A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/March
MARCH (Ger. Marsch; Fr. Marche; Ital. Marcia), a form originally associated with military movements, and afterwards imported into the music of the stage, the orchestra, the chamber, and the oratorio. In ancient times the sound of instruments was used as a means of stimulating the action of large numbers of people, whether in processes of labour requiring consentaneous effort, or as a means of exciting ardour in armies advancing to battle by the tones of 'the shrill trump, the spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife'—equally familiar being Milton's reference to the effect of the sound 'of trumpets loud and clarions,' and the influence on a mighty host of 'Sonorous metal blowing martial sounds.' Like most forms however in instrumental music, the development of the March followed that of vocal music. We find Marches in the early operas, in the stage works of Lully, and later in those of Handel and Rameau. In clavecin music, too, it appears at a comparatively early date, the 'Suites des Pièces' of the French composer Couperin offering examples.
Of the Military March as now understood, as a strictly rhythmical and harmonised composition, written for a band of wind instruments, and intended not only to stimulate courage but also to ensure the orderly advance of troops, it does not appear that any examples are extant earlier than about the middle of the 17th century, and these seem to have originated during the Thirty Years' War, and are to be traced to the form of the Volk-lied; war-songs, in which patriotic and military ardour was expressed lyrically, having long preceded the exclusive use of instruments for that purpose. A good specimen of the old German military march is that which Meyerbeer introduced in his 'Ein Feldlager in Schlesien' ('Camp of Silesia'), and afterwards, with other portions of that work, in his 'L'Etoile du Nord,' in the camp scene of which the fine old 'Dessauer March' stands prominently out from the elaborations with which the composer has surrounded it.
The earliest instance of the march form in regular rhythmical phrasing seems to be the wellknown and beautiful Welsh tune, the national Cambrian war-song, 'The March of the Men of Harlech.' This melody, which has only become generally popular within recent years, is stated by Llwyd, the 'Bard of Snowdon,' to have originated during the siege of Harlech Castle in 1468. If this be so, Dr. Crotch was justified in saying (in his 'Specimens of Different Kinds of Music') 'the military music of the Welsh is superior to that of any other nation'—i.e. reading the remark with reference to the war-songs of the period.
In England the Military March would seem to have been of later development. Sir John Hawkins, however, in his History of Music, says:—'It seems that the old English march of the foot was formerly in high estimation, as well abroad as with us; its characteristic is dignity and gravity, in which respect it differs greatly from the French, which, as it is given by Mersennus, is brisk and alert.' On this subject Sir John quotes a bon mot of Sir Roger Williams, a soldier of Queen Elizabeth's time, in answer to the French Marshal Biron's remark that 'the English march being beaten by the drum was slow, heavy, and sluggish'; the reply being, 'That may be true, but, slow as it is, it has traversed your master's country from one end to the other.' Hawkins (writing in 1776) speaks of 'the many late alterations in the discipline and exercise of our troops, and the introduction of fifes and other instruments into our martial music'; and, in reference to an earlier condition thereof, quotes, from Walpole's Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors, a warrant of Charles I. to the following effect:—'Whereas the ancient custome of nations hath ever bene to use one certaine and constant forme of March in the warres, whereby to be distinguished one from another. And the March of this our nation, so famous in all the honourable atchievements and glorious warres of this our kingdom in forraigne parts (being by the approbation of strangers themselves confest and acknowledged the best of all marches) was through the negligence and carelessness of drummers, and by long discontinuance so altered and changed from the ancient gravity and majestie thereof, as it was in danger utterly to have bene lost and forgotten. It pleased our late deare brother prince Henry to revive and rectifie the same by ordayning an establishment of one certaine measure, which was beaten in his presence at Greenwich, anno 1610. In confirmation whereof wee are graciously pleased, at the instance and humble sute of our right trusty and right well-beloved cousin and counsellor Edward Viscount Wimbledon, to set down and ordaine this present establishment hereunder expressed. Willing and commanding all drummers within our kingdome of England and principalitie of Wales exactly and precisely to observe the same, as well in this our kingdome, as abroad in the service of any forraigne prince or state, without any addition or alteration whatsoever. To the end that so ancient, famous, and commendable a custome may be preserved as a patterne and precedent to all posteritie,' etc. etc.—This document also contains the following notation—
Voluntary before the March.
subscribed 'Arundell and Surrey. This is a true copy of the original, signed by his Majestie. Ed. Norgate, Windsor.'
