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Add Hollywood Style Sophistication to Your Ceremony or Cocktail Hour with Boccherini’s Minuet

Portrait of Luigi Boccherini

The Composer and Cellist Luigi Boccherini believed to have been painted around 1768. Courtesy of Dr Gerhard Christmann, Budenheim, Germany

There is one melody that is often used by Hollywood to emphasize a sophisticated atmosphere. That tune is the Minuetto from String Quintet in E, Op. 11 by Luigi Boccherini. Harmonious Music also includes the piece, often times referred to as Boccherini’s Minuet, regularly for both wedding ceremony and cocktail hour performances.

This Rococo hit is typically used as background music to depict high society durring the late nineteenth century in period films. It is actually a very fitting use of the music because the song was written while Boccherini was employed by King Carlos III’s brother the infante don Luis de Borbón in Madrid, Spain. In this post Boccherini was paid a handsome stipend of 30,000 reales as a cellist and composer.

The Minuet was written in 1771 as part of Boccherini’s second series of quintets under don Luis’s patronage. Boccherini’s quintets are unique from many other composers because he wrote for two violins, one viola and two cellos. Most other composer’s string quintets utilize two violins, two violas, and one cello. Boccherini’s preference certainly results from the fact that he was a virtuoso cello player in his own right. It is said that he was capable of performing the violin parts of string quartets in their original pitch on cello when musicians fell ill and a substitute was needed.

Luigi’s aptitude on cello was only one motivation for his unique quintet compositions. He had also befriended a family of string players by the name of Font who were also employed by don Luis. This highly esteemed quartet presented the opportunity for Luigi Boccherini to perform his own compositions with a skilled string ensemble on a regular basis.

Although Boccherini was Italian by birth and training, he is considered a Spanish composer. As a result many critics note a Spanish influence in Boccherini’s Minuet. This is especially evident in the original rendition written for string quintet, which utilizes pizzicato and syncopation between the various voices resulting in a guitar like effect. The following recording is a Piano and Violin reduction, which is performed regularly by Harmonious Music.

There is some misinformation floating around the internet indicating that Boccherini was dismissed by don Luis for refusing to change a passage of music. This assertion, however, is erroneous. Boccherini remained in don Luis’ patronage until the Infante’s death in 1785. Tragically in the same year Luigi Boccherini’s first wife Clementina also passed away after suffering a stroke.

The loss of his employer and his wife left Luigi Boccherini in a difficult position because he had suddenly become an unemployed single father of six young children. Fortunately, Luigi Boccerini was offered a pension from three sources, The Real Capilla (Royal Chapel), the Countess-Dukes of Benavente-Osuna and most significantly the appointment of composer to King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II’s court. Shortyly after the death of three of his daughters and his second wife, Boccherini passed away most likely from Tuberculosis in Madrid, Spain during 1805.

Although, the end of Luigi Boccherini’s life was wrought with tragedy, it does not change the fact that most of his earlier works are airy and uplifting. This is particularly true in the case of Minuetto from String Quintet in E, Op. 11. This fine composition properly earns its place as a staple in the films of Hollywood as well as Harmonious Music’s repertoire for wedding ceremonies and cocktail hours. It certainly is suitable for any event in New York’s Hudson Valley where an atmosphere of sophistication is required.

Violinist Eric Ortner to Perform with The Virginia Wolves at High Falls Cafe

Front of High Falls Cafe

Front view of the Hudson Valley's High Falls Cafe.

Eric Ortner, the violinist from Harmonious Music, will be performing with The Virginia Wolves at High Falls Cafe on Saturday, January 15th from 8-11 p.m. The Cafe is situated in the beautiful old canal town of High Falls in New York’s Hudson Valley. Eric has played with The Wolves several times in the past and he is always flattered when they invite him to join their pack.

Kelly McNally, The Virginia Wolves guitarist and song writer, also shares commonality with Harmonious Music in that she performs wedding ceremonies herself. She is an ordained non-denominational minister. She also practices Reiki professionally at hospitals and retreats, so if you are looking for a powerful priestess for your wedding, be sure to contact Kelly.

The Virginia Wolves always put on a great show.  The Virginia Wolves core membership consists of Kelly McNally singer/songwriter, ( lead vocalist, guitar, tambourine, harmonica), Adele Schulz (french horn, trumpet, vocal harmonies, tambourine) Alan Macaluso (electric guitar, pedal steel), Chris Macchia (bass) & our drummer that evening will be Just Jed (of The Wood Brothers..Medeski, Martin & Wood)

Kelly and Adelle’s voices combine to form incredible vocal harmonies that can honestly be described as angelic.   You don’t see the French Horn mixed into Organic Rock music everyday so be sure to go and check out the show!

The High Falls Cafe is located:

1219 State Rt. 213 and Mohonk Rd.
High Falls NY 12440
845-687-2699

Also be sure to visit the Virginia Wolves online for some auditory satisfaction at http://www.TheVirginiaWolves.com.

Norwich Sculpture Commemorates Elizabethan Performer Will Kemp

Kemp's Sculpture in Chapelfield Gardens

Sculpture of Will Kemp's famous Morris Dance between London and Norwich in Chapelfield Gardens, Norwich, England Photo: Eric Ortner

Norwich, England is a wonderful city filled with history dating back to the Roman Empire and before. There are glimpses of it everywhere, including remnants of ancient walls and even an intact Norman style keep. One reminder is this carved log, which stands near the bandstand that Glenn Miller performed on in Chapelfield Gardens. The relief wooden sculpture was carved by Mark Goldsworthy and was dedicated in 2000.

The sculpture is reminiscent of a Maypole, with Morris Dancers being led by a Pipe and Tabor player. Pipe and Tabor was a favorite folk dancing instrument during the medieval and early renaissance periods and would have been an important part of a peasant class wedding celebration.

