Library of Congress > Collections with Notated Music > Band Music from the Civil War Era


Band of the 10th Veteran Reserve Corps [Detail]. Washington, D.C., April, 1865.
At center, fully visible, is a B-flat baritone. Partially visible: B-flat cornet (left), and E-flat tenor (right). Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-B8184-7865. Call Number: LOT 4190G.

The early 1850s saw the brief flowering of a brilliant style of brass band music that constitutes an important but insufficiently explored part of our musical past.1 The cornets and saxhorns that made up the all-brass bands of the 1850s and remained a popular, though decreasingly prominent, feature of American wind bands through the nineteenth century were capable of producing, in the hands of good players, music of great charm and style. The leading E-flat soprano part, taken by Adel Sanchez in this online recording, demanded extraordinary virtuosity, and the prominent role played by the E-flat cornet or soprano saxhorn-Flügelhorn type instruments is characteristic of early American brass band music. 2 At the same time, the uniquely homogeneous and mellow sound created by the whole family of horns ranging from soprano to bass is the outstanding quality of these instruments.

The obsolescence of the instruments used in this online recording is due to changing taste rather than to inherent defects in their design. They presented some irksome--though manageable--intonation problems, to be sure, just as various instruments do today. Bassoonists, for example, must cope with a notoriously imperfect instrument, but they have no special license to play out of tune. Certainly such problems would have been overcome by competent players of the old horns who used them constantly, for they were readily mastered by the musicians heard in this recording, who had just four days of rehearsals with the unfamiliar instruments before the concert and recording session. Moreover, music of the difficulty found in many band compositions of the era would never have been composed, much less expensively engraved or meticulously hand-copied into part-books, if there had been no musicians to do it justice.

In addition to his studies on the history of band music, Jon Newsom, chief of the Library of Congress's Music Division, has published articles on improvisational jazz, the songs of Stephen Foster and Henry Clay Work, the German Romantic composer Hans Pfitzner and Thomas Mann, and the film music of David Raksin. This essay is adapted from the following publications by Mr. Newsom: "The American Brass Band Movement," The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 36 (1979): 115-30, 138-39; and "Our Musical Past: A History of the Instruments and the Musical Selections," liner notes to Our Musical Past: A Concert for Brass Band, Voice, and Piano, Library of Congress OMP 101-102 (1976).

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Brass Bands in the 1850S

"Central Park Music" (New York: H. B. Dodworth, 1863), Music Division.
John Sullivan Dwight records in Dwight's Journal (see note 14) that in 1862 band concerts in Central Park were paid for to increase fare income by transporting out-of-town concertgoers. This lithograph shows the south end of the park in an opulent and festive series of vignettes that transports us back to a time before skyscrapers--but belies the fact that the very opulence portrayed was a product of Northern industrial expansion encouraged by a nation dedicated to the pursuit of a tragic civil war. The participants in the idyllic scenes portrayed here were unaware that the new principles of the war from which many were probably the immediate economic beneficiaries would have included the fair-and-square obliteration of their park, their homes, and themselves if the technological and logistical means had been available.

We usually imagine the ornate Victorian gazebos that once were bandstands as belonging more in the fanciful and diminutive setting of toy railroads than to the leviathan of the industrial age that spawned them. Yet even when seen in an artificially serene context, those quaint nostalgic objects remind us of real, instead of toy, engines that were used not for recreation but to get to wherever there was a profit to be made as fast as possible. The bandstands, too, were not simply conjurings of small-town dreamers.

By the 1850s music in America was becoming big business. Both amateur and professional musical organizations were thriving. And the eminent Boston music journalist John Sullivan Dwight, together with numerous colleagues, was promoting, guiding, and frequently condemning popular music fashions in the course of reporting and polemicizing on the brass band movement in America before, during, and after the Civil War.

"When shall we have music for the People?" asks Dwight in 1852. "Music that all who will may hear, without money and without price; free to all ears, as the sparkling fountain on the [Boston] Common is, to all eyes."3 But by the following year he reports with a sense of growing horror on the development of a new kind of popular music-making that threatens to fulfill his dream with a vengeance nearly as cruel, one is led to suppose, as the curse on the sorcerer's apprentice. "All at once," he writes, "the idea of a Brass Band shot forth: and from this prolific germ sprang up a multitude of its kind in every part of the land, like the crop of iron men from the infernal seed of the dragon's teeth. And, as if the invention of new and deadlier implements of war, which came out about the same time, had hardened mens' hearts, all the softer companions of the savage science [the woodwinds] were banished."4 And later in the same issue he asks rhetorically: "Are the business and politics of the day so harsh, that the tones of our street music must, in correspondence, renounce all their sincerity and gentleness, and become mere bluster?"5 Indeed they must have, for three months later he reports on the summer concerts on the Common, with some chagrin: "The experiment succeeds beyond doubt or cavil," adding that "the music might be better, with larger and more especial organization, but under the circumstances it has been very good, and has been drunk in with every sign of attention and delight by a continually increasing crowd of listeners. There could not have been fewer than ten thousand persons, of all ages and classes, on the common the two last times."6 By the summer of 1857 Dwight is nearly beside himself. "How can we continue the discussion of Brass Bands," he complains, melting, we imagine, in the mid-August heat, "in such intensity of dog-days! It is aggravating to think of them. But the Promenade Concerts at the Music Hall go on, with more and more success, and prove what fine things might be done."7 The next week he adds: "We want volumes of sound, but not folio volumes."8

If the all-brass bands grate on Dwight's nerves, in combination with artillery and fireworks they offend both his sense of economy and his sense of smell. "The most noisy, rowdy, pop-gun and cracker-firing style of free expenditure" is his characterization of Fourth of July celebrations.9 And after announcing, apropos of Boston's annual anniversary celebration on September 17, that "nothing looms in the immediate distance but Mr. Burditt's monster brass band and cannonade concert,"10 he subsequently declines to review the event thus: "The windward position which we took, to avoid the smell of 'villainous saltpetre,' had an unfortunate effect on the music, so that we borrow the account of the Courier."11

Nothing, however, offends Dwight's sensibilities so much as the introduction of brass bands at serious occasions such as this one sponsored by his Alma Mater: "Last week we had commencement--commencement at old Harvard--and as usual, a Boston band assisted at the exercises. But--Ichabod!--the glory has departed. Brass, brass, brass,--nothing but brass."12

The bands that Dwight sought so consistently to reform or to have relegated to what he considered their proper place--the street--were what he called military as opposed to civil. And he ascribes to them not only a penchant for music of a warlike nature but dependence on the support of the military. "It is the military employment," he writes in 1856, "which creates and supports all our bands."13 In assessing Dwight's statement we must remember that bands, whether made up of full-time professional musicians or amateurs, were not part of the U.S. military before the Civil War era, the years during which Dwight wrote, and that they could be and indeed were supported in many ways other than by military officers. Band concerts were supported by private subscription, public funds administered by local elected officials, and, even during the Civil War, by private industry. In 1862 band concerts in New York's Central Park were paid for by the railroads to increase fare income by transporting out-of-town concertgoers.14 Indeed, the brass band movement in America warrants comparison, however cautious, with a parallel movement in Britain; for in America, as in industrial England, amateur bands were also formed by workingmen. Yet the differences, as will be seen, were great.

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English Influence

Detail from reception of Brigadier General Corcoran by Mayor Opdyke and the citizens of New York at Castle Garden, August 22--Mayor Opdyke escorting the general to his carriage. (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, September 6, 1862.).

In England employers enthusiastically encouraged their factory workers to participate in music-making, which became highly competitive, probably with the thought that they would then be less likely to become involved in potentially disruptive activities. And so, factories had their bands, as modern schools and colleges have their football teams, which were good for morale and business and served a definite purpose in the minds of the practical businessmen who supported them. These bands even practiced regularly during working hours, and well-planned competitions among rival bands drew tremendous crowds. Music-making probably has never so closely resembled a commercially sponsored contact sport. And we may be reasonably sure that occasionally the contact between and among spectators and bandsmen induced even more pain physically than the most rustic music participants induced acoustically. Nevertheless, there is also evidence that the best amateur bands equaled or even surpassed the outstanding British professional military bands of the time. It should be emphasized, however, that these professional bands were not all brass, a predominant role being played by woodwinds--just the kind of instrumentation so ardently called for by Dwight.

