Marchons-Marchons The Musical World of Marches

Punch Howarth

Continuing this summer’s look at music forms, this essay will delve into the various applications of marches, military and otherwise. Mostly they are in 2 time, 2/4, 2/2, 6/8. There are a variety of march types: military, circus, funeral, ceremonial and concert marches for bands and orchestras. Most marches follow an A B C design with B as a trio. Some European marches have an A B C A form with the first theme repeated as an ending.

Marches as we know them have two origins and both served to move troops and convey signals. First are the bands of medieval Europe consisting of oboes, bassoons, deep snare drums and a bass drum. Fifes, bugles, trumpets and bagpipes would be added later. The second source is the Turkish bands of the Ottoman Empire that controlled much of southern Europe in 16th to 18th centuries. These bands add the oriental percussion instruments of cymbals, bells, triangles, tambourines and the Jingling Johnny, named by the British, which is the first drum major’s baton with jingles at the top of a tall pole. Martial music played a role in many of the world’s major wars throughout history.

Military marches are the most common becoming well established in the late 19th and all of the 20th centuries. Used in all countries, those from the U.S. and Britain are best known here. There have been many composers of marches in the U.S. with Sousa being the most famous with over 70. His Stars and Stripes Forever is the most popular but this writer feels his two best are the regimental marches: Solid Men to the Front and Gallant Seventh. Other composers are Goldman’s On the Mall and Bugles and Drums; Seitz’ Grandioso; Reeves’ Second Regiment Connecticut and Billboard by Klohr. The list can go on and on. Examples of foreign marches are: Alford’s Colonel Bogey and Mad Major (England); Tieke’s Old Comrades and Florentiner of Fucik (Germany); Delle Cese’s Inglesina (Italy) and Valdres by Hannsen (Norway). Most marches are in 2 time but the French use the French Four with a heavy accent on the first of four beats, i.e. one 234. Two examples are: Marche Loreaine by Bentayoux and Ganne’s Father of Victory. Again there are hundreds more.

Years ago I had the opportunity to attend circuses under canvas: Cole Brothers, Clyde Beatty’s and Ringling-Barnum-Bailey’s and hear their great bands perform screamers (circus marches) for the Hippodrome. Most circus marches were the product of circus musicians and the two most famous were Karl King Invictus, The Big Cage, Barnum and Bailey’s favorite, and Circus Days and secondly Henry Fillmore’s Rolling Thunder, Bones Trombone and Circus Bee. Other goodies are; Heed’s Gallop In Storm and Sunshine, Whip and Spur by Allen, Jewell’s The Screamer, Fucik’s Thunder and Blazes, and The Squealer by Huff and all are under three minutes. Three years ago my wife and I went to see and hear the Ringling Circus in Tucson and guess what? They played no circus music; was all rock; what a downer.

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