It turns out, though, that the sculpture commemorates Will Kemp an actor, Morris Dancer and personal friend of William Shakespeare. There is conjecture that several of Shakespeare’s works had parts written specifically for Kemp.  Will Kemp was especially renowned for dancing all the way from London to Norwich in 1600 which was towards the end of his life. The 125 mile trip only took him nine days, which means he would have danced for roughly 14 miles a day. He must have had sore feet by the end of that gig.

Will Kemp also was famous for his Jigs. In the Elizabethan Era, a Jig was a comic song and dance routine that was often performed between the acts of a dramatic performance. One Jig performed by Will Kemp has survived to this day and is named, fittingly, Kemp’s Jig. The following recording of Kemp’s Jig by Harmonious Music is based on an arrangement by Tom Wills. This version includes both violin and piano parts with a nice improvisation added.

A visit to Norwich should not be completed without a stroll through Chapelfield Gardens. The public space is a testament to music history and the human spirit.

Turkeylony From William Ballet’s Lute Book

Facsimile of Light o’ Love from William Ballet’s Lute Book. This song was mentioned in William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Modern musicians will appreciate the number of lines per staff and the lack of time signature. Sheet music or pricksong for Lute was comparable to modern guitar tablature where each line represented a string of the instrument.

Facsimile of Light o’ Love from William Ballet’s Lute Book. This song was mentioned in William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Modern musicians will appreciate the number of lines per staff and the lack of time signature. Sheet music or pricksong for Lute was comparable to modern guitar tablature where each line represented a string of the instrument.

Turkeylony, sometimes spelled Turkeyloney was a popular dance from the renaissance era of King James I and Queen Elizabeth I.  There is no certainty where the name originated. It has been surmised that the word Turkeylony is derived from the Italian Tordiglione.  A Tordiglione was a type of Italian Galliard which is a dance that utilizes five steps to a measure .
In England, the Turkeylony was originally a country dance. However, as with many popular country dances it made its way into aristocratic circles as a court dance where it most likely earned its name.
There are at least two known songs from the English Renaissance entitled Turkeylony.  One of the versions is also known as The God of Love. However, the rendition of Turkeylony presented here was originally transcribed from William Ballet’s Lute Book. Ballet’s original manuscript resides in Trinity College in Dublin. William Chappell transcribed the tune in 1859 in his work Popular Music of the Olden Time. Vol. 1.

The following recording of Turkeylony uses an arrangement of Violin, Viola and Piano. In William Ballet’s time this would have been considered a mixed, or broken consort because there were more than one instrument families performing the song.

It is believed that although William Ballet started the book, there was more than one author.  This is because there are different hand writing styles and colored inks used throughout the manuscript. Ballet’s Lute book was most likely a student work used for the instruction of music theory and site reading.
William Chappell paired Ballet’s Turkeylony with the ballad If Ever I Marry, I’ll Marry a Maid.  This was clearly a rather crass song favored by young men. It is a ballad probably more suited to a bachelor’s party than a modern wedding ceremony. Still, reveler’s of today will certainly appreciate it’s comic approach toward picking one’s spouse. The following lyrics are from the broadside If Ever I Marry, I’ll Marry a Maid.

1

If ever I marry, I’ll marry a maid
To marry a widdow, I’m sore afraid
For maids they are simple and never will grudge
But widows full oft, as they say know to mutch.

2
A maid is so sweet, and so gentle of kind,
That a maid is the wife I will choose to my mind;
A widow if frowned and never will yield;
Of if such there be, you will meet them but seeld.

3
A maid ne’er complaineth, do what so you will;
But what you mean well, a widow takes ill:
A widow will make you a drudge and a slave,
And cost ne’er so much, she will ever go brave.

4
A maid is so modest, she seemeth a rose,
When first it beginneth the bud to unclose;
But a widow full blown, full often deceives,
And the next wind that bloweth shakes down all her leaves.

5
That widows be lovely I never gain say,
But too well all their beauty they know to display;
But a maid hath so great hidden beauty in store,
She can spare to a widow, yet never be poor.

6
Then, if ever I marry, give me a fresh maid,
If to marry with any I be not afraid;
But to marry with any it asketh much care,
And some bachelors hold they are best as they are.

For those interested in the performance of early music, I’ve included a PDF of this version of Turkeylony sheet music complete with the If Ever I Marry broadside. Simply Click Here to download it.

Harmonious Music to Perform at Haiti Relief Benefit

middletown-highschool-NY

Middletown High School in Orange County, New York will be the site of a Haitian relief benefit concert.

Harmonious Music will perform in a Benefit Cabaret Performance at Middletown High School on Friday, April 30 at 7 p.m. This show is a benefit for the survivors of the Haitian earthquake of 2010.

Performances will include music scanning six decades, from The Shirelles and Stevie Wonder to The Beatles, Greenday and The Ramones. Classical selections, acoustic trios and creative storytellers round out the show. This evening’s worth of affordable family fun will help ship needed supplies to our friends and family in Haiti.

Come join the Middletown community as they support efforts to help Haiti recover and rebuild from the devastating earthquakes that shook their world. Come support Haiti Relief Fund 2010!

Tickets are available at the door for donations of $3 (students) – $5 (adults). Children under 6 are free.

…Teachers keep on teachin’
Preachers keep on preachin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long
Till we reach the higher ground.

~Stevie Wonder, “Higher Ground”

 

Links: Middletown High School: http://middletowncityschools.org/default.htm

Renaissance Wedding Music

Two Newlyweds dance to the sounds of a Violinist during a wedding</br> from the time of the renaissance.

Two Newlyweds dance to the sounds of a Violinist during a wedding from the time of the renaissance.

There were several factors influencing the music that was being performed for weddings in England during the mid to late 1500s and early 1600s. The first major influences were the Protestant Reformation and Puritanical beliefs. Another driving force was the newly emerging educated middle class and its quest to follow the fashions of nobility. All the while newly invented musical instruments were improving sound quality and versatility allowing for more complicated and intricate instrumental music. These conditions set the stage for music to manifest itself in every walk of life during the Renaissance. Therefore, music was certainly an important element for a memorable Renaissance wedding.

By the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the church had become an important part of any marriage. In fact, for a marriage to be legal, the pending union needed to be announced in church on three consecutive Sundays. It is important to understand, though, that in England the church was in a tremendous period of transition. This was a result of Henry VIII’s excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church and his subsequent creation of the Anglican Church. When Queen Elizabeth I rose to power she made a concerted effort to maintain peace in the potentially volatile struggles between Catholics and Protestants. As a result, a group of highly educated Protestants became extremely critical of the Queen’s religious compromises. This group became known as Puritans because they wanted to purify the Anglican Church of Catholicism. Since Marriage was so intrinsically tied to the church, the Puritan’s religious principles managed to manifest itself into most aspects of wedding music.

Once the intention to marry was made public in church through Crying the Banns it was possible to hold a wedding ceremony. Then as now, the first part of a wedding ceremony was the procession. In the time of Renaissance England the procession was a noisy and raucous affair. It began at the bride’s house where the bride would prepare for the ceremony with her bridesmaids. The groom and his family would often meet at the bride’s home and commence the procession following the bride’s family. The procession would then travel to the local church accompanied by musicians who performed on flutes, viols, drums and other “haut” (loud) instruments. Through the first half of the 16th century Bagpipes were also used in processionals and there is documentation of ministers performing on them during the procession. However, by the end of the century the popularity of bagpipes had waned significantly. There are records that indicate that the Puritans objected to the processionals and even brought the matter before Parliament.

The procession would eventually arrive at a Christian worship service that was quite a bit different compared with the customs of today. One of the most noticeable differences would have been the lack of seating. There were no pews, and the congregation stood for the duration of the service.

The Renaissance wedding ceremony was a very solemn service. There would have been little to no music performed during most ceremonies. If music was performed it would have most likely been Madrigal or vocal. The sparse presence of music resulted from the Puritan’s believe that most of the traditional religious music should be discarded. This was largely because the Anglican Church service was to be held entirely in English as opposed to Latin. Unfortunately this has resulted in a great deal of early English sacred music performed in Latin being lost to the sands of time.

The Puritans were also quite vocal about the style of music used in religious services especially when it regarded Polyphony and instrumentation. Polyphony is music with two or more independent melodic parts sounded together. This counterpoint had become the mainstream in music throughout Europe during the Renaissance. The Puritans believed that the gospel sung in polyphony interfered with the congregation’s ability to comprehend the word of God. The Puritans also believed that the use of musical instruments during a church service was an element of Popery. They deemed instrumental music in worship services to be profane leaving the worshipers more interested in the musical performance than in the word of God. This mindset resulted in the removal of 100s of organs from churches by the over zealous reformers throughout England and much of the rest of reformed Europe. Interestingly, though, many smaller organs created by the same craftsman who had previously built instruments for churches began appearing in private homes.

During the Renaissance the chief benefactor to the arts was the Church. Unfortunately, the Puritans pious and hard-nosed stance on sacred music created a great void in the labor market for instrumental musicians. Many of the most talented musicians were forced to work abroad or even gave up the trade entirely. The performers that managed to scrape by found work performing in weddings for wealthy and middle class families with enough status to ignore the Puritan’s creeds. A select few musicians were lucky, or perhaps talented enough to gain patronage from the extremely wealthy nobility in private chapels. One example of a private house of worship was Queen Elizabeth’s own Chapel Royal. Chapel Royal was the primary venue for several famed Elizabethan era composers including William Byrd.

William Byrd became one of the most renowned composers of the renaissance in England and specialized in music utilizing polyphony. Some of Byrd’s Hymns are still favorites of the Anglican Church today. Although it is unclear whether any of Byrd’s work was actually performed during weddings of the Elizabethan Era, some of his compositions used subject matter directly related to marriage. Two prime examples The Match That’s Made and La Verginella were contained in his 1588 volume Psalms, Sonnets & Songs of Sadness and Piety.

Eight pieces for Virginal by William Byrd were also published in Parthenia, a wedding gift for Elizabeth Stuart who was the daughter of King James I. Parthenia was published between 1611 and 1613 and has the added distinction of being the first published collection of English keyboard music.

Composition II by William Byrd from the Virginal Work, Parthenia. This is an excellent example of the pricksong of the time. Notice the extra number of  lines on the staff and the interesting rythmic markings.

Composition II by William Byrd from the Virginal Work, Parthenia. This is an excellent example of the pricksong of the time. Notice the extra number of lines on the staff and the interesting rythmic markings.

There may have been little or no music performed during Renaissance wedding ceremonies, however, melody filled the air during wedding feasts. The music performed at a feast would have varied widely depending on the social class of the newlyweds.

The newly emerging middle class had an extremely strong appreciation of music. Most nobleman and merchants were able to read pricksong or sheet music. In lieu of video games and television, Elizabethan families would sing and play instruments following dinner in their newly found leisure time. Lutes were by far the most popular instrument and at least one could be found in most middle and upper class homes. Music was so important that if it was found that a dinner guest could not sing pricksong at sight, (sight read) he would be looked at in disdain in many circles and considered to be of unsavory character. With an appreciative audience like this it is easy to understand the importance there would have been in hiring the best professional musicians during a wedding feast.

Any wedding feast, regardless of class, would have included dancing. Dance was a popular form of social exercise. Queen Elizabeth herself would dance every morning. During the English Renaissance dances would be set to a variety of instrumentation including a cappella, instrumental or a combination of both. The Dancers would follow the periods “pop” music, which tended to be Broadside Ballads. One of the period’s most popular broadside dances was called Turkeylony. The following lyrics were printed in 1557 or 1558 and are believed to have been sung along with the Turkeylony melody.

