this impressive feat, which earned him the title America’s March King, he also composed waltzes, overtures, intermezzos, serenades, dirges, rags, and galops, totaling almost another 100 selections. Karl King moved to Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1920 and established a successful music publishing business, composed music, and directed the municipal band. He and his band appeared at numerous state and regional fairs, rodeos and expositions, as well as local concerts. After his death, it was formally renamed the Karl L. King Municipal Band of Fort Dodge.

Got an idea for a blog post? Contact us!

If you are an educator, musician, composer or student with a suggestion for a “piece of the week” blog post, you can email your suggestion to Griffin at gwoodworth at makemusic dot com. Please let me know the name of the piece, composer, publisher, and why this piece is special to you.

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