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Strike Up the Band

Racketts, pictured in Michael Praetorius's Syntagma Musicum (1619).

It is football season, which means time for marching band. Wind bands have been tickling our ears for centuries, in war, on the athletic field, and in the concert hall. This hour on Harmonia, it’s time to strike up the band! Our featured release is the 2004 recording War and Faith, which specifically showcases wind band music composed to demonstrate political power.

Military music for organ and wind instruments by Giorgio Mainerio. Ensemble La Fenice performed with Edoardo Belloti on organ.

In War

For millennia, wind instruments were used in battle to sound alarms and amplify commands. As war craft became more complex, wind, brass, and percussion instruments played specific patterns to signal commands. In The Art of War, Machiavelli instructs that the Captain “use the trumpets in indicating when [soldiers] should stop or go forward or turn back, when they should fire the artillery…and those trumpets afterwards followed by drums.” He adds that the instruments play “not as they are presently, but as they are customarily sounded at banquets.” That is, to play musically complex sounds at different pitches rather than simple bugle calls.

Composers mimicked these patterns in pieces intended more for the concert hall than the battle field. Let’s hear a piece that brings those military sounds onto the stage.

We heard an aria della battaglia, performed by Hespèrion XX, and directed by Jordi Savall. That was from the 2016 Deutsche Grammophon rerelease of the 1982 recording Battaglie e Lamenti.

Although military pieces were usually performed on wind instruments, the musical gestures popularized in military music were eventually appropriated for use on other instruments as well. In William Byrd’s harpsichord piece, “The Battell,” we hear ascending triads and rapidly articulated rhythms on a single note, mimicking trumpets and the distinct rat-a-tat-tat of military drumming.

We heard excerpts from William Byrd’s piece, “The Battell,” performed by Elizabeth Farr.

At Court

From the Middle Ages until today, wind bands have played regularly for royal events throughout Europe. They serve a dual purpose—celebrating a specific event and demonstrating the wealth and power of the monarchy. Here is Lully’s “Airs pour le carrousel de Monseigneur: Les Airs de trompettes, timbales, et hautbois.” Written for double reeds, brass, and percussion, the music demonstrates the great power of the “Sun King,” Louis XIV of France.

Music from Lully’s “Airs pour le carrousel de Monseigneur,” performed by the Collegium Musicum of Paris, under the direction of Roland Douatte.

Let’s move across the English Channel to Great Britain. Here, George Frideric Handel was charged with composing music to celebrate the treaty of Aix la Chapelle, which ended the war of Austrian Succession in 1758. The result was Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. The piece is scored for large wind ensemble supported by strings, including 9 trumpets, 9 horns, 24 oboes, 12 bassoons, 3 pairs of kettle drums, strings, and more! Apparently, King George II did not want to include strings at all, writing to Handel to say that “he hoped there would be no fiddles.” The piece was premiered in a specially constructed theater along the Thames, complete with an extensive fireworks display. According to observers, at least one pavilion caught fire and burned down. Let’s hear the overture from Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks.

We heard the overture to Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. Trevor Pinnock led The English Concert on that 1997 recording.

Around Town

Welcome back. This hour on Harmonia, we’re inviting you to join us as we strike up the band! In addition to being heard on the battle field and in the concert hall, Renaissance and Baroque wind bands played for all kinds of civic holidays and celebrations. In Leipzig, stadtpfeifers enjoyed the benefits of full-time employment and the protection of guilds. However, in time, freelance musicians began to encroach on the territory of these established groups of professional wind players. Bierfiedler violinists played in beer gardens and taverns and a variety of other freelancers took gigs playing at parties and around town. Due to the rise of a variety of other kinds of freelance musicians, the stadtpfeifers of old eventually receded into the background.

We heard “Hora decima musicorum Lipsiensium” by Johann Christoph Pezel. Music for wind band performed by the Friedemann Immer Trumpet Consort and the Leipzig Bläser-Collegium.

At its height, the city of Venice loved to demonstrate its vast wealth with music. Like his uncle Andrea Gabrieli before him, Giovanni Gabrieli served for many years as organist at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. His duties included not only playing the organ for services, but also composing music for both special and everyday occasions, as well as directing performers in small and large-scale ensembles. Let’s hear Giovanni Gabrieli’s Canzoni et sonata II a 6.

Music by Giovanni Gabrieli from Hyperion’s 2015 recording Gabrieli in Venice, featuring His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, directed by Jeremy West.

War and Faith

Wind bands were often called upon to perform at the most grandiose of state occasions, especially when a big show of political or military power was called for. The battaglia was an entire genre of music dedicated to showcasing the military strength of the big, powerful European monarchies of the renaissance and baroque eras. Perhaps the most famous battaglia ever written was “La guerre” by Clément Jannequin. The piece was so well known that newly composed masses and motets based on it continued to appear for centuries after its completion in the late sixteenth century. Let’s hear “La guerre” from our featured release, War and Faith. 

We heard Clément Jannequin’s “La guerre,” directed by Gian Paolo Fagotto.

Like many Flemish composers of his day, Matthias Werrecore spent much of his career in Italy. He wrote a battaglia for the court at Milan that celebrates the Battle of Pavia.

We heard Matthias Werrecore’s “La Bataglia Tatiana.”

Break and theme music

:30, Byrd: My Ladye Nevells Booke, Elizabeth Farr, Naxos 2007, Tr. 13 The Galliarde 

:60, Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks, The English Concert, DG 1997, Tr. 5 

:30, 1615 Gabrieli in Venice, His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, 2015, Tr. 6 Canzona Terza 

Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal

The writers for this edition of Harmonia was Sarah Huebsch.

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