If ever I marry, I’ll marry a maid
To marry a widow I’m sorely afraid;
For maids they are simple, and never will grutch, (grudge)
But widows full oft, as they say, know too much

The dances at wedding feasts for all classes would have most likely been stepped in circles or in rows that could support an unlimited number of participants. However, There were other popular dances of the time that included a fixed number of dancers such as two or three couples.

Although the upper and middle classes did partake in the dances of the commoners, they also had a long list of specialized dances known as Court Dances. Court Dances could be divided into two categories basse which were slower dances or Haute or fast dances. A dance party during the Elizabethan Renaissance would begin with basse dances. Basse Dances were considered “low” dances because the dancers would stay on the ground. As the wedding feast progressed, the music’s tempo would increase to tempos suitable for haute dances. Haute Dances were considered “high” because the dancers would actually skip, hop and jump during them.

The slower basse dances included the Allemagne which was considered the most sentimental court dance, and would have certainly been suitable as the first dance for a pair of newlyweds. The couples partaking in Allemagne or Alman held each others hands through the entire dance. The beauty of this dance didn’t come from fancy steps and flourishes, but rather from its grace and tenderness.

A consort performs on viols at an outdoor renaissance wedding for reveling dancers. Puritan's look on in disdain in the background. Painting by Joris Hoefnagel Fete 1859

A consort performs on viols at an outdoor renaissance wedding for reveling dancers. Puritan's look on in disdain in the background. Painting by Joris Hoefnagel Fete in 1859

At a racier wedding, the married couple might dance a Lavolta, which were written for two people. This haute waltz was one of the most difficult dances because men would lift their dance partner into the air. The leap often caused the lady’s skirt to lift. In some circles this would be far too obscene. The more conservative members of the court were dismayed that a lady’s knees would be shown and in some cases their garter would be revealed. A Fashionable woman who planned to dance the Lavolta would be sure to pick a garter that was adorned with gold or silver. Onlookers would laugh as the newlywed’s grasped and bumped parts of the anatomy that were considered taboo by most. The groom would place his right hand on the bride’s back and his left hand just under her bosom. The groom would then use his thigh to push the bride’s hindquarters further into the air as she twirled. Many preachers and Puritans condemned the Lavolta because it could lead to much debauchery, and at a wedding feast this would certainly be the case.

The peasant or servant class during the time of the Renaissance also was very fond of dancing. There isn’t a great deal known about the daily lives of the peasant class, however, their dances eventually became popular with the nobility as well. As a result there is a fair amount of documentation regarding the peasant “country dances.” Some of the dances that found their way into noble society included Brawls, Gavottes, Jigs, hornpipes and reels.

Many of the peasant wedding customs were passed down from pagan traditions. One key example of this would be Morris Dance. Morris Dances were especially associated with May Day or May 1st, but they were also common at country wedding feasts. The May Day celebration originated in England as far back as the time of the Druids. The tradition continued with the Roman occupation of England as it became a time of praise for the God of Spring, Flora. The May Day tradition had further evolved by the time of the renaissance due to many centuries of European conflation and conflict. As a result a new set of characters was associated with Morris dance. They included the Queen or Lady of May, a Jester, A Piper, and up to six Morris Dancers.

The Piper in a Morris Dance would have most likely been a Pipe and Tabor player. The pipe and tabor was perhaps the earliest version of the “one man band.” The “pipe” in this case was a home made three holed whistle or flute played using the thumb, index and middle fingers. While the performer blew away on the pipe, he would pound out a lively beat using a stick on a drum slung over his shoulder called a tabor. It also wasn’t uncommon for other percussionists, fiddlers, harpists and bagpipers to perform during Morris Dances. Although still popular in the lower class during the time of Elizabeth I, the pipe and tabor was quickly being replaced by more modern woodwind instruments in more affluent circles.

Harmonious Music actually still regularly includes a Morris Dance in their wedding ceremony set. The name of the tune is English Country Gardens. Although the ensemble does not include vocals for the performance they are as follows:

How many kinds of sweet flowers grow
In an English country garden?
We’ll tell you now of some that we know
Those we miss you’ll surely pardon
Daffodils, heart’s ease and phlox
Meadowsweet and lady smocks
Gentian, lupin and tall hollyhocks
Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget-me-nots
In an English country garden

How many insects come here and go
In an English country garden?
We’ll tell you now of some that we know
Those we miss you’ll surely pardon
Fireflies, moths and bees
Spiders climbing in the trees
Butterflies drift in the gentle breeze
There are snakes, ants that sting
And other creeping things
In an English country garden

How many songbirds fly to and fro
In an English country garden?
We’ll tell you now of some that we know
Those we miss you’ll surely pardon
Bobolink, cuckoo and quail
Tanager and cardinal
Bluebird, lark, thrush and nightingale
There is joy in the spring
When the birds begin to sing
In an English country garden

Other variations of Morris Dances would include the use of a “Hobby Horse.” A Hobby Horse was a man wearing a wicker frame in the shape of a horse. He would prance around and mimic the movements of an actual horse. In some versions another person would wear a similar costume intended to resemble a dragon. The Hobby Horse Knight would then slay the Dragon reenacting the story of St. George.

The Morris Dancing at spring wedding feasts took place around the May Pole. The May Pole was another relic of England’s pagan past and most likely originated in Germany. It was a large tree of varying sizes sunk into the ground. This giant post would be painted and adorned with flowers and wreathes. The May Pole was considered a phallic symbol, and dancing around it was actually a fertility right. Visitors to modern renaissance fairs will watch dancers weave ribbons around the May Pole. However, this tradition did not start until the 19th century as England reexamined its “Merry-Old” past. Puritans despised the May Pole believing May Pole dancing to be a form of idol worship. As a result, it was banned in England by the Mid-Sixteen hundreds.

