British wind Music Before 1981

Chapter 4: The New Technology Of The Nineteenth Century & Lost Opportunities

The influence of this musical explosion was felt in England, echoing the gradual change from a rural to an industrial society. The waits were dissolved, the Church musicians were replaced by organs, (even in Hardy's Mellstock), and by the second decade of the new century, factories and mines throughout Lancashire, Yorkshire and South Wales were forming bands to provide enjoyment and entertainment for their workers. In 1816 Peter Wharton's Band was founded in the village of Queensbury near Bradford, Yorkshire; two years later Clegg's Reed Band was started over the border in Lancashire. These were mixed brass and reed bands and remained so until the late forties, when under the influence of the Distin family, they and many other military bands became all brass.

John Distin was a trumpet virtuoso whose four sons were also brass players. When the youngest was but 12, the family began touring the British Isles, and in 1844 they travelled to Paris, playing a motley selection of slide-trumpet, cornet, trombone, key-bugle and French horn. Equipped with new saxhorns by Adolphe Sax, Distin's flair for publicity, allied to Adolphe Sax's advance technology saw the beginnings of a new era for valved brass instruments. In 1845, Distin became the agent for Sax's instruments in London, and eventually the firm was taken over by Henry who in 1853 provided a complete set of matching saxhorns for the Mossley Temperance Band; they easily won the first Belle Vue Contest, spelling the eclipse of the mixed reed bands. Wharton's and Clegg's bands became Black Dyke Mills and Besses o'th Barn respectively, and the great British brass movement was launched, with its rigid rules on instrumentation, its passion for contesting and its resultant high standards of performance.

There is no doubt that civil military bands flourished during the last century and well into this, but the brass band, with fewer digital problems for fingers gnarled by work at pit face or mill bench, and its simple system of one clef so that all instruments can be taught at one time, was an irresistible force which swept the military band into virtual obscurity.

Adolphe Sax played little part in the development of valve technology. The early experiments on a piston valve by Stozel and Bluhmel from 1814 were improved by Wieprecht and Moritz in 1835 and finally perfected by the French maker, Perinet. The rotary valve was largely the work of Riedl, and was patented in 1832.

Meanwhile, there was a similar technological development on all of the woodwind instruments, which was to drastically increase the expressive potential of the wind band and of course the symphony orchestra. Instrument makers worked alongside instrumental virtuosi , much as they had at the court of Louis XIV, but there are a handful of leading makers to whom we owe the instruments of today.

The flute was virtually re-designed by Theobald Boehm, and by 1847 he had launched an instrument with cylindrical tube, parabolic head, and enlarged toneholes which were covered by a new system of pads. Despite advocacy of the old-fashioned Viennese oboe by the first two professors of oboe at the Paris Conservatoire, their younger pupils had different ideas. Henri Brod began manufacturing oboes in 1839 and was followed by the Triébert family and their foreman, Lorée, who brought in various systems culminating in the "thumb-plate" and the conservatoire models of the 1870's. Their influence can also be found in the french bassoon system; by 1847, Jancourt, working with Triébert and Buffet-Crampon, had made a 22-key model bassoon which has been established as the standard French-system model, while in Germany Almanraeder and Heckel worked on the German model, with its wider bore, difference of placing of tone-holes and of keywork, here using innovations of Boehm. As with the bassoon, there were two schools of clarinet technology. In France the actual development was carried out by Klosé and Buffet, greatly influenced by Boehm's experiments on the flute, while in Germany the early 19th century clarinet of Iwan Muller was later the basis for the models by Oscar Oehler.

Sadly for the "wind band movement", despite the enthusiasm for the medium by composers such as Berlioz and Wagner, very little orginal music was written. The Harmoniemusik tradition continued fitfully, giving us a little-known gem in the Mendelssohn Overture op 24, (1824) and the superb Serenade in D Minor (1878) by Dvorak , while the two early works by Strauss, the Serenade in Eb op 7 (1881) and the Suite op 4 (1884) also look back to the 18th century for inspiration.

There was one French work of importance, Berlioz' Symphonie Funebre et Triomphale (1840), commissioned by the government to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the 1830 Revolution.. It is scored for over one hundred wind, with optional choir and strings in the finale, and it made an enormous impression on Richard Wagner who wrote.

I am inclined to rank this composition above all Berlioz' other ones; it is noble and great from the first note to the last.

Wagner himself was similarly inspired when he provided the Trauersinfonie (1844, AMP) ) to accompany a solmen torchlight procession for the re-burial in Dresden of the remains of Weber who had died in London eighteen years earlier; his Huldigungsmarsch (1864, Shawnee) was probably written originally for orchestra, but he almost certainly re-scored it for band and it is well worth reviving.

The 19th century predlilection for orchestral arrangements continues unfortunately into the 20th; even now band directors will prefer to programme an extremely difficult arrangement of an orchestral war-horse, with the clarinets vainly pursuing the original string writing, rather than playing an original. How many performances are there each year of arrangements of Saint-Saens' Overture La Princesse Jaune compared with his very exciting and original Orient et Occident (1869), now available in a new edition from Maecenas.

La Societé de Musique de Chambre Pour Instruments a Vent

The considerable contribution of French composers to wind chamber music repertoire during the past 120 years is largely due to Paul Taffanel, who besides being acknowledged as the "father of modern flute playing", was also the founder of an important chamber music society. The first concert was at the Salle Pleyel on February 6th, 1879, the programme was:

  • Octet op 103 Beethoven
  • Flute Sonata in B Minor Bach
  • Aubade for Wind Quintet Barthe
  • Quintet for Piano and Winds Rubinstein

Other works written for the group include Gounod's Petite Symphonie (1885) with its marvellous flute solo designed to show off Taffanel's superb tone, and Chanson et Danses (1898) by D'Indy, but the restoration to the repertoire of classical works was as important as the promotion of contemporary music. This initiative was continued in Paris by La Societe Moderne pour Instruments a Vent founded by another flautist, Georges Barrere; later Barrere and the oboist Longy founded similar ensembles in New York and Boston respectively.



...the more we encourage composers to use the wind ensemble, the better it's going to be, particularly with the generation of wind players that's out there now Sir Simon Rattle
President of BASBWE

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