In Britain, the brass band movement was, and still is, strictly an amateur one. But in America, it was a relatively short-lived phenomenon involving professional and amateur musicians alike. This British import was subjected to many Yankee innovations, for America in the 1850s, even in the more industrial centers of the Northern states, had not achieved the intense social climate of the densely populated towns and cities in which the brass band movement thrived in England.

The spirit in which American brass bands were formed is captured in John C. Linehan's recollections of the Fisherville Cornet Band, established shortly before the Civil War:

The band in its infancy occupied the room over the present Methodist Church, and it was interesting for those outside to note the evolution from [the tune] "Few Days" to the rendition of a first class quick step. . . .

The best tribute paid the band [in 1860] . . . was its selection to perform service for the Governor's Horse Guards, one of the most stylish military organizations ever recruited in New Hampshire. . . .

Their engagement by the Horse Guards, although a matter of pride, was nevertheless an occasion of dismay, for the boys for the first time in their lives had to play on horseback. As nearly all of them were novices in this direction the outlook was serious, for it is a question if there were half a dozen of the number that had ever straddled a horse. When the proposition was first broached in the band room, one of the saddest looking men was the leader, Loren Currier. He said he would vote to accept on one condition, and that was if a horse could be secured large enough to have them all ride together and give him a place in the middle. The proposition was, however, accepted. . . . It was a moving sight (the moving was all towards the ground, however), and the bucking broncos of the Wild West Show furnished no more sport, while it lasted, than did the gallant equestrians of the Fisherville Band while trying to train their horses to march and wheel by fours.15

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German, Irish, and Italian Influences

Band of the 8th New York State Militia [Detail]. Arlington, Va. June, 1861. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-B8184-4545. Call Number: LOT 4190E.

In American amateur brass bands the lines dividing social classes were not so sharply drawn as in British ones. Moreover, while Britons were expanding their empire abroad, they were not, as were their Anglo-American relatives, receiving foreigners at home. The immigration of the Germans, Irish, and Italians, among others, had a decisive influence on American popular culture in the 1850s.

While the all-brass band was predominant in America, it coexisted with some bands whose makeup was influenced by European immigrants with musical training. As early as 1852, the fashionable New York Seventh Regiment Band introduced woodwinds. Col. Emmons Clark reports the following:

In January, 1852, the engagement of Adkins's Washington Brass Band with the Seventh Regiment expired, and was not renewed. As there was no band in the city entirely satisfactory to the Regiment, it was proposed to organize a new military band. . . . Fortunately, the very best material for the purpose was to be found among the professional musicians of the German Musical society. . . . In April . . . the music committee was directed to make arrangements for a new band of forty-two musicians, and to contract for suitable uniforms and equipments. Thus originated the famous Seventh Regiment Band, the only band exclusively regimental at that period in the country. The leader and musical director was Noll, a distinguished musician, and the members were professional musicians carefully selected, and the new band used both brass and reed instruments in due proportion, and performed only modern and popular music of the highest order.16

We do not know why Adkins or his brass band fell out of favor, but along with him, the all-brass instrumentation of the New York Seventh Regiment Band was discarded.

Colonel Clark's reference to the German Musical Society and "both brass and reed instruments" immediately brings to mind the most important German bandmaster of the time: Friedrich Wilhelm Wieprecht. His seven-volume Königliche Preussische Armee Märsche, which contains full scores of his instrumentations "für die jetzige Stimmenbesetzung" ("for the present-day instrumentation") of selected works arranged in the chronological order of their composition from the mid-eighteenth century to 1853, represents the ultimate in German military band instrumentation of that period. The scoring is for the following instruments.

Woodwind and brass basses:

  • 2 bassoons ("Fagotts")
  • contrabassoon ("Contrafagott. Tritonikon. Sarrusophone")
  • bass tubas ("Bombardon. Helikon. Saxhorn Basso et
  • Contrabasso")


  • 4 trumpets in E-flat ("Trompeten")
  • 2 tenor trombones ("Zug-Posaunen im Tenor")
  • 2 bass trombones ("Zug-Posaunen im Bass")

Clarinets, including the highest woodwinds:

  • piccolo clarinet in A-flat ("kleine Clarinette")
  • 2 E-flat clarinets ("Mittel-Clarinetten")
  • 4 clarinets in B-flat ("Grosse Clarinetten")

High woodwinds:

  • piccolo in D-flat
  • 2 oboes

The basic saxhorn-Flügelhorn group, plus the French horns, and less the bass and high sopranos:

  • 2 sopranos in B-flat ("Hoch Flügelhörner. Saxhörner Soprano")
  • 2 altos in E-flat ("Alt Flügelhörner. Saxhörner Alto")
  • 2 Waldhorns in E-flat ("Waldhörner")
  • 2 tenor horns in B-flat ("Bass Flügelhörner. Saxhörner Tenore")
  • baritone ("Bariton-Tuba. Euphoneon. Saxhorn Baritone")


  • drums and cymbals ("Militair Trommel. Grosse Trommel mit Becken")

This is a large band, but forty-two men could do justice to Wieprecht's instrumentation, if that is what bandmaster Noll had in mind. It is likely that Wieprecht's international reputation as the reorganizer of the Prussian military bands made him a powerfully influential figure, particularly among those favorably disposed to things German. He was certainly known and respected in New York. And early in the war our Boston critic, Dwight, recommends him:

In Prussia there is a band master general, who organizes and controls the entire music of the Prussian army. Every band in the whole kingdom must conform, in numbers, in the selection and proportion of various instruments, in the particular structure, compass, pitch, &c., of each kind of instrument, to his unitary standard. He is thoroughly master of his subject, and probably knows more of the capacities of wind instruments and the best ways of combining them, so as to obtain the most effect, for every kind of service, than any man in Europe. Wieprecht is his name. He is preparing a treatise on wind instruments, which will be invaluable. Liszt and Berlioz, whose work on "Instrumentation" is well known, have owed much to Wieprecht.17

Drum Corps of the 30th Pennsylvania Infantry. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-B8184-B491. Call Number: LOT 4190D.

That is the German picture as it might have influenced Noll in the mid 1850s. But there was also the Italian influence. Francis Scala, leader of the U.S. Marine Band, had been brought to America about 1840 by the navy. He was a Neapolitan and, true to the custom of his homeland, held the clarinet to be the principal band instrument. He himself was a virtuoso on the E-flat clarinet. While he permitted some lively brasswind solos, mostly on what he often called the "Hippocorno," the E-flat clarinet stole the show. (The word "Hippocorno" is Scala's unique corruption of the term Ebor Corno, which was probably established by a New York bandmaster, Allen Dodworth, who dubbed a brasswind of the E-flat tenor horn family to which he applied some modifications the "New York Horn"--in Latin, the "Novo Eboracii Corno.") While it is impossible to fix the instrumentation of Scala's band, for it seems to have varied slightly from month to month, he had a clear idea of what it should be in principle. His conception was a traditional one, maintained in Italy throughout the nineteenth century. A good example is his arrangement of Giuseppe Verdi's I Due Foscari: Terzetto and Quartetto for a band of about twenty-eight men, dated July 4, 1856. It calls for:

  • E-flat flute (piccolo)
  • Clarinet solo (E-flat, Scala himself)
  • E-flat clarinets (2 divisi)
  • 1st clarinet ripieno (2 divisi)
  • 2d clarinet (2 divisi)
  • 3d clarinet (2 divisi)
  • E-flat cornets (2 divisi)
  • Cornopeans in B-flat (2 divisi)
  • French horns in F (2 divisi)
  • Ebor corno solo
  • Ebor cornos (2 divisi) Baritone
  • Tuba
  • Trumpets in F (2 divisi)
  • Trombones (3 divisi)
  • Small and bass drum