Conclusion

Although, the customs were somewhat different, there are still many parallels between music that was performed in religious and wedding ceremonies from the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the contemporary United States. Currently, as houses of worship struggle to maintain membership many are stripping away the more traditional music in favor of more contemporary sounds. However, customs and traditions still remain varied in the United States, often depending on socio-economic conditions and religious and cultural differences. Meanwhile, the innovations of electricity and the resulting modern instruments such as electric guitars and MIDI keyboards continue to push the use of music in wedding ceremonies to new heights.

Sources

Music from the Age of Shakespeare: A Cultural History
by Suzanne Lord

William Byrd’s Fall From Grace and his First Solo Publication of 1588: A Shostakovian “Response to Just Criticism”?
By Jeremy L. Smith

William Byrd: The Collected Works of William Byrd.
Edited by Edmund. H. Fellowes

http://www.elizabethan.org/compendium/62.html

http://celyn.drizzlehosting.com/mrwp/mrwed.html

http://www.archive.org/stream/popularmusicofol01chapuoft/popularmusicofol01chapuoft_djvu.txt

http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/lod/vol2/ecd_16th.html

http://www.hago.org.uk/free/country-garden/lyrics/

The lute in Britain: a history of the instrument and its music
By Matthew Spring

Courtly Dance of the Renaissance: A New Translation and Edition of the Nobilitá di Dame (1600)
By Fabrito Caroso, Julia Sutton, F. Marian Walker

The Lute Books of Ballet and Dallis Music and Letters Journal
by H. Macaulay FitzGibbon

Popular Music of the Olden Time Vol. 1
by William Chappell

Shakespeare’s Songbook Vol. 1
by Ross W. Duffin

Adolphe Sax, his Saxhorn and the People Who Made It Popular During The War Between The States

Adolphe Sax at the Age of 40 Illustrated by Eric Ortner

Adolphe Sax at the Age of 40 Illustrated by Eric Ortner

Written and Illustrated by Eric Ortner

Originally Published in The Civil War Courier

Some of the most important social activities in the mid 19th Century were performances from community music ensembles. Around the time of the American Civil War the ensembles were more often than not brass bands. The great popularity of the brass band was a result of many individual’s contributions to the improvement of brass instruments.

There have been thousands of instrument manufactures through the ages. Yet in the minds of most people today, there are really only two names associated with the title instrument maker. The first is obvious, Stradivarius. The second is equally well known, but seldom thought of; Adolphe Sax. Sax was the inventor of the saxophone and more importantly for those interested in the history of the Civil War, the Saxhorn.

Adolphe Sax was born in Brussles on November 6, 1814. His father, Charles Sax, was a joiner and cabinetmaker. Charles eventually worked in a factory and later began to produce woodwind  instruments like serpents and flutes. Charles was self-trained, and his work became so well regarded that King William I appointed him Instrument Maker to the Court of the Netherlands. This required Charles to supply the Belgian military bands with instruments. What Charles Sax learned in the creation of his acclaimed instruments was, that variations in tones were created by the proportions of an instrument’s bore. The sound further depended on whether the instrument was cylindrical, conical or a combination of both. He also noticed the importance of the method by which the source of the sound was created. He closely studied the oboe’s double reed, the clarinet’s single reed, the trumpet’s cup mouthpiece and the flute’s open hole. Charles Sax was one of the first people to conduct thorough research in this field. Charles’ eldest son, Adolphe, was there to assist him with all of his work, and in the process, Adolphe learned a great deal.

There is not a whole lot written about Adolphe’s mother. She bore 11 children, few of whom survived into adulthood. The only quote that she is known to have said is, “The child is doomed to suffer; he won’t live.”

She said this of Adolphe after he nearly drowned in a river. He had numerous other mishaps that consisted of several poisonings, a serious fall down stairs, a close call with a gunpowder explosion, which badly burned him, a hot frying pan falling on him along with a roof stone hitting him in the head leaving a scar that remained long into adulthood. This sort of bad luck can almost be seen as an omen of the sort of life that lay ahead for young Adolphe.

Adolphe’s misfortunes did not hinder him in becoming a skilled instrument manufacturer though. Before he was even in his teens, Adolphe Sax had learned how to drill the pieces of a clarinet to perfection. He was even able to create the involved key work of these instruments. At the age of 14 Adolphe began to study music at the Royal School of Singing. He started studying flute, but later took up the clarinet under the instruction of Valentine Vender, who was a famous Belgian bandmaster. He learned quickly from Vender, and in 1834 Joseph Küffner, a German bandmaster and composer dedicated a work for two clarinets to Adolphe.

Although Adolphe Sax gradually drifted back to producing instruments in his father’s shop, what led to his career as an instrument maker was his vast improvements to the bass clarinet which were made public in June of 1838. After a successful trip to Paris with the instrument, Adolphe returned to Brussels where he met great disappointment in the Brussels Exhibition of 1841. Sax was encouraged by Jacques Halévy, whom he had met in his trip to Paris, to return there and continue to create his family of instruments. Against his father’s objections, Adolphe left Brussels for Paris with only 30 Francs to his name.

Sax’s arrival in Paris bordered on disaster. His father had warned him when he left that the French manufacturers did not take kindly to foreign competition on their own soil. He was loaned 4,000 francs by Halévy and other friends. Sax then set up a shop on Rue St. Georges and began to advertise his instruments. When a local conductor tried to write parts for them, the orchestra members refused to use them because they were not French. Shortly after, almost all of the loaned 4,000 francs were stolen. It is believed that the offender was most likely one of Sax’s competitors.

Upright Family of saxhorns

Upright Family of saxhorns

There was a call for support from King Leopold of Belgium to sponsor the work of Sax. Initially the King was uninterested, but General Rumigny was able to convince him that Sax’s instruments were optimal for military style music. As a result of the King’s new-found interest, stock in the company was made available on the Paris Stock Exchange. Sax’s rivals bought out all of the stock and sold it for half the price. His competition once again succeeded in ruining his business.

Adolphe Sax had many powerful connections, though, and as a result his competitors were never completely able to keep him down. As a third chance to rebound from his economic woes, a concert was arranged. It was a competition between bands using traditional instrumentation and instruments produced by Sax. The commission and huge audience that was in attendance supported Sax. He believed that his financial problems would finally be over, but this was not the case. Adolphe’s competitor’s bribed his employees to get the plans for his instruments and then promptly sued him saying that Sax had stolen their instruments. As a result, Sax sold the factory for four thousand Francs.

He traveled to England promoting his saxophones with limited success in small concerts. He then returned to France in the fall of 1845 and bought back his factory. The French government, which was convinced of the Sax instruments superior quality due to the contest, ordered hundreds of instruments for the official military bands. Upon General Rumigny’s suggestion, prison labor was used to produce these instruments. This was only because Sax could still not afford to pay skilled employees.

This new success was still very short lived. In 1848 the French government was in upheaval due to revolution. The turmoil which ensued lead to the revocation of Sax’s military contract. His banker went bankrupt as a result of Sax’s inability to pay his loan. Adolphe was thus thrown into debtor’s prison. He was released shortly after because of his friend’s support.

When President Louis Napoleon appointed himself Emperor Napoleon III, opportunity once again arose for Sax, and once again Sax’s powerful military connections saved the day. The Emperor’s Aide-de-camp Colonel Fleury, was a friend of Adolphe, and introduced him to the Emperor. With strong urging on Fleury’s part, Napoleon III agreed to give Sax payment of 20,000 Francs per month to build the instruments for military bands. Unfortunately for Sax, this arrangement did not last long. He lost a similar opportunity in 1859 when the French government replaced all of their military instruments.

In the area of brass instruments it is difficult to call Sax an inventor. It would be much more accurate to call him a perfectionist. Adolphe Sax’s principals were gained primarily from the work of his father. Sax was interested in the study of acoustics. He was concerned with correct proportions such as measurements of bore size, tube length, valve placement, and mouthpiece construction. He realized that by paying close attention to such details, the discrepancies in intonation between instruments could be eliminated. What his efforts resulted in, were the creation of homogenous families of instruments.

Prior to the work of Sax, military brass instruments came from many manufacturers in a wide variety of shapes. These deviations resulted in a discrepancy of tuning. These problems were further amplified due to the fact that many bands had both keyed and valved brass instruments intermixed.

The complete family of brass instruments, although vastly improved was not even Sax’s invention. Previously, a French manufacturer, Danays, created a family of valved bugles called Clavicors. What made Sax’s work significant was the overall quality of his instruments. By 1849, Adolphe Sax had unveiled three of his greatest contributions to the brass world. Sax adopted an upright tuba shape for all of these instruments. Originally, even the highest pitched instruments in his family of five were positioned upright. However, his quest for acoustic perfection later caused Sax to use horizontal patterns that resemble the modern cornet.

All the Sax families utilized the same bore size regardless of whether they were conical or cylindrical. The saxhorn was a conical family, which used the same fingerings for notes, and the same basic mouthpiece shape for all its members.

Cutaway Diagram of a Berliner Pumpen Valve Illustrated by Eric Ortner

Cutaway Diagram of a Berliner Pumpen Valve Illustrated by Eric Ortner

Sax took existing ideas in valve design, and improved them. He borrowed some of his valve designs heavily from the instrument maker Moriz in Berlin. Adolphe became skilled at making Moritz’s Berliner-Pumpen valve, and even was able to make an improvement to it. He did so by smoothing out the nine sharp angles that were integral to the valve system. These sharp bends in the wind passage of brass instruments were often the cause of poor tone. He did some similar work with rotary valves.

Adolph’s efforts in the creation of a valved instrument with great tone resulted in the creation of the saxhorn. The Saxhorn family was patented in October of 1845 and utilized a wide coned, deep cupped mouthpiece which resembles a modern French Horn’s. There were numerous lawsuits filed against Adolphe by his competition in regards to this popular instrument. However, none of the cases were successful.

Saxhorns had a larger bore than that of a trumpet. The bore’s conical shape produced a mellow tone. This warm sound was preferred by the nineteenth century audience, both in the United States and in Europe  over the bright tone of a cylindrical trumpet. These preferences most likely resulted from the lack of mellow sounding woodwinds in an all brass band. The bright tone of an ensemble made up entirely of cylindrical brasses would have been very overwhelming.

The complete saxhorn family, was designed to perform in military as well as orchestral functions. The instruments intended for military use were tuned in E-flat and B-flat, while instruments designed for use in the orchestra were in the keys of C and F. The complete set of Saxhorns consists of seven members. The soprano in E-flat and the soprano in B-flat were identical in pitch to the standard cornet. The alto member of the family was tuned in E-flat, while the baritone was in B-flat. The bass was built in the key of B-flat. The bass also had a big brother tuned to BB-flat. Sax completed the family a couple years after he unveiled the original 5 instruments with a tuba in E-flat. The differences in baritone and B-flat bass Saxhorns are subtle. The bass members of the family have larger bores and as a result are able to produce fuller low notes with less effort.

Saxhorns gained more favorable attention from military bands than they did in orchestras. This is partially because they blended too well with string instruments and the desired contrast in tonal quality between the two families is absent. This reason was in addition to orchestra member’s dislike for the instruments. Their distaste was not simply due to Sax’s nationality, but also because the orchestra members would be forced to purchase and learn how to perform on new instruments. However, a few composers did find a place for the saxhorn in their arrangements.

Even with great critical acclaim and powerful connections in France and abroad during his life, Sax died on February 4, 1894 a penniless man. He was forced to sell off his valuable collection of 467 instruments in 1877 to repay his debts. His debts were of course a direct result of poor business skills. This weakness caused Sax to fall victim to the greed of his unscrupulous competitors. So with all of Sax’s misfortunes, how was he able to earn a name on instruments in the United States? This question is easily answered with another family name.

