The Kennedy Center

Variations on "Pop! Goes the Weasel"

About the Work

Lucien Calliet Composer: Lucien Calliet
© Richard Freed

Cailliet, a splendidly trained musician, held posts as clarinetist and conductor in French army bands; while on an American tour with one of them in 1915, he decided to remain here, and in 1919 he became both a clarinetist and staff arranger for the Philadelphia Orchestra, with which he remained until 1938. Leopold Stokowski was the orchestra's conductor then (sharing the podium with Eugene Ormandy in 1936-38), and when Cailliet's brilliant orchestral transcriptions of Bach and other early composers began to circulate it was rumored that Stokowski's own famous Bach transcriptions were actually made by Cailliet. In actual fact, they were not, but those by Cailliet were taken up by conductors everywhere, and when Ormandy came to Philadelphia Cailliet prepared a new orchestral version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition for him, which he recorded. After leaving the Philadelphia Orchestra, Cailliet, by then regarded as one of the outstanding orchestrators of his time, taught composition and orchestration at the University of Southern California for seven years and then embarked on new activity as a composer and orchestrator of film scores and a touring guest conductor.

The most enduring of Cailliet's original works is this miniature but ingenious set of variations on a well known children's song. Following the very brief Introduction and statement of the theme (with the expected "Pop" indicated visually at one point), there are five variations, each labeled with a heading indicating its character: FUGUE; MENUET; IN JERUSALEM; MUSIC BOX; IN JAZZ.

The work was introduced in 1938 by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, who recorded it immediately; among subsequent recordings, in addition to Fiedler's 1950 remake, was one by the National Symphony Orchestra under Howard Mitchell.