The primary (indeed absolute) importance of the drum in the early form of the March is very evident. Rousseau, in his 'Dictionnaire de Musique,' in his article on that subject, thus defines it:—'Marche: Air militaire qui se joue par des instrumens de guerre, et marque le métre et la cadence des Tambours, laquelle est proprement la Marche.' The same author, writing towards the close of the last century, speaks of the superiority of the German military music, and says that the French troops had few military instruments for the infantry excepting fifes and drums; and very few marches, most of which were 'très malfaites.' Rousseau gives—as follows—the first part of the March of the Musketeers of the King of France, as illustrating 'L'accord de l'air et de la Marche.'
In its earlier instrumental form the German March had two reprises, each of eight, twelve, or even sixteen bars, and its melodic origin would seem to have been influenced by the national dance called the 'Allemande,' in 2-4 time. The modern March is now usually in common time—four crotchets in a bar—consisting of reprises of four, eight, or even sixteen bars, with a subsidiary movement entitled a 'Trio' (generally in the dominant or subdominant key), which occupies a similar place to that of the Trio associated with the Minuet or Scherzo of a symphony; that is, following the March, which is repeated after it. With the ordinary (Parade) March, about 75 steps go to the minute; with the Quick March (Germ. Geschwind Marsch; Fr. Pas redoublé) about 108; while the Storming March (Germ. Sturm Marsch; Fr. Pas de charge) implies about 120 steps per minute, these being measured by rapid beats of the drum.
Military Marches, intended of course to stimulate hopeful enthusiasm, are generally written in a bright major key, trumpets, drums, and other instruments of percussion being prominently used; and Funeral Marches in a solemn minor one—a remarkable exception to the latter rule being offered by the Dead March in 'Saul,' the key of which is C major, a mode usually associated with cheerful sentiments. This is indeed a notable instance of 'The long majestic march, and energy divine,' and most readers must have experienced the sublimely pathetic effect of its 'muffled drums beating funeral marches to the grave.' 'The stormy music of the drum' (of course unmuffled) is still an important element in all the pieces used at the parade or on the battle-field; as it exercises a commanding influence on rhythmical precision, as already indicated. Formerly, as above indicated, that instrument was the all-essential feature in the March, instead of being, as afterwards, subsidiary in a musical sense. The impressive effect attained by Handel—by simple means—in the piece just referred to, has been paralleled in more recent tunes by Beethoven's employment of larger orchestral resources, in the sublime 'Marcia Funebre' in his 'Sinfonia Eroica.'
The March usually begins with a crotchet before the commencing phrase, as in Handel's Marches in 'Rinaldo' (1711), in 'Scipio,' the Occasional Overture, etc. There are however numerous instances to the contrary, as in Gluck's March in 'Alceste,' that in Mozart's 'Die Zauberflöte,' and Mendelssohn's Wedding March, which latter presents the unusual example of beginning on a chord remote from the key of the piece. A March of almost equal beauty is that in Spohr's Symphony 'Die Weihe der Töne,' and here (as also in the March just referred to) we have an example of a feature found in some of the older Marches—the preliminary flourish of trumpets, or Fanfare [see vol. i. p. 502b].
There is also, as already said, a description of march in half time—2-4 (two crotchets in a bar), called with us the Quick March—Pas redoublé, Geschwind Harