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The March has aninevitable part to play in human history. Marco Polo remarked on the use ofmusic by the armies of China to terrify the enemy before a battle. Militarymusic, however, has a more precise purpose, whatever alarm it may strike intothe hearts of those who hear it. Drums and trumpets may serve as usefulsignals, to advance or retreat, to eat or to sleep. The same instruments andtheir near relations may serve to keep an army moving together, and may serveto inspire feelings of bravery and patriotism. At the same time a march canprovide at suitable accompaniment to an occasion of solemnity, a wedding, afuneral or a state ceremony.
The NapoleonicWars, with nations in arms to a greater extent than ever before in Europe, provideda stimulus for military music and injected a martial element into much of themusic of the concert hall. Beethoven, after all, achieved one of his greatestpopular successes with the appalling Wellington's Victory, his BattleSymphony. Since Napoleon the March has never looked back.
The presentcollection of Majestic Marches opens with Wagner's ceremonial march for theentry of the nobles at the singing contest of the Wartburg in his operaTannhauser. During the 1914-1918 War the French composer Ravel, representativeof a younger generation, suggested that Saint-Sa?½ns would have been betteremployed in a munitions factory than writing music. His French Military Marchmarks an earlier patriotic occasion, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
The Russian composerIppolitov-Ivanov was a product of the country's academic tradition, as itdeveloped in the later 19th century. He spent some time in Georgia, where here-organised the Tblisi Conservatory, and this is reflected to some extent inmusic such as the Procession of the Sardar, the commander's march from hisfirst Suite of Caucasian Sketches, Opus 10.
GiacomoMeyerbeer, whose work dominated French grand opera in the middle of the 19thcentury, was born at Vogelsdorf, near Berlin, in 1791, the son of a rich andcultured Jewish businessman, Jakob Herz Beer. Contracting his own name toMeyerbeer, and substituting Giacomo for Jakob, he established himself at firstin Italy, where his operas enjoyed considerable success, following this with aseries of works for Paris, culminating in the spectacular L'africaine,mounted in Paris after the composer's death in 1864. The Coronation March istaken from Meyerbeer's opera Le proph?¿te, based on the curiousAnabaptist attempt at primitive communism in M??nster in the 16th century. Theopera ends with the M??nster palace in flames, the Anabaptists opposing theirleader blown to pieces by an exploding powder magazine, and a generalconflagration that consumes the prophet of the title, John of Leyden.
Tchaikovsky'sfirst ballet, completed in 1876, was Swan Lake, on a subject that hadinspired him to amateur performance at home, on one occasion with theassistance of the French composer Saint-Sa?½ns. The second of the three completeballets. The Sleeping Beauty, scores, as completed in 1889, to be followed in1892 by Nutcracker, composed with greater reluctance. Sleeping Beauty openswith the March included here, for the King and nobility, at the christening ofthe princess, where the whole trouble arises. Matters are later put to rightsin the third act, with a Wedding March to celebrate the revival of the princessand her marriage to her rescuer. The act goes on to provide a rich series ofdivertissements, peopled by well known fairy-story characters, howeverinappropriate to the occasion. Majestic Marches includes a further example ofTchaikovsky's music in his Marche solennelle, originally known as theSerbo-Russian March and later as the Slavonic March, a patriotic workwritten in 1876. The occasion of the composition, which includes Serbian themesas well as snatches of the Russian national anthem, was the war against Turkeyin the Balkans, when Russia came to the assistance of Serbia and Montenegro.
The Norwegiancomposer Johannes Hanssen is remembered nowadays chiefly for the ValdresMarch, followed here by Rimsky-Korsakov's Procession of the Nobles.
Rimsky-Korsakov was a naval officer by original profession and later anInspector of Bands in the Imperial Russian Navy. His Procession of theNobles from the opera Mlada, is a characteristic example of a kindof music with which the composer must have been very familiar. Mlada,set in pagan Russia, takes its title from the spectral bride, who returns,after being murdered by her rival, to take her proper revenge The opera wasfirst staged in 1892.
The Austriancomposer Suppe might well be remembered for the extravagance of his full name,Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppe Dernelli. He was born in 1819in Spalato (the modern Split) in Dalmatia, then under Austria, and moved toVienna in 1835 after his father's death. There he established himself as aleading composer of operetta and director of music at the Theater an der Wien.
In 1865 he moved to the Carltheater where his operetta Fatinitza was firststaged in January, 1876.
The MerryWidow by Franz Lehar suggests the waltz rather than the march, although thecomplications of its plot have a patriotic basis in the laudable attempts ofBaron Mirko Zeta to acquire the Merry Widow's fortune for the depleted coffersof his country, Pontevedria.
The music ofAlfred Newman, a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg, enters another world, that of thecinema. In Hollywood he provided music for some 250 films, serving asconductor, composer and arranger. He is represented here by a triumphal marchand a prelude from the film Captain from Castile, made in 1947. He is likely tobe further remembered for his scores for Wuthering heights, The prisoner ofZenda, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Robe, from a career thatstarted with music for Chaplin's City lights and ended with the score forAirport in 1969.
The Norwegian violinist and composerJohan Halvorsen was closely involved with the theatre, as director of music atthe Bergen Theatre and subsequently at the Christiania National Theatre from1899 until 1929. His march for the entry of the Boyars, the ancient Russiannobility, was written in 1895, during his tenure at the theatre in Bergen.
Leo Delibes sangas a boy in the first performance of Meyerbeer's opera Le proph?¿te inParis in 1849 and found his own early success as a composer in the field ofoperetta. In 1870 he won a new reputation for himself with his ballet Coppelia.
The even less probable ballet Sylvia, or The Nymph of Diana, wasstaged in Paris in 1876. The story is drawn from Ariosto and deals with thelove of the shepherd Amyntas for Sylvia, dedicated to the chaste service of thehuntress goddess Diana, hardly favoured by the god of wine Bacchus, whoseprocession is here celebrated. Love, with material assistance from Eros,finally triumphs.
Prokofiev's operaLove for Three Oranges was written in 1919 with a libretto by thecomposer based on the 18th century play by the Venetian dramatist Gozzi. ThePrince, cured of his inability to laugh by the stumbling of the wicked FataMorgana, is cursed and sent in search of three oranges guarded by abass-singing giantess. Successful in his search, he opens each, to find abeautiful princess in each. The first two die, when the Prince cannot satisfytheir thirst, but the third is revived with a bucket of water and the Princewould have married her at once, had she not been transfor