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, who was born in Ireland and was to prove himself a true innovator in band instrumentation, is supposed to have introduced reeds into his brass band in 1859. It was not uncommon to use piccolos and clarinets to double the soprano brasses, so if this is all that Gilmore was doing, it was no innovation. However, we have an interesting account concerning Gilmore's band in 1862. A member of the 24th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry is reported to have written home of Gilmore's band: "[He] used to give some of the fashionable concerts we had at home and we lack nothing but the stringed instruments now. In their place however we have five reed instruments, of which no other can boast."18 This may suggest a family of reeds with the full range normally covered by the violin, viola, and cello. It is more likely, however, that strings in this context were thought of as purely melodic instruments. Yet it was probably Patrick Gilmore who made the most important contribution to the concert band in America before John Philip Sousa by eventually developing an instrumentation that enabled a large wind ensemble to produce effects comparable to a full orchestra at a time when American orchestras of high quality were scarce. Victor Herbert, Gilmore's successor, makes this interesting statement in an article published in 1895:

From the old bands which depended on the loud brasses and drums, all forced to their utmost to make the most noise possible, to the bands of the present day which interpret the works of the greatest so as to satisfy even the most exacting musician, has been a hard but glorious struggle up the steeps of Parnassus, and to Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore belongs most of the glory. . . . As the repertories of bands have increased, the demand for new tone-colour effects has caused new instruments to be made, so that to-day the composer or adapter has a wide range in registering. The use of compositions originally written for orchestras has caused a great increase in the wood-wind section of the bands--flutes, oboes, clarinets, and saxophones--of which every band should have a quartet--bassoons, and contrabassoons. These additions make the repertory of the band universal. The greater sustaining power of the wood-winds gives a beautiful richness of harmony, and relieves one from the torture of listening to the scratchiness of poorly played strings.19

Dwight himself, as early as 1868, confirms that Gilmore was doing something unique with the mixture of brass and woodwinds. In an issue of his Journal that year he prints a review of a concert from Chicago. It reads, in part: "The reed and wind effects of Gilmore's band were quite novel here, where it is so unusual to find more than the smallest possible assortment of instruments in the orchestra. So our people curiously enough 'went out to see' and hear 'reeds shaken in the wind.'"20

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Band Instruments

The phenomenal rise of the brass band in mid-nineteenth-century America can be better understood if we trace its antecedents and some of the technical developments that produced the type of brasswind family from soprano to bass that was the staple of our bands in the Civil War era.

The aristocracy of colonial America supported the kind of ensemble for which Mozart and Haydn wrote their divertimenti, serenades, Feldparthien, and other open-air music under royal patronage. Thomas Jefferson, for example, wished to establish such an ensemble at Monticello for the entertainment of his household and suggested instrumentation to improve the U.S. Marine Band. Clarinets and oboes carried the melodic line; natural horns and bassoons gave harmonic support. The same kind of band provided military music during the American Revolution and for at least three decades afterward. Thus in one sense the wind band, once the privilege of the European aristocracy, was gradually acquired, unceremoniously but intact and in an orderly fashion, by the American people for whom it became a symbol of their newly acquired social and political status as well as a source of entertainment. A reminiscence of one of the last vestiges of this tradition in America appears in an anonymous article entitled "The Boston Band" in the Boston Musical Gazette of July 25, 1838:

Full well do I remember when I first heard the sound of a Clarinet, French Horn and Bassoon: it was at a regimental muster, where I went with my father, as a spectator. It was reported all around the country for weeks beforehand, that the Boston Band was to be at muster, being hired at great expense by Capt. Taylor, the liberal and noble-spirited commander of the new troop of Cavalry. This band was all the topic of conversation among the boys, and many a luckless urchin had to do penance for listening to the wonderful stories of its performances, instead of attending to his task. I recollect that I was sent to mill, two miles distance, a day or two before the parade. I went whistling the Rogue's March all the way, which a famous old revolutionary fifer in our neighborhood had learnt to me. The crusty miller took off my bags; but I kept on whistling. "What the deuse ails ye, John, heh?" said he. "Capt. Dusty, ye goin to muster to hear the moosic?" I replied, and kept on whistling. "Hang your music! go to grass with your whistling!" cried the miller, as he shouldered my meal bags and carried them to the hopper. . . .

At length the wished-for day arrived, and a glorious day it was, most clear and bright. . . . we saw a brilliant company of high-horse prancing over the plain. When they had arrived within half a mile of the parade ground, they slackened pace, and the music struck up Washington's March. . . . The march was continued until the company came in front of the public house, when it halted, and Capt. Taylor gave orders for Yankee Doodle. This fairly bewitched the crowd, and they rent the air with huzzas. . . .

Capt. Taylor directed the musicians to continue their music for some time, which they did, and gave us several different tunes, one of which I perfectly recollect was St. Patrick's Day in the Morning. This was very pleasant to every one; but there was one man in particular, in the very centre of a dense group, that, the very instant they commenced it, set to dancing like a Dandy Jack, and kept it up until the tune was ended, to the no small amusement of all around. I had a curiosity to get sight at him, and crowding into the ring, behold! it was none other than my old miller, who had scolded so much about my music a day or two before. Both this man's parents were natives of Sweet Erin, and brought him to this country while a nursing infant. Just by way of remembrance, I cried out to him,--"So Capt. Dusty, you like the moosic?" "Hah! young spalpeen!" he replied, and they ceased playing.

Taste in music, as well as in almost every thing else, will have a change. These men, who, in their day, were considered first rate performers, would now be called but indifferent. Their number was only four. Belsted upon the Hautboy, Granger, (father of the late violinist), upon the Clarinet; the famous Peter Schminch, the French Horn; and old Dr. Faegnol, the Bassoon. It was said that Belsted played a fine violin. The first and two last belonged to Burgoyne's band, and were taken with him at Saratoga. I believe these musicians found constant employ in their vocation. They have gratified their thousands; they have had their day, and have gone down with the generations. Such was once the Boston Band.21

"A Bugler." Pencil drawing. Alfred R. Waud, artist. Created between 1860 and 1865. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-15164.

The melodic dependency of the band on the reed instruments was gradually undermined after 1810 when a Dubliner named Joseph Halliday introduced his keyed bugle. Like the earlier development of the chromatic woodwinds, in which the length of the bore, and hence the fundamental with its possible harmonics, could be instantly changed by opening or closing one or more keys, Halliday's invention was nothing new in principle. The keyed trumpet, for example, was already known. Halliday simply cut holes in the side of a bugle and provided lever-operated padded keys for opening and closing them to get a full chromatic scale.22 Without having any special claims to originality, he had produced a good instrument at the right time which found an immediate market. It was only a matter of time before a full family of such instruments was developed: the ophicleides.23

In America the chromatic horns had gained at least an equal footing with the woodwinds as principal instruments as far as bands were concerned by 1835; we now generally consider that year, in which the first all-brass bands are known to have been established, as the beginning of the so-called brass band era.

Of course, not everyone greeted this development with enthusiasm. As the brasswinds became more homogeneous in sound, the loss of a band with highly individualized members was, as we have learned from reading Dwight, lamented by some. This is made more evident in the following excerpt from an 1893 article by William R. Bayley in the Philadelphia Evening Star. Bayley, who was an active bandsman from 1833 to the 1890s, recalls:

The average bands [during the 1840s] consisted of fifteen pieces--two E-flat bugles, 1st and 2nd French horns (without valves), the post horn, and E-flat trumpet. We had the brilliant tone of the slide B-flat trombone and F-bass trombone for bass, ophecleide [sic] (brass), and the serpent (a wooden instrument with keys), cymbals, snare and bass drums.

