British wind Music Before 1981

Chapter 8: Between The Wars - Donaueschingen

In 1925 Somerville retired, and the focus of development of the serious use of the wind medium moved from England to Europe and the USA. In Germany, the town of Donaueschingen had been a musical centre throughout the 18th and 19th centuries; composers such as Kalliwoda and Fiala worked there, and an enormous library of Harmonie was built up, including what in all probability is Mozart's original arrangement of Die Entführung aus dem Serail for Wind Octet, recently discovered.

In 1921, Prince Max Egon zu Furstenberg founded the international Festival of Contemporary Music, which still thrives today, although now in competition with younger trendier avant- centres such as Darmstadt. Hans Werner Henze writes in his recent autobiography of the premiere of his ballet Ondine:

With this score I had reached a position that could hardly be further removed from that of the so-called Darmstadt School, so it is scarcely surprising that at its first performance at Donaueschingen on 20th October 1957, under Hans Rosbaud's outstanding direction, three representatives of the other wing - Boulez, my friend Gigi Nono and Stockhausen - leapt to their feet after only the first few bars and pointedly left the hall, eschewing the beauties of my latest endeavours.

Hindemith & Toch

In the twenties, the Festival had tried to encourage different ensembles, first concentrating on quartet, later on vocal music and music theatre. Under the direction of Paul Hindemith, the Festival led experiments in music for mechanical instruments and in Gebrauchsmusik, a term which Hindemith came to hate, preferring Musik fur Sing-und Spielkreise. Basically this is music to be written for use by amateurs or professionals, the musical equivalent of the Bauhaus designs, simple and functional. Hindemith's own conviction was that the ever-widening gap between composer and general public could be bridged if composers wrote with a particular purpose, encouraging the growth of amateur music.

In 1926, he commissioned three works for performance at the Festival, he himself contributing the Konzertmusik op. 21. The full programme was:

  • Drei Lustige Marsche op 44 Ernst Krenek
  • Kleine Serenad Ernst Pepping
  • Spiel Ernst Toch
  • Konzertmusik op 41 Paul Hindemith

The band was that of the training battalion 14th Infantry Regiment stationed in the town, and the conductor was Hermann Scherchen, to whom the works by Hindemith and Toch were dedicated. Hindemith's experiment in trying to "improve" the musical fare of professional and amateur bands initially came to nothing, as did the commissions for the military bands in London a few years earlier by Holst and Vaughan Williams. His hope that the greatest composers would write for bands was of course taken up in America after the War and here in England in the past two decades.

Bands In The USA

Raoul Camus has painted a vivid picture of the military bands in the USA; Dutch, French and British militia played a part in establishing the early colonial groups, later followed by Italian influences. America was a melting pot of European band traditions, and it is not surprising that villages, towns and cities after the Revolution and the Civil War took to the civilian bands as their main source of entertainment. The time was ripe for the great conductors and showmen of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Patrick Gilmore, Patrick Conway, Victor Herbert and the greatest of all, John Philip Sousa.

Sousa's influence on music in America is enormous. He introduced music by Wagner before it was played by the orchestras and opera companies, he pioneered muted effects and is said to have influenced Richard Strauss with this colour, his concept of tonal balance between wind, brass and percussion still holds good, and the variety and lightness which he brought to performance might well be emulated more often now.

The great band programmes of the Universities and Colleges developed enormously after the First World War, and the last eighty years has seen the growth a multi-million dollar business based on College bands. The struggle which still goes on in some Universities is between the Music Department, tradionally suspicious and un-enthusiastic about what is often perceived as a populist entertainment, and the Sports Department, for whom the bands are a crucial part of the entertainment package. The income from the Marching Band is usually essential to support the Concert Band and the Wind Ensemble programmes.


From the twenties, Universities and professional bands such as the Goldman Band and the Military Bands of Washington and West Point, began a steady programme of commissions for the large scale symphonic band from leading American composers such as Copland, Cowell, Creston, Dahl, Persichetti and Schuman, and emigrés such as Hindemith, Krenek, Milhaud and Schoenberg. These original works were programmed alongside orchestral arrangements, and the bands ranged from sixty to over one hundred players with multiple doublings in flutes, clarinets and brass. In a great deal of this repertoire, the opaque heaviness of the scoring lends a "sameness" to the tonal picture; many of the slighter instruments, oboes or bassoons for instance, lose their character, swallowed in the mass of sound.

Eastman Wind Ensemble

However, in 1952, Frederick Fennell developed a new concept, founding the Eastman Wind Ensemble which started from ..the basic format of the British military band....increasing it to allow for triples among the reeds required for Stravinsky's "Symphonies"....I could hear how clean this sound was going to be.

This return to the lean original scoring of the Holst Suites, meant that composers for the first time could write for an exact number of voices, confident that the music would be played by solo instruments rather than the mass of flutes, clarinets and brass characteristic of the large-scale Symphonic Band. It is probably true to say that most of the best wind music written in the past forty years has been orchestrated with the Eastman Wind concept in mind; the scoring for the larger band is more suited to Gebrauchsmusik, music written primarily for educational or entertainment purposes.

In an excellent set of Essays on the Fortieth Annieversary of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, entitled The Wind Ensemble and its Repertoire,.Donald Hunsberger traces the influence of the importance and influences of Fennell's innovation, through the early historial recordings for Mercury, a second decade in which Hunsberger launched a series of editions with MCA of composers such as Warren Benson, Henry Brant, Dahly and Hartley, on to the third decade which saw a series of eight Wind Ensemble Conferences .Composers such as Bassett, Benson, Husa and Schuller introduced their music, conductors such as Battisti, Benson, Boudreau, Fennell , Hunsberger , Reynolds and Whitwell conducted and discussed repertoire, and in 1973, Hunsberger founded The National Center for the Symphonic Wind Ensemble at Eastman. It was this group who were mainly responsible for the 1981 International Conference in Manchester which gave rise to the birth of WASBE and BASBWE.

Forty Years Of The American Wind Symphony

One of the most extraordinary and certainly the one of the largest commissioning programme in the world is that of the AWS and its founder and conductor, Robert Austin Boudreau. The ensemble has the unusual shape of an enlarged orchestral wind section, hence with no saxophones: 4454:5552:6 percussion: harp and piano. Out of over 350 works commissioned, more than 150 are published by Peters; for the 1991 WASBE/BASBWE Confernece, Jeffrey Renshaw prepared an introductory paper, later developing into a Descriptive Catalogue The American Wind Symphony Commissioning Project, listing all of these publications, with details of composition, instrumentation a short biography of the composer and a summary of compositional characteristics, facing the first page of the score. This library is a wonderful resource, neglected by most of us, partially perhaps because of the absence of saxophones, partially because of the difficulty of reading some of the material and the need to hire, rather than purchase.

The handful of works which we have programmed in Manchester are but the tip of a very productive iceberg: Paeans and Dances of Heathen Iberia (1959) by Surinach, Concerto Grosso for Woodwind Quintet and Band (1959) by Robert Russell Bennett, Concerto for Wind Orchestra (1960) by McPhee, Children's Overture (1964) by Bozza, Concerto for Percussion (1965) by Mayuzumi, Adagio (1966) by Rodrigo, Pittsburg Overture (1967) by Penderecki, Concerto for Oboe (1980) by Tcherepnin, and Scherzo (1989) by Patrick Zuk.

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