The Distin family were an English quintet. The leader, and father, John Distin was a member of King George IV’s Household Band. At this point, John was playing slide-trumpet on which he was considered to be the second best performer in Great Brittain. He was the first trumpet in the orchestra that triumphed the coronation of Queen Victoria.

John’s children were encouraged to take after their father. The Distin family toured Great Britain as a miniature brass band, and were immensely popular with all who had heard them. With their success, the family decided to try their luck on the rest of the continent. It was on this tour that they made the acquaintance of Adolphe Sax.

The Distin family did not achieve the same critical acceptance in the rest of Europe that they had previously been used to in England. This was especially true in Vienne. There they performed terribly in an audition. Their shoddy execution was a direct result of their crude instruments. On February 4, 1844 they met Sax at the Rue-Saint-Georges workshop after hearing the saxhorn for the first time the night before.

Sax was eager to present the Distin’s with his creations, according to Henry Distin’s recollections. Success for the Distins followed with the receipt of their new instruments. Although the new found friendship between Sax and the Distins was mutually beneficial, it almost certainly did more for the promotion of Sax’s instruments. The instruments were taken back to England where they earned a great deal more notoriety. In 1846 the family took saxhorns across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States of America where many heard the instrument for the first time.

It is believed that the first band to purchase saxhorns in the United States was the Stonewall Brigade Band of Staunton, Virginia. In fact before they joined the 5th Virginia Infantry, the performers called themselves the Mountain Saxhorn Band of Staunton. They carried these instruments throughout the Civil War. They were by no means the only southern band to do so.

The 26th Regimental Band from Salem, North Carolina also carried them. Brass instruments were far superior to their woodwind counterparts in the conditions of war. That is, of course, one of the reasons that brass bands gained popularity during the Civil War. However, brass instruments could also fall prey to the trials of military life. The Salem band’s instruments were no exception. In April of 1864 the band members requested that Governor Vance attempt to run the blockade and trade cotton for a new set of Saxhorns. The governor’s aide responded by saying, “He (Vance) directs me to say he will ship the cotton for that purpose if you will furnish it, provided the steamers continue to run.”

That was an unfeasible proposition for almost any Confederate soldier in that late month of the war. To add insult to injury, the 26th Regimental Band was forced to give most of their battered instruments up to Union Troops in the last days of the war, when they were captured by the Yankee army. Julius Augustus Leinbach wrote of his capture, “We walked up to them and were taken in charge. Our instruments were taken from us and that seemed to be the bitterest experience of all…”

Some of the Instruments played by various North Carolina Bands, including an E flat bass over the shoulder saxhorn played by Leinbach in the early part of the war, can be seen publicly. These are in the Wachovia Museum of Old Salem. There are other strong collections of Civil War period instruments on public display throughout the country. The Smithsonian and the Henry Ford Museum both have extensive displays. However, there are no public exhibits of a complete set of 7 saxhorns in the United States.

Performing positions of upright verses over the shoulder instruments

Performing positions of upright verses over the shoulder instruments

True upright saxhorns were not widely used by Union and Confederate troops during the war. Instead, they preferred the over the shoulder instruments patented in 1838 by Allen Dodworth and manufactured in Austria. The name Saxhorn is more often than not used to describe over the shoulder instruments as well as the upright style. This is an inaccurate title. However, it is an inaccuracy, which was not started anytime recently. The nomenclature was even used in the wrong context during the time of the War Between the States. However, for the interest of this article, the over the shoulder instruments will be discussed as well.

It is important to note that for the most part, over the shoulder instruments were also made in matching families. Therefore, they at least held true to the principals of Sax. Over the shoulder instruments were made of the same length of tubing. However they had tighter coils which created a longer neck than upright instruments. Therefore they appear longer. Another big difference between the two instruments was that over the shoulder versions utilized rotary valves for the most part, as apposed to the Berliner-Pumpen Valves preferred by Adolphe Sax. (See Coronet Article For Complete Description)

Illustration of a Family of Over-the-Shoulder Saxhorns

Illustration of a Family of Over-the-Shoulder Saxhorns

Allen Dodworth was a strong supporter of Sax’s creation. In 1849 he described them as being, far superior to any other class of instruments in use. Allen Dodworth designed over the shoulder instruments specifically for marching. He wrote a very influential instruction book called, Dodworth’s Brass Band School, published in 1853. It helped to inform small community bands how to start and maintain a successful organization. It is important to note that most of the bands that enlisted in the Civil War were originally amateur community bands that performed with local militias. In Dodworth’s Brass Band School, he suggested, “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 ….For general purposes, those with the bell upward, like the Sax Horn, are most convenient, and should be adopted by all whose business is not exclusively military; care should be taken to have all the bells one way.”

Many amateur bands of the day used instrumentation combining over the shoulder instruments, up right saxhorns and bell front instruments. This mixture caused significant problems with intonation. This sort of instrumentation was often partially the result of the cost of instruments, or in many cases simply an ignorance of acoustic science.

Allen Dodworth was very influential as a band leader and as an instrument inventor. One of his most widely known protégés was Patrick Gilmore, the famed cornet player of the Boston Brigade Band. Like Gilmore’s ensemble, The Dodworth Band participated in the Civil War. At this point in time it was lead by Allen’s Brother Harvey.

Harvey Dodworth took over the directorship of the band in 1860. In 1862 Harvey was selected by the war department to serve on an advisory board to suggest a policy for military bands. Naturally, Dodworth’s selection for instrumentation of regimental bands included over-the-shoulder saxhorns.

The band enlisted for three months as part of the 71st New York Militia Regiment. The band was not just an excellent relief from the drudgery of military service. They earned their pay at the First Manassas by serving and rescuing the wounded on the battlefield. Although enlisted for only a short period, the Dodworth Band later aided the Union’s war effort by performing benefit concerts.