At the risk of being considered old fashioned I have protested against the summary banishment of many of these instruments. I have contended that all change is not improvement. These instruments, differing in the principle of their construction, had a different quality of tone, and therein is the strength of my plea. Band instruments of today are much better made and easier to learn, but from the E-flat cornet to the E-flat bass they are all constructed on the same principle, and have therefore the same kind of tone, only deeper, of course, as they descend.24

The fact that Bayley, writing in 1893, speaks of the homogeneous brasswind instrumentation indicates that the brass band was still predominant, at least in his mind.

In the 1840s a Frenchman, Adolphe Sax, inventor of the familiar saxophone, was one of several makers who developed a family of chromatic valved bugles--eventually called saxhorns--that combined the qualities of even timbre throughout their range, accurate intonation, effectiveness as ensemble instruments, and a degree of facility that made them playable without extraordinary technical ability while, at the same time, having the capability of satisfying the demands of a virtuoso. Sax was by no means the first to work on a chromatic horn. Inventors in Europe and the British Isles had been working with varying degrees of success in key- and valve-system chromatic brasswinds before the beginning of the nineteenth century. But Sax's success was remarkably complete, owing in no small part to the fact that he produced a good set of instruments at just the right time.

Set of over-the-shoulder saxhorns from the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, Division of Musical Instruments. From left to right: E-flat soprano saxhorn, B-flat contralto saxhorn, E-flat tenor horn, B-flat bass (baritone), and E-flat bass (tuba).
More information

As well as being a good inventor, Sax was an equally good promoter of his own interests. If he had been able, he would probably have banished all but wind instruments from the orchestras of the Western world--preferably, all but those he invented. An amusing article by Sax found its way into Dwight's Journal by way of the London Musical Times. Originally printed in La France Musicale, it offers some of the following useful information under the headline "How Wind Instruments affect the Health."

Persons who practice wind instruments, are, in general, distinguished--and anybody can verify the statement--by a broad chest and shoulders, an unequivocal sign of vigor. In the travelling bands that pass through our cities, who has not seen women playing the horn, the cornet, the trumpet, and even the trombone and ophicleide, and noticed that they all enjoyed perfect health, and exhibited a considerable development of the thorax? In an orchestra a curious circumstance can be noticed; and that is the corpulence, the strength which the players of wind instruments exhibit, and the spare frames of the disciples of Paganini. The same may be said, with more reason, of pianists.25

There were other factors as well that favored the acceptance of the new chromatic brasswinds. For one, there was already a demand for them not so much among orchestral musicians as among military bandsmen and a large number of aspiring amateurs. Valve horns in the soprano register--the French cornet à pistons and the German soprano Flügelhorn--had already found a secure place in the bands of Europe, and an outstanding quintet of Englishmen, the Distins, was to publicize Sax's new family of horns through their widely successful public performances on the instruments. Thus, although families of saxhorns--and their German counterparts the Flügelhorns--were not destined to find a place in the orchestra they were to become standard band instruments for years to come, and not least of all in Great Britain and America, where, as we have noted, interest in the formation of amateur brass bands was growing at such a rate that by the mid-1850s it had reached the proportions of a significant popular movement.26

Moreover, the homogeneous quality of the saxhorn-type band and its carrying power in the outdoors were significant advantages. One writer who had heard a Canadian regimental band of the British type compared it unfavorably with the new all-brass style and was quoted in Dwight's Journal under the editor's magnanimous introductory remark that "happily all the world does not think alike":

In the afternoon there was a review of the 39th Regiment of the Champ de Mars, near the court house. Whether it was intended for a scientific display or not I am unable to say; but this much is due--it was a creditable exhibition. The music by the band was good, though not "putting the Boston bands to blush," as the correspondent of the Courier is pleased to say. On the contrary, the Brigade, or Brass, or Germania are, all three of them, quite as scientific and skillful. Last autumn, at the railroad jubilee ball, I heard this same band in contrast with Chandler's Portland Band; and those of your readers who were present at Bonsecours at the time will, I think, join me in giving to Chandler's the highest encomiums. The 39th band is large, but it has some dozen men blowing their breath away on clarinets, bassoons and flutes, to but little purpose. In short, it is a great waste of wind. The band is modelled as our Boston bands were fifteen years ago. Take away the inefficient reeds and give them tubas instead, and this Crimean band would crash out a mighty march; but now it wants body, as an Englishman would say of his beer. The melody is one grand squeak, sounding like the sesquialtra [sic] of the organ, and about as well adapted for melody as that stop would be with a swell accompaniment. There is a brilliance to the American bands not yet attained by the English, if this is a fair specimen of their proficiency.27

Battalion of Marine Corps. Washington Navy Yard. April, 1864. This detail showing the Marine Band may provide the best available record of the instrumentation of the band at the time. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-B8171-7698. Call Number: LOT 4190F.

Earlier, Dwight himself had expressed the contrary view: "A certain peculiar and pleasing effect invests [brass band] music, at first, but it is of a kind which lacks character and durability. For genuine enjoyment I would as soon listen to a Choral Symphony performed with flutes and the voices of eunuchs."28

But Dwight was also constructive in his criticisms and often balanced his invective with positive statements:

The more pathetic, the more human the music to be interpreted, the more cold and inadequate do the tones of these instruments appear. With all their mellowness and smoothness, with all their luscious commingling, they sound to us like soulless, watery, Undine-like natures; and while we have the perfect shape of the melody we loved, it still affects us somehow like its ghost. But when that "Hungarian March" was played, so full of sad, determined, truly moral heroism, who did not feel the fitness of the music to the organs that conveyed it, and a more real, although simpler, satisfaction.

The same criticism, or an analogous one, applies to this whole modern improvement in the construction of brass instruments; to the whole Sax-horn family, the valve-trumpet, &c., so softened down and made so smooth and flexible instead of the harsh, spirited, crackling blast of the old straight trumpet. That had character, if it was somewhat intractable; but these are somewhat emasculated in their gentleness.--But this opens a whole field of discussion, which we may not enter now.29

Later he reviews a concert and makes this comment on what he considers an appropriate type of music for brass: "The selections for the brass instruments were better than usual. That solemn old Chorale was just the thing for them; and the piece from Meyerbeer's 'Camp of Silesia' was quite stirring. Give us more Chorales, if you wish to edify us."30

Dwight's appreciation of the technical advantages of the new valve brasswinds is mitigated by his concern that the advantages lead to abuse:

It certainly cannot be questioned that the employment of valves greatly facilitates the performance of difficult passages in music. Of the truth of this we have sad evidence in the readiness with which half-fledged artists essay the execution of compositions wholly beyond their calibre of comprehension, on the one hand; and, on the other, in the performance, by virtuosos, of parts unfitted and never intended for the particular instruments they profess. But however much be gained in ease and rapidity of execution, the full equivalent, and more, is lost in quality of intonation. Like dampers upon vibrating strings, this multiplicity of valves and keys interferes with the free action of the metal and essentially dulls and deadens its tone. In confirmation of this, compare the unsatisfactory effect of the valve trombone with the richness of intonation that belongs to that noble instrument in its original form.31

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Band Music

Detail of "Door Latch Quickstep," by George H. Goodwin, from the "Manchester Cornet Band Books" in the Music Division.
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Audio Clip

That there was a proliferation of brass bands with all the necessary hardware in mid-nineteenth-century America there is no doubt.32 But what of the hundreds of thousands of pages of music composed, arranged, published, or otherwise distributed from which the bands learned and played their parts? We regret to say, without unduly disparaging those who provide the present writer with a most worthy excuse for his profession, that paper, the fragile substance to which we commit many valuable records of our civilization, did not often survive the handling of practical musicians. A cinematic anecdote comes to mind. "When a piece of paper gets old, what happens to it?" asks a professorial William Holden in a motion picture sequence filmed on the steps of the Library of Congress. This leading and, under most circumstances, rhetorical question is addressed to a "dumb blonde" played by Judy Holliday. Her querulous response is predictably practical: "You throw it away?"33

Faced with a paucity of documents, we offer a brief account of some of the most notable remnants in the collections of the Music Division which document that part of our musical past which is under consideration here.34

In 1844 Elias Howe published in Boston his First Part of the Musician's Companion. It contained a number of "new and popular pieces in 6 and 8 parts, for a brass band, viz.: E-flat bugle, B-flat bugle, B-flat post horn, B-flat cornopean, tenor trombone, bass trombone, first orphecleide [sic], second orphecleide, &c."35 These are printed in full score with movable type in the oblong format common for collections of sacred and some secular vocal music of the time.

