By Thomas F. Schwartz
A common approach to short biography today is to provide a series of questions asking the interview subject to list their favorite foods, movies, music, etc. The archivists are frequently asked these same questions about Herbert Hoover and not surprisingly, find he was often silent on such things. A letter written by Mr. Hoover’s secretary, Bernice “Bunny” Miller on September 20, 1958, provides a partial answer to the question about Herbert Hoover’s preference in music. Miller writes: “Among Mr. Hoover’s favorite pieces of music are: The Star Spangled Banner, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, The Barcarole from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann The AvaeMaria, Pomp and Circumstance by Elgar.”
Musicians might well ask, “Which Ave Maria and Pomp and Circumstance?” The two most requested versions of Ave Maria are the works by Franz Schubert or the Johann Sebastian Bach/Charles Gounod piece. Gounod took Prelude No. 1 in C Major from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier and adapted it to his own musical ideas. Sir Edward Elgar wrote six military marches he entitled Pomp and Circumstance. Again, the likely Hoover reference is to March No. 1 in D written in 1902 for the coronation of Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s son. Most people would recognize the tune as the music played at high school graduations as students receive their diplomas.
The choices reflect an eclectic taste ranging from American patriotic to quietly lyrical works of Offenbach to Elgar’s stentorian ending with a military march. It is unclear whether Hoover listened to the popular music of his era which would have exposed him to the tin-pan alley hits of the 1910s and 1920s, the Broadway musicals of the 1930s, big band music of the 1940s, the rock and roll of the 1950s, and early 1960s pop. Given that Mrs. Hoover planned all of the White House recitals, her husband wisely deferred to her in matters of music.