Famous Classical Marches
Martial music has a long history, as a device forstirring soldiers to acts of valour or sometimes, if Marco Polo is to bebelieved, for terrifying the enemy. The march itself, as a means, throughregular rhythm, of ensuring that the marchers proceed in step, may combine theexhortatory and the deterrent, but can be used to express solemnity in a slowmarch, light-heartedness in a quick march or triumph in a march of victory,even if, with the poet, we believe there is no hope for those that march instep.
The present collection of marches opens with the famous GrandMarch from Verdi's opera Aida. The opera itself was written to marknot the opening of the Suez Canal, which had taken place a year before, but theopening of the Cairo Opera House in 1871. It celebrates the triumphant returnof the Egyptian general Radames, bringing with him the signs of victory, alavish procession of soldiers, animals and captives, a spectacle that hasprovided opportunities for directorial extravagance in more ostentatiousproductions of the work.
The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, in his incidentalmusic of 1893 for the patriotic pageant Karelia, subsequently arrangedas a concert suite, symbolized something of the national aspirations of hiscountry, at one time dominated by Sweden and Swedish culture and at anotherthreatened by the adjacent power of Russia. The Alla marcia from the Suite
is very familiar, often used out of its Finnish context as a cheerful androusing signature-tune.
Sweden itself is represented here by the composer Dag Wiren,whose music has ranged from the high seriousness of the symphony to entries forthe Eurovision song contest. The Marcia from his 1937 Serenade forStrings is a parody of the military march, but has enjoyed particularpopularity in Britain, where its opening, at least, is known as thesignature-tune of a long-running television series.
The nineteenth century was an age of nationalism. In Russiamusical nationalism was chiefly represented by the so-called Mighty Handful,the five composers largely dominated by Balakirev. Tchaikovsky, not a member ofthis group, was seen abroad as thoroughly Russian, not always to his credit,while at home he seemed to belong to a more cosmopolitan school of composition.
His Marche slave of 1876 was written in response to a requestfrom Nikolay Rubinstein, director of the Moscow Conservatory, for a piece inaid of those wounded in the war that had broken out between Serbia and Turkey.
The march was originally known as the Serbo-Russian March and includesthree Serbian melodies as well as the Tsarist national anthem. The presentcollection includes a march of a very different kind from Tchaikovsky's 1893ballet Nutcracker, based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, an accompaniment,as the ballet opens, to a children's party that will turn to a dentist'snightmare in the Land of Sweets.
Tchaikovsky had been impressed in Paris by the operaCarmen, the work of Georges Bizet, who died in 1875 while this most successfulof his operas was still running. From his piano-duet Jeux d'enfants
(Children's Games) of 1871 he drew an orchestral Petite Suite thatincludes a March, originally under the title Trompette et tambour
(Trumpet and Drum). The opera Carmen is set in Spain and shocked some byits realistic treatment of low life. The gypsy factory-girl Carmen, arrested,is set free by Don Jose, the soldier she has seduced, who deserts his post andfollows her to the mountains where her smuggler companions are concealed. The Smugglers'March marks this episode in a story that leads to later disaster, as DonJose, rejected by Carmen, who has turned her attention to the toreador Escamillo,kills the woman he had loved and who had caused his ruin.
The Rakoczy March, adapted by Berlioz, served aparticular patriotic purpose, celebrating, as it does, the early Hungarianpatriot and champion of the country against Austrian domination. Fascinated, asso many contemporaries were, by Goethe's epic play Faust, Berlioz firstset eight scenes from the drama, later expanding this into The Damnation ofFaust. He made use of the march, played to enthusiastic audiences in Hungary,and adjusted the geographic setting of an episode in Faust to allow itsinclusion.
Primarily a composer of music for the piano, his owninstrument, the Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin, son of a French father and aPolish mother, resident in Paris but intensely patriotic, followed Beethoven'sexample in including in the second of his piano sonatas a Funeral March.
This had been written in 1837, but was later inserted into the sonata as itsthird movement.
From the solemn and funereal Mozart returns the listenerto the triumph of enlightenment in the March of the Priests from thelast of his operas to be staged, The Magic Flute, a work that wasrunning in Vienna at the time of the composer's death in the winter of 1791.
The Magic Flute, inspired by Masonic ideals, follows the ordeals throughwhich the hero Tamino must pass before being admitted to the band of the illuminatiand finding again his Pamina.
Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 has hadan unfortunate effect on the composer's reputation, associating him inevitablywith British imperialism, at a time when, in the later words of Evelyn Waugh,the map of the world was blushing red with that phenomenon. Elgar was, in fact,a composer of a much less triumphalist cast. Nevertheless Land of Hope andGlory, its words by A.C. Benson, incorporated the first of his five Pompand Circumstance marches into a Coronation Ode for King Edward VIIin 1902, although it may now be sung with tongue in cheek by a more cynicalgeneration, largely lacking either hope or glory.
Originally by profession a civil servant, Emmanuel Chabrierwas eventually able to devote his full attention to music. His brilliantlyorchestrated French march, Joyeuse marche, written in 1888, wonimmediate popularity.
The Strauss dynasty of Viennese dance-music composers wasestablished in 1825 by Johann Strauss the elder. His son Johann was to followhis example, helped by his younger brothers Josef and Eduard, for all of whomtheir father had hoped for more established professions. The waltzes, cotillons,galops, quadrilles and marches of the Strauss family, all of which had theirdue place in the ball-room, were often topical in their titles and in theoccasions of their composition. Johann Strauss's Radetzky March waswritten in 1848, the year before his death. It celebrated the victory of theAustrian Imperial army under
Field-Marshal Johann Josef Wenzel, Count Radetzky von Radetz,against
Italian forces at Custozza and was allegedly written inthe space of two hours.