Two years later, E. K. Eaton published, in elegantly engraved parts, Twelve Pieces of Harmony for Military Brass Bands. The instrumentation is larger than Howe's, calling for "E-flat bugle, 2 B-flat bugles, 1 cornopeon [sic] or post horn, 2 E-flat trumpets, 2 French horns, 2 alto ophecleides [sic], 3 trombones, 2 bass ophecleides, and side drums."36 The pieces are rather difficult and demand equally high standards of musicianship from the entire ensemble.

By 1849, Allen Dodworth was instructing readers of the New York music journal Message Bird on the formation of brass bands.37 On August 1 of that year, in the first of several installments, he writes:

What in our opinion, would make the best arrangement for a Band of ten, would be as follows: Two E-flat Trebles, Two B-flat Altos, Two E-flat Tenores, One B-flat Baritone, One A[-flat] or B-flat Bass, Two E-flat Contra Bass. If more are required, add two Trumpets; then two Post-horns; then two Trombones; Drums, Cymbals, &c. Many different kinds of instruments are used to take the parts here mentioned, but most of the Bands of the present day give preference to what is called the Saxhorn, which is made in all the different keys mentioned above.38

In 1853 Dodworth published his Brass Band School, complete with scores for a number of pieces calling for the same instrumentation advocated in the Message Bird. Although he takes into account the variety of brasswinds available, including the keyed bugles and ophicleides, it is the saxhorns that get the highest recommendation. "I have always, in my own mind," he writes, "classed Trumpets, Post Horns, Trombones and French Horns, as supernumeraries; for, since the introduction of [keyed] Bugles, Cornets, Ebor Cornos and Sax Horns, they are no longer depended on for the principal parts." In forming a band of up to fourteen players, he advises: "Let nothing but Sax Horns, Ebor Cornos and Cornets, or instruments of like character be used, that is, valve instruments of large calibre."39

Detail of the E-flat soprano (leader) part for "Captain Finch's Quickstep," by Claudio S. Grafulla, from the "Port Royal Band Books," first set, in the Music Division.
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Here, he also mentions the special invention of the over-the-shoulder style horn. "In selecting the instruments, attention should be paid to the use intended; if for military purposes only, those with bells behind, over the shoulder, are preferable, as they throw all the tone to those who are marching to it, but for any other purpose are not so good. These were first introduced by the Dodworth family in the year 1838." The application of this style probably was restricted to the trombones at first, but its popularity continued through the 1880s, for we find such instruments advertised in dealers' catalogs, along with the bell upright and bell front models, as late as 1888.40

In 1853 Firth, Pond and Company of New York began the publication of its Brass Band Journal, probably the first American publication of saxhorn pieces. The longevity of these attractive compositions and arrangements by G. W. E. Friederich is attested to by the fact that they were still being offered for sale in the 1870s.

A similar publication appeared in Cincinnati in 1859. It consisted, for the most part, of popular dances and quicksteps arranged from piano pieces for a band of from six to twelve players and was published by W. C. Peters & Sons as Peters' Sax-Horn Journal.

Yet the most challenging band music of this period is found not in published form but in manuscript part books. It is from these that the most interesting music of the 1850s in this online collection is taken.

The books of the Manchester (N.H.) Cornet Band, founded in 1854, have provided this online collection with no less than four examples. The manuscript books were acquired by the Manchester Historic Association in 1969 as part of the Walter Dignam Collection. Further comments on the music will be found in the notes on the four pieces selected: "Captain Shepherd's Quickstep," "General Taylor Storming Monterey," "Door Latch Quickstep," and "Free and Easy."

Another New Hampshire band, formed in Concord under the direction of Gustavus Ingalls at the outset of the Civil War to serve the Third New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, has provided us, through the first set of its books preserved in the Library of Congress, with the basic model of instrumentation on which the band used for these online recordings was built, together with one musical example, "Captain Finch's Quickstep."41

Detail of the E-flat soprano (leader) part for "Captain Finch's Quickstep," by Claudio S. Grafulla, from the "Port Royal Band Books," first set, in the Music Division.

A recording of this piece may be heard as part of this online collection. Only one major error, the omission of a measure, was corrected by the original copyist--and probable user--of this part. Small errors, and even major ones, were often left uncorrected, even in meticulously copied books such as these, which had heavy use. We know of no published version; the probable date of composition is sometime between 1850 and 1860. This arrangement, presumably Grafulla's, is from the manuscript band books of the Third New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, first set, no. 48. They are frequently referred to as the "Port Royal Band Books" because it was on Port Royal Island, South Carolina, that the band, under the leadership of Gustavus Ingalls, spent the greater part of the Civil War. Grafulla is represented by so many compositions and arrangements in the first set of these books that they have sometimes been erroneously referred to as the "the Grafulla books," and pieces now known to be by others were once attributed to him. However, "Captain Finch's Quickstep" is one of the seventeen out of about fifty works in the collection with which he can certainly be credited. The demanding soprano parts are characteristic of the brass band style of the period, a style toward which Grafulla made a significant contribution. "[Grafulla] was born in the Island of Minorca in 1810," writes the historian of the New York Seventh Regiment, "and came to this country in 1838. He soon occupied a prominent position in Lothian's New York Brass Band, which was attached to the Seventh Regiment, and became its musical director. His talent for composing and arranging military music soon gave him reputation and lucrative employment, and in 1860 he was engaged to organize a new band for the Seventh Regiment. The success of Grafulla's Seventh Regiment band was immediate; it long enjoyed an extensive public and private patronage, and its reputation became national. . . . For twenty years he served the Regiment as bandmaster without salary or any compensation. Age and sickness compelled him to retire from the service, and he died in New York in December, 1880." (Emmons Clark, History of the Seventh Regiment of New York, 1806-1889, 2 vols. [New York: The Seventh Regiment, 1890], 1:289-90.)

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The Civil War Bands

Colored lithograph [Detail] from "Zouave Grand Parade March," Duett for Four Hands, composed by S.D.S. (Philadelphia: Lee & Walker, 1861). Music Division.
The colorful uniform of the Zouaves d'Afrique was imitated by many regiments, Northern and Southern, at the outbreak of the Civil War. Only a few, however, such as the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, could afford to maintain the expense of the uniforms through the end of the war.

If ever there was a hope or danger of the demise of brass bands, the outbreak of war decisively cancelled or at least postponed the possibility. Throughout the long period of hostilities--both musical and otherwise--Dwight, our well-bred Yankee critic, maintained an attitude of gentlemanly stoicism. And so, for further news of development in the brass band world we must turn to accounts, usually fleeting references, in regimental histories. Many are anecdotal and told, often for mere comic relief, years after the event. Those drawn from letters and diaries have the better claim to reliability as well as to that spontaneity that brings us closer to the participants in the events recalled. Some of these are quoted in the captions for the photographs which appear online with this article. In drawing from these sources it is our intention to have the words of eyewitnesses convey a sense of how bands functioned during the Civil War at home, in camp, and in battle.

