Insights into Wind Band Classics
TOCCATA MARZIALE - Vaughan Williams
Toccata Marziale, written in 1924, was Vaughan Williams’s second work for military and is one of the most significant contributions to the wind band literature. The word “toccata” comes from the Italian “toccare,” meaning, “to touch,” hence its association with the early Baroque virtuoso keyboard pieces written by Frescobaldi and others.
Toccata Marziale is a contrapuntal masterpiece for wind ensemble, in which textures are juxtaposed in massed effects with large sections of winds and brasses. A rhythmic vigor, as suggested by the title, permeates the piece and Vaughan Williams’s brilliant scoring reveals the fundamental properties of the band’s sonority and its instrumental virtuosity and color.
LINCOLNSHIRE POSY - Percy Grainger
Lincolnshire Posy was commissioned by the American Bandmasters Association and premiered at their convention with the composer conducting. It is in six movements, all based on folk songs from Lincolnshire, England. Grainger's settings are not only true to the verse structure of the folk songs, but attempt to depict the singers from whom Grainger collected the songs. Since its premiere, it has been recognized as a cornerstone of the wind band repertoire. The composer writes:
Lincolnshire Posy, as a whole work, was conceived and scored by me direct for wind band early in 1937. Five, out of the six, movements of which it is made up existed in no other finished form, though most of these movements (as is the case with almost all my compositions and settings, for whatever medium) were indebted, more or less, to unfinished sketches for a variety of mediums covering many years (in this case, the sketches date from 1905 to 1937). These indebtedness’s are stated in the score.
The title explained
This bunch of "musical wildflowers" (hence the title) is based on folksongs collected in Lincolnshire, England (one notated by Miss Lucy E. Broadwood; the other five noted by me, mainly in the years 1905-1906, and with the help of the phonograph), and the work is dedicated to the old folksingers who sang so sweetly to me. Indeed, each number is intended to be a kind of musical portrait of the singer who sang its underlying melody - a musical portrait of the singer's personality no less than of his habits of song - his regular or irregular wonts of rhythm, his preference for gaunt or ornately arabesqued delivery, his contrasts of legato and staccato, his tendency towards breadth or delicacy of tone.
FIRST SUITE IN Eb - Gustav Holst
2009 marked the 100th anniversary of the First Suite in Eb by Gustav Holst, now considered one of the masterworks and cornerstones of the band literature. Although completed in 1909, the suite didn't receive its official premiere until 11 years later on June 23rd, 1920, by an ensemble of 165 musicians at the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall. However, the work was originally conceived to be performed by ensembles significantly smaller than the one at Kneller Hall. During this time period there was no standardized instrumentation among the hundreds of British military bands of the day, and as a result no significant literature had been previously written for the band medium; most British bands up to then performed arrangements of popular orchestral pieces. In order to ensure the suite would be accessible to as many bands as possible, Holst ingeniously scored the work so that it could be played by a minimum of 19 musicians, with 16 additional parts that could be added or removed without compromising the integrity of the work.
The three movements
There are three movements in the suite: Chaconne, Intermezzo, and March. Holst writes, “As each movement is founded on the same phrase, it is requested that the suite be played right through without a break.” Indeed, the first three notes of the Chaconne are Eb, F and C, and the first three notes of the melody when it first appears in the Intermezzo are Eb, F, and C. In the third movement, March, Holst inverts the motive: The first note heard in the brilliant opening brass medley is an Eb, but instead of rising, it descends to a D, and then a G; the exact opposite of the first two movements.
The Chaconne begins with a ground bass reminiscent of those written by Henry Purcell or William Byrd. It is performed by tuba, euphonium and string bass and is repeated throughout the ensemble sixteen full times as varying instrumental textures and variations of the theme are layered within it. Following a delicately scored chamber setting of the theme, the music steadily builds to a brilliant Eb Major chord that concludes the movement.
The Intermezzo is light and brisk and features soloistic passages for the cornet, oboe and clarinet. Holst prominently displays the agility and sensitivity of the wind band through transparent textures and passages where the melody and accompaniment are woven into a variety of instrumental settings.
The March begins suddenly. It consists of two themes, the first of which, performed by brass choir and percussion, and is a march light in character. The second theme is dominated by the woodwinds and is composed of a long, lyrical line reminiscent of the original Chaconne melody. The movement concludes with both themes intertwining as the band crescendos to a climax.
AMERICAN OVERTURE - Joseph Willcox Jenkins
The American Overture for band was written for the U.S. Army Field Band and it is dedicated to its conductor at the time, Chester E. Whiting. The piece is written in a neo-modal style being flavored strongly with both Lydian and Mixolydian modes. Its musical architecture is a very free adaptation of sonata form. The musical material borders on the folk tune idiom, although there are no direct quotes from any folk tunes. The work calls for skilled playing by several sections, especially the French horns. Although American Overture was Jenkins' first band piece, it remains his most successful work, and in his words, he is "hard-pressed to duplicate its success.''
Before deciding on music as a career, Philadelphian Joseph Willcox Jenkins (b. 1928) received a pre-law degree at St. Joseph's College. Jenkins studied composition under Vincent Persichetti at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music. He earned his Bachelor and Masters of Music degrees at the Eastman School of Music and his Doctorate at the Catholic University of America. Jenkins began his musical career as a composer and arranger for the United States Army Field Bands and the Armed Forces Network. He is Professor of Theory and Composition at Duquesne University, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1960. He has received numerous prestigious commissions and has nearly 200 original compositions, works for band, orchestra, chorus, solo instruments and theatrical pieces, plus hundreds more vocal and instrumental arrangements to his credit. The ASCAP Serious Music Award has been awarded annually to Jenkins for nearly two consecutive decades.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST - John Philip Sousa
Although primarily known for his marches, Sousa composed eleven suites, usually inspired by something he saw or read. In the case of the “Looking Upward” suite the first movement, "By the Light of the Polar Star", came to him while riding a train through South Dakota late one night; he associated the Jingle Bells lyrics with it. The second movement depicts a tropical scene, inspired by an ad Sousa saw for the ship, Southern Cross. The final movement was inspired as he gazed at the heavens and recalled an old song about a soldier and a beautiful woman, bringing to mind the legend of lovers Mars (the god of war) and Venus (the goddess of love). The song evokes feelings of love, sadness, and glory as the soldier goes off to war.
Stars and Stripes Forever
Composed by John Philip Sousa on Christmas Day 1896, "The Stars and Stripes Forever" is the official March of the United States of America (US Code, Title 36 Chapter 10) .
Surprisingly, John Philip Sousa's great American patriotic march, "The Stars and Stripes Forever," was written not in the aftermath of a great battle, but on an ocean liner as Sousa and his wife were returning from a European vacation.
In late 1896, they were at sea when word came that the manager of the Sousa Band, David Blakely, had died suddenly. The band was scheduled to begin another cross-country tour soon, and Sousa knew he had to return to America right away to take over the band's business affairs. Sousa tells the rest of the story in his autobiography, Marching Along.
"Here came one of the most vivid incidents of my career. As the vessel (the Teutonic) steamed out of the harbor I was pacing on the deck, absorbed in thoughts of my manager's death and the many duties and decisions which awaited me in New York. Suddenly, I began to sense a rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain. Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distinct melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed."
The march was an immediate success, and Sousa's Band played it at almost every concert until his death over 25 years later.