The disparity between the two armies is also evident in regards to their bands. While the 71st was gallivanting around in New York’s high society, the 26th Regimental Band from Salem, North Carolina had its own version of benefit concerts. These were solely performed in the interest of putting food in their own stomachs.

Over the shoulder instruments were by no means exclusively made in Europe. This increasingly became the case after 1850. There were many manufacturers in the United States who were quite successful as a direct result of the War Between the States. Some of the manufacturers set up shop in the Boston area. Graves and Company, J. Lanthrop Allen, E.G. Wright were just a few Boston area manufacturers.

There were other instrument makers who constructed Sax style instruments in New York City. C.A. Zoebisch and Sons were one such manufacturer. Harvey Dodworth from New York also has his name imprinted on some over the shoulder instruments. These were not actually manufactured by the Dodworth family, but by John F. Stratton another New York City instrument maker. Harvey’s endorsement was as much required to save the family name, as it was to earn a little extra money. Instrument manufacturers at the time were claiming to produce instruments endorsed by the Dodworths. Many of these endorsed instruments were of poor construction. Therefore, the H.B. Dodworth seal on John F. Stratton’s instruments had a great deal of meaning when it came to quality.

Stratton was also one of the first manufacturers to mass produce instruments. His first factory in New York was established in 1860. In 1861 Stratton was filling government contracts and producing an unprecedented 100 instruments a day. These were for the most part field trumpets and bugles though, not saxhorns. Still his contributions in the area of mass production made sets of instruments readily available at reasonable cost by the end of the war.

One manufacturer who learned a great deal from Stratton’s efforts was Henry Distin. Henry, who was a famed member of the Distin family, worked for a brief time in Philadelphia with the J. W. Pepper Company in 1877.  After working with them he set up his own factory in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in 1887.

Although over the shoulder saxhorns were very popular during the Civil War, they began to fall out of favor by 1870. The 24 member brass marching band lost its popularity as grand concert bands with mixed winds received the most critical acclaim. With the exception of the baritone, saxhorns are no longer used in most American bands. However, to this day in England, community brass bands still use the saxhorn family. Musical tastes change though. Today in the United States it is painful to watch the attendance of concerts put on by community bands in local parks dwindle in some areas. As fewer and fewer people show up to these community performances, one of the last vestiges of 19th century social life becomes another memory.

Bibliography

The Instruments of Adolphe Sax, Gerald Loren Welker

A Johny Reb Band From Salem The Pride of Tarheela,  Barry H. Hall

Adolphe Sax 1814-1898, Wally Harwood

Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy, Editors of Time Life Books

Music And Musket, Kenneth Olson

A Pictorial History of Civil War Era Musical Instruments & Military Bands,

Mark Elrod Robert Garofalo

Bands of the Confederacy, Benny Pryor Ferguson

Bands and Drummer Boys of the Civil War, Francis A. Lord and Arthur Wise

Early American Brass Makers, Robert E. Eliason

The Music Men, By Margaret Hindle Hazen and Robert M. Hazen

American Musical Instruments, Laurence Libin

The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments, Trevor Herbert and John Wallace

A History of Military Music in America, William Carter White

Bands of America, H.W. Schwartz

Brass Instruments Their History and Development,  Anthoney Baines

The Keyed Bugel, Ralph T. Dedgeon

Military Music, Henry George Farmer

The Trumpet, Edward Tarr

The Trumpet and Trombone, Philip Bate

French Horn, Robin Gregory

Hudson River Folk Symphony

The Hudson River Iona Island and Bear Mountain Bridge Photo Eric Ortner

The Hudson River Iona Island and Bear Mountain Bridge Photo Eric Ortner

I am performing in the debut of an original symphonic work composed by Kevin F. Becker tonight October 23rd and tomorrow October 24th. The symphony is entitled The Hudson River Folk Symphony and was written in honor of the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial and the 30th Anniversary of the Hudson Valley Folk Guild.

Kevin did a great job writing an interesting composition, which follows the musical history of the Hudson River. He starts out the first movement with woodwinds and drums playing a sort of tribal introduction representing the early Native Americans and their environment. He then abruptly launches the string section into a Baroque style fugue inspired by the likes of J.S. Bach. This fugue represents the arrival of Europeans into the Hudson Valley.

The second movement examines the music of the 17th and 19th Centuries. The melodies are based on the themes of the Folk songs Yankee Doodle and Hudson River Steam Boat. Kevin has actually informed me that Yankee Doodle was originally written in the Hudson River Valley making it very appropriate for the composition. The chorus enters the mix of the symphony in this movement while singing versus of Yankee Doodle and Hudson River Steam Boat.

The third movement is written as a modern Rondo representing the Hudson River’s industrial era of the 20th century. It has sort of a patriotic bent and honors the importance of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the Hudson Valley region. It is important to note that Kevin is from Hyde Park, NY and it seems that as a result FDR holds a special place in his heart. The third movement also represents great depression utilizing the theme of the song Buddy Can You Spare a Dime. The chorus also holds a key part in the third movement as it sings the melody of My Country Tis of Thee/God Save The Queen with lyrics inspired by FDR.

All and all it’s been a fun experience learning this composition and helping to turn it into a good sounding piece. As you may have realized from reviewing the other content in this blog, I thoroughly enjoy studying music history, so the fact that the symphony has a historical bent interests me greatly. It has also been nice working with a larger ensemble again, as there are 24 performers playing their hearts out in it.

For those that wish to attend the performance will be held in the Cunneen Hackett Cultural Center Theatre in Poughkeepsie, NY and begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12.00 at the door. For more information, visit http://www.folksymphony.com. While you’re in Poughkeepsie, be sure and stroll across the new pedestrian bridge connecting across the River to Highland, the views are worth it.