Ulysses S. Grant, in his Memoirs, concisely portrays the general situation at the very beginning of the war:

Upon the firing on Sumter, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for troops and convening Congress in extra session. The call was for 75,000 volunteers for ninety days' service. If the shot fired at Fort Sumter "was heard around the world," the call of the President for 75,000 men was heard throughout the Northern States. There was not a State in the North of a million inhabitants that would not have furnished the entire number faster than arms could have been supplied to them, if it had been necessary.42

Nevertheless, according to the recollections of a musician printed in the Boston Transcript (August 9, 1890), "inducements were held out to quicken the enlistment of recruits by publicly announcing that a famous band would be attached to some particular regiment," as if such inducements were necessary. Edward Everett, observing the excitement in Boston, guessed that Lincoln's call might bring half a million volunteers. It is more likely that the employment of bands, like the wearing of flamboyant costumes that passed for military uniforms early in the war, was regarded by many as an appropriately festive gesture in the face of preparations for what was assumed would be a glorious and speedy victory.

But, unlike the bright costumes which, in most cases, gave way to regulation uniforms, bands and their music became a more sought-after commodity as the hostilities wore on. Dwight's Journal, in one of its few references to bands in the war, notes on September 28, 1861, that

Gilmore's celebrated band has been engaged to accompany Col. Stephenson's Regiment to the war. The band will consist of sixty-eight pieces, including twenty drummers and twelve buglers. Such a band was never enjoyed by a regiment before, and it will probably incite the men to heroic deeds if loyal men can need any new stimulus in such a time as this. The band will appear three times more before the Boston public at the Promenade Concerts.43

Gilmore's contract was with the 24th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and seems to have involved enlistment and, hence, the duty not only of playing in camp but of following the regiment into the field--and even the heat of battle, where he and his men were put to work, as most bandsmen were, as hospital corpsmen.44 On his return, a year later, Gilmore advertised a concert in which his band--less one member, presumably lost in action--would perform

the gems of such music as have floated over the wild waves and mingled with the howling winds of Hatteras; such patriotic airs as fell upon the ears of three thousand rebel prisoners, and echoed through the dense woods of Roanoke; such strains as followed our victorious arms at Newbern, and vibrated through the deserted streets of the once fair city; and, more than all, such music as has revived the drooping spirits of many a weary soldier, or soothed the pain of many a wounded patriot.45

Regarding the cost of their service, the regimental historian speaks only "of Gilmore's Band, of whose presence everyone is justly proud, even if the same did cost the officers a pretty figure."46

However, we do know the cost of Boston bandmaster E. B. Flagg to the 44th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia: $3,000, and that for limited service in camp.47 A letter dated September 13, 1863, by an officer of the regiment informs us that

Since the 44th went into barracks they have been favored with the services of the Boston Brass Band, under the lead of Mr. Flagg. It is said the expense is to be defrayed by an assessment upon the regiment. Considering that the mass of the regiment have had no voice in the selection of a band, a number of persons are inclined to consider this a little "rough."48

Band of the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry [Detail], in front of Petersburg, Va., August, 1864. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-B8184-7346.
Call Number: LOT 4190D.
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Another interesting band that found its way into military service was Frank Rauscher's cornet band from Germantown, near Philadelphia. His book on the subject is most informative.49 This regiment was the colorful Zouaves d'Afrique of Gen. Charles Collis, one of many such companies and regiments from the North and South who modeled themselves after the French fighting troops in Africa by adopting the uniform of "red pants, Zouave jacket, white leggings, blue sash around the waist, and white turban."50 Unlike other such outfits, however, whose splendid uniforms could not be kept up, Collis's Zouaves had a fortunate association with Capt. F. A. Elliott, a successful wool merchant in Germantown. It was he, no doubt, who arranged the purchase of such a supply of fresh material for uniforms from France that throughout the war they never lacked the distinctive Zouave dress. He also took a great interest in procuring the band, about which Rauscher, the leader, writes:

As instrumental musicians, they were amateurs and beginners, but with a fair knowledge of music as vocalists, by close application they made rapid progress. . . .
When the band was started, [Captain Elliott] became a helpful friend of the project, subscribing liberally toward procuring the instruments, and afterward assisted in supplying the members with uniforms. It was mainly from this kindly and valued association with the band that it resolved to follow the fortunes of the regiment.51

Another way in which regimental bands were formed, by far the cheapest, was by drawing upon the resources available from among the men in each company. With ten companies to a regiment and two musicians allowed to each company--that is to say the fifers, buglers, and drummers--one could put together some kind of band of twenty men or more, if the officers agreed to detail to the regimental band musically qualified men who had not enlisted as musicians.

This practice became especially popular after the passage in Congress of a bill on July 17, 1862, sections of which ordered the mustering out of regimental bands. The bill was approved by the president and announced in the War Department's General Order 91 of July 29, 1862. Rauscher's observation is interesting, although his band was mustered in after the order of July 29:

At the beginning of the war every regiment . . . had full brass bands, some of them numbering as high as fifty pieces. When it is considered that in every brigade there were from four to five regiments, three brigades in one division and three divisions in each corps, an aggregate of from thirty-six to forty bands is shown for every corps. When a division was encamped in a small space, which was frequently the case when on the march, and the band of each regiment performing at the same time at Regimental Headquarters, the effect of the confusion of sounds produced can hardly be imagined. Whilst this was an unnecessary arrangement and very expensive to the government, it kept a host of noncombatants in the rear of the army. Congress, however, at an early day passed an act abolishing all regimental bands in the volunteer service, with the provision that each brigade should be entitled to a band at the headquarters. It so happened that when the order of disbandment reached the Army [of the Potomac], the bands had seen considerable and hard service on the Peninsula, under General McClellan, and therefore the men gladly accepted their discharges and almost to a man went home. As a consequence the army was left with scarcely any music.52

Unknown location. Zouave ambulance crew demonstrating removal of wounded soldiers from the field. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-B8171-7285.
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A band of the size described by Rauscher would have been double the number of twenty-four musicians authorized by General Order 49 of the War Department, August 3, 1861. By October of the same year, the War Department had already begun to trim the number of regimental bands by forbidding their further enlistment.53 Quite possibly, the order was in response to actual abuses of General Order 49 resulting not only in a proliferation of bands but in monster bands full of deadbeats or nonessential personnel. In any case, by 1862, as the Union faced its greatest crisis from Lee's imminent invasion of the North, the more drastic measure of dropping regimental bands became necessary. Before the order of July 29, there were an estimated 28,428 enlisted musicians in the North. Of these, 14,832 were bandsmen.54 Thereafter such men, if they were to continue with the regiments, had either to be supported entirely by the members of the regiment or drawn from the musicians authorized as company fifers, buglers, and drummers.

Undoubtedly, many compromises were reached in order to maintain regimental bands. Notwithstanding Rauscher's comment that the disbanded musicians "almost to a man went home," bands proliferated and, throughout the war, were heard on all manner of occasions, even during the heat of battle. For example, we read of bands performing service in the trenches. Lieutenant Thompson of the 13th New Hampshire describes an incident occurring just after the battle of Cold Harbor, June 8, 1864:

This evening the Band of the Thirteenth goes into the trenches at the front, and indulges in a "competition concert" with a band that is playing over across in the enemy's trenches. The enemy's Band renders Dixie, Bonnie Blue Flag, My Maryland, and other airs dear to the Southerner's heart. Our Band replies with America, Star Spangled Banner, Old John Brown, etc. After a little time, the enemy's band introduces another class of music; only to be joined almost instantly by our Band with the same tune. All at once the band over there stops, and a rebel battery opens with grape. Very few of our men are exposed, so the enemy wasted his ammunition; while our band continues its playing, all the more earnestly until all their shelling is over.55

Another such account of music played during the battle of Gettysburg was recalled by J. A. Leinbach, leader of the 26th North Carolina Regiment band:

About 6 o'clock [in the morning, the bands of the 26th and 11th North Carolina regiments] played together for some time, heavy firing going on meanwhile. . . . Our playing seemed to do the men good, for they cheered us lustily. . . .
We learned some time afterwards, from Northern papers, that our playing had been heard by the enemy, amid the noise of the cannon.56

A British observer, J. L. Freemantle, poised in a tree near Lee's headquarters on Seminary Ridge, also heard the music.

When the cannonade was at its height a Confederate band of music between the cemetery and ourselves, began to play polkas and waltzes, which sounded very curious, accompanied by the hissing and bursting of shells.57

Band of the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry [Detail], in front of Petersburg, Va., August, 1864. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction number: LC-B8184-7346. Call Number: LOT 4190D.

Of this band and the regiment to which it was attached its leader, Frank Rauscher, wrote: "It was in 1861, when President Abraham Lincoln made the first call for three hundred thousand volunteers for three years' service, in response to which Charles H. T. Collis, then a young man and enthusiastic in the cause of the Union, promptly raised a company of splendid material for the full term. The uniform adopted for the dashing members was that of the French Zouave d'Afrique, and besides pleasing their fancy very much, it attracted a number of men to join the company who had seen actual service in the French army, several of whom were French Alsatians. . . . The Uniform adopted for the regiment was precisely like that of the original company--red pants, Zouave jacket, white leggings, blue sash around the waist, and white turban. . . . The material for these uniforms was all imported from France, and special arrangements were made to secure a sufficient supply of the same to replenish the uniforms during the whole term of service. . . . There were other Zouave regiments in the army, but as soon as their uniforms became badly worn, they were required to don the regulation blue. The officers of the 114th were men of pride and culture, as well as courage, and therefore determined to have a full brass band. . . . Concerning the band it may be here stated, that about one year before the war broke out, a number of young men formed a cornet band in Germantown. As instrumental musicians, they were amateurs and beginners, but with a fair knowledge of music as vocalists, by close application they made rapid progress. . . . When the band was started [Capt. F. A. Elliot of Germantown] became a helpful friend of the project, subscribing liberally toward procuring instruments, and afterward assisted in supplying the members with uniforms. . . . Subsequent events . . . proved it to have been a good policy on the part of the officers to secure a band, and that it became a prime factor and one of the most efficient aids in maintaining discipline." (Frank Rauscher, Music on the March, 1862-65, with the Army of the Potomac, 114th Regt. P.V., Collis' Zouaves [Philadelphia: Wm. F. Fell & Co., 1892], 11-14.)

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Ambulance Drill at Headquarters, Army of the Potomac near Brandy Station, March 1864 [Detail]. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-B811-1078.

As bandsmen served as hospital corpsmen, these Zouaves may have been members of Rauscher's band. Among the more vivid recollections of this often hazardous duty is that of a Massachusetts musician, John D. Whitcomb: "I put some considerable value on the service of the band in the several affairs the regiment was engaged in as an Ambulance Corps. . . . The mere fact of one member of the band being twice required to cross the line of fire of both forces, undoubtedly saved the lives of several members of our own regiment from the fire of one of our own batteries, several members of our own regiment having already been killed by the unfortunately located battery. . . . The bandsmen had been well taught by the surgeon how to give first aid to the wounded, and how to use stretchers, bandages and tourniquets. We were to go with the regiment into battle, rescue the wounded, if possible, and carry them to the field hospital. We were liable to be sent as messengers on dangerous errands." (Albert W. Mann, History of the Forty-Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia [Jamaica Plain, Mass.: Brookside Print, 1908], 190.)

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Post-Civil War Bands

Drum Corps of the 10th Veteran Reserve Corps [Detail], Washington, D.C., June 1865. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-B8171-7688. Call Number: LOT 4190G.
Bibliographic Information

At the close of the war many of the Yankee bands went home, perhaps to regroup as "civic" bands, as brassy as ever (much to the annoyance of John Sullivan Dwight, who resumed his antibrass campaign with his customary vigor), some to participate in a final victory celebration by marching in Washington or some hometown, or joining in the playing of The Star Spangled Banner for the flag-raising ceremony at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1865, hours before Lincoln's assassination.

During the war, the quality of military (brass) bands had improved, as Dwight himself acknowledged. "Everyone who walks our Boston streets," he wrote in 1862, "or who attends the war meetings, must have been struck with the great improvement in some of our Military bands of late. . . . The wonder is where so many musicians come from in these war times, and that while so many go off to the war, more that ever before seem to have sprung up at home."58 Moreover, with the end of the war there was for Patrick Gilmore, once Dwight's fair-haired boy, a golden opportunity to put his promotional genius to work. The specter of monster concerts, consisting of massed bands or instrumental forces impressive for their sheer number, had only peeked over the horizon when the war temporarily arrested its progress in the direction of full-scale looming. In Gilmore's famous "Peace Jubilee" concerts, where thousands of performers entertained simultaneously in a display of acoustic brute force before an audience almost as large as the legion of orchestral and choral talent that confronted it, Dwight found a newer and better target for his arsenal of invective. Gilmore, it seems, was intent on eclipsing the Dog Star of the brass band movement by the magnitude of his own monstrous novelty. Wrote Dwight in the January 16, 1869, issue of his Journal:

Our city has been o'er-full of music since the new year came in. We pity the man who undertook to hear the whole of it; it may be some one did so, on a wager, as now and then a valiant toper seeks immortality in drinking till he burst, or some spread-eagle patriot wheels a barrow from Providence to Boston when his party loses the election,--but of his fate we have not heard. Better wait, if ye have such an appetite for quantity, and, drinking the whole sonorous ocean at a draught, "go up" all together, gloriously, from bandmaster Gilmore's millenial tabernacle, over which, by earthquake shocks of harmony, the heavens, it is presumed, will open right up into the Paradise of Fools, where ye may dwell immortal!59

Band of the 107th U.S. Colored Infantry [Detail]. The men at the right hold E-flat tubas; those at the left carry E-flat Flügelhorns.
Arlington, Va., November 1865. Photo by William M. Smith, possibly at Fort Corcoran.
Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number: LC-B8171-7861.
Call Number: LOT 4190F.
Bibliographic Information

On this note, we might end the story of the heyday of the brass band movement in America--or begin any number of others. However, we feel that Dwight, who posthumously has been our virtual coauthor, should be given this opportunity to express the generous side of his nature more fairly:

It is easy to sneer at popular music, and to exalt the education of the ear to be derived from listening to classical or intricate compositions. But while the common people are the listeners to the concerts on the Common, and the class who patronize the great organ, the opera and the oratorio are away at Swampscott and Mount Washington, the preferences of the popular heart have a right to be consulted.60

We have dwelt on matters of popular music, a subject in which Dwight took a keen interest not as a historian but as a critic. Inevitably, his high standards together with his desire to raise the quality of popular music by raising the standards of its audience and vice versa led him to express himself in a style whose tone is often cantankerous. Yet few critics of art music today devote themselves to the improvement of popular, as opposed to genteel, taste as did Dwight, perhaps because it is now considered passé, patronizing, or simply a waste of time. The music historian, however, cannot neglect the social history of music. Consisting as so-called popular music does of much that is inferior to the works of the masters of Western art music, it nevertheless offers insights into both the manners and the taste of people for whom some of the greatest artists have offered their best works.

"Dickens," G. K. Chesterton wrote, "stands first as a defiant monument of what happens when a great literary genius has a literary taste akin to that of the community. . . . There was this vital point in his popularism, that there was no condescension in it. The belief that the rabble will only read rubbish can be read between the lines of all our contemporary writers, even of those writers whose rubbish the rabble reads. . . . Dickens never talked down to the people. He talked up to the people. . . . When I say that everybody understands Dickens I do not mean that he is suited to the untaught intelligence. I mean that he is so plain that even scholars can understand him."61 Any music historian should be able to supply the names of a number of composers to whom Chesterton's remarks, by analogy, apply.

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Essay Notes

1. The designation brass for the instruments in question is an accepted generic term for metal wind instruments played with a cup-shaped mouthpiece in which the vibrating lips of the player generate the sound. Needless to say, not all brasswinds are made of brass. Some pure metals, notably copper, as well as many alloys were used at various times.

2. The soprano valve instruments appeared first in Europe in the second quarter of the century. Both the French cornet à pistons and the German soprano Flügelhorn (a term later used interchangeably with "saxhorn") are essentially conical-bore instruments, as opposed to trumpets and trombones, which are essentially cylindrical. The cornets, however, are high soprano horns, small relatives of what we now call the French horn; the caliber of the cornet bore is smaller and more gradually flared than that of the soprano saxhorn or Flügelhorn, which resembles the French military bugle of the early nineteenth century (see note 22, below). Of course, the designations "cylindrical" or "conical" are not completely accurate, since the degree of flare, the points at which it is pronounced or gradual, and the shape of all functional parts of the instrument form its mouthpiece to its bell are complex, variable, and decisive in its pitch and tone quality. Moreover, few horns are entirely cylindrical or conical: all are conical at the bell, and all valved models require a cylindrical section where the valves are introduced into the main tubing.

3. Dwight's Journal of Music (May 29, 1852): 63.

4. Ibid. (April 16, 1853): 9.

5. Ibid., 13.

6. Dwight's Journal of Music (July 16, 1853): 119.

7. Dwight's Journal of Music (August 15, 1857): 159.

8. Dwight's Journal of Music (August 22, 1857): 166.

9. Dwight's Journal of Music (June 25, 1853): 94.

10. Dwight's Journal of Music (September 11, 1858): 191.

11. Dwight's Journal of Music (October 2, 1858): 215.

12. Dwight's Journal of Music(August 2, 1856): 141.

13. Dwight's Journal of Music (June 21, 1856): 93-94.

14. Dwight's Journal of Music (July 5, 1862): 111.

15. D. Arthur Brown, History of Penacook, N.H. (Concord, N.H.: The Rumford Press, 1902), 248-49.

16. Emmons Clark, History of the Seventh Regiment of New York, 1806-1889, (New York: The Seventh Regiment, 1890), 1:379.

17. Dwight's Journal of Music (December 21, 1861): 303.

18. Bell Irvin Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank, the Common Soldier of the Union (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1952), 158.

19. Victor Herbert, "Artistic Bands," in Music of the Modern World, ed. Anton Seidl (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1895), 120.

20. Dwight's Journal of Music (February 15, 1868): 189.

21. "The Boston Band," Boston Musical Gazette (July 25, 1838): 51-52.

22. Specifically, he used a model that most closely resembled the French military bugle of the time, a wide conical-bore instrument. It should not be confused with the modern American military instrument commonly called the bugle, more properly called a "field trumpet," which is, in fact, a trumpet without valves. (See note 2, above, for amplification on the boring subject.)

23. The technical disadvantage of this construction (notwithstanding the charming sound produced by the instruments) is that, except when all holes are closed, much of the sound comes not from the bell of the horn but from the open hole. Since it is the bell of the horn and the shape of the last one-third of the bore that most influences its tone, it is easy to see why the valve system has been ultimately preferred for brasswinds. The long established acceptability of the open-hole system for woodwinds may have given Sax the idea of recycling, if not saving, the keyed bugles and ophicleides--a species he helped endanger--by substituting for the brasswind mouthpiece a single reed, as is used on clarinets. Thus, he "invented" the saxophone.

24. Quoted by William Carpenter White in A History of Military Music in America (New York: Exposition Press, 1944), 63.

25. Dwight's Journal of Music (November 15, 1862): 259.

26. Only the bass, or tuba, of the kind first developed and introduced in Berlin in 1838 by Wilhelm Wieprecht, is now consistently used in orchestras (the baritone is occasionally used). His tuba was a contrabass Flügelhorn. Orchestral use of the saxhorn ensemble is found in quite special cases: e.g., Berlioz's Les Troyens and Ottorino Respighi's The Pines of Rome.

27. Dwight's Journal of Music (August 29, 1857): 175.

28. Dwight's Journal of Music (April 16, 1853): 10.

29. Dwight's Journal of Music (June 19, 1852): 86.

30. Dwight's Journal of Music (July 10, 1852): 111.

31. Dwight's Journal of Music (April 16, 1853): 9.

32. A most extensive study of brasswind manufacturing in the United States during this period is found in Robert E. Eliason, "Brass Instrument Key and Valve Mechanisms Made in America before 1875" (Ph.D. diss., University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1968, available from University Microfilms, Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan, as No. 69-7227).

33. In the motion picture Born Yesterday (Columbia, 1950), based on the play of the same name by Garson Kanin that appeared in New York, February 1946. The question is prompted by the need to explain the phrase "Yellowing Democratic Manifesto," and the amusing irony created by the location of the film sequence is, understandably, absent in the stage version.

34. A checklist of sources for original band music in the United States is Frank J. Cipolla, "Annotated Guide for the Study and Performance of Nineteenth Century Band Music in the United States," Journal of Band Research 14, no. 1 (Fall, 1978): 22-40.

35. Elias Howe Jr., First Part of the Musician's Companion (Boston: Elias Howe, Jr., 1844), title page.

36. E. K. Eaton, Twelve Pieces of Harmony for Military Brass Bands (New York: Firth and Hall, 1846), title page.

37. Allen Dodworth (1822-1896) was the most prominent member of a family that contributed significantly to musical life in New York. He and his father, Thomas, became managers of a band in 1838 and succeeded in developing their business to include managing bands and orchestras, establishing a dancing school, composing and arranging music, publishing, and selling, as well as developing musical instruments.

38. Allen Dodworth, "The Formation of Bands," Message Bird (August 1, 1849): 9.

39. Allen Dodworth, Brass Band School (New York: H. B. Dodworth, 1853), 11-12. Dodworth's grouping of saxhorns and cornets is appropriate, but his general description of them as being "of large calibre," by which he means a large bore, may have been a bit casual. See note 2, above.

40. J. Howard Foote, Catalogue of Musical Instruments (New York: J. Howard Foote, 1888), 36.

41. The second and third sets of the books of the Third New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry are at the New Hampshire Historical Society in Concord and the New Hampshire Antiquarian Society in Hopkinton.

42. Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs (New York: The Century Co., 1909), 1:183-84.

43. Dwight's Journal of Music (September 28, 1861): 207.

44. See Alfred S. Roe, The Twenty-fourth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers, 1861-1866 (Worcester, Mass.: Twenty-fourth Veteran Association, 1907), 124 and 417.

45. Dwight's Journal of Music (September 13, 1862): 191.

46. Roe, The Twenty-fourth Regiment, 31.

47. See Albert W. Mann, comp., History of the Forty-fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia: "The Cadet Regiment, (Jamaica Plain, Mass.: Brookside Print, 1908), 196.

48. Record of the Service of the Forth-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in North Carolina, August 1862 to May 1863 (Boston: Privately printed, 1887), 31.

49. Frank Rauscher, Music on the March, 1862-65, with the Army of the Potomac, 114th Regt. P. V., Collis' Zouaves (Philadelphia: Wm. F. Fell & Co., 1892).

50. Ibid., 13.

51. Ibid., 13-14.

52. Ibid., 14-15.

53. See Daniel Eldredge, The Third New Hampshire and All About It (Boston: E. B. Stillings and Co., 1893), 993.

54. Mann, History of the Forty-fifth Regiment, 195.

55. S. Millett Thompson, Thirteenth Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865: A Diary Covering Three Years and a Day (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1888), 369.

56. Harry H. Hall, A Johnny Reb Band from Salem (Raleigh, N.C.: The North Carolina Confederate Centennial Commission, 1963), 49-50.

57. A. J. L. Freemantle, Three Months in the Southern States; April-June 1863 (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1863), 266.

58. Dwight's Journal of Music (September 6, 1862): 183.

59. Dwight's Journal of Music (January 16, 1869): 382.

60. Dwight's Journal of Music (August 28, 1868): 301.

61. G. K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens (London: Methuen & Co., 1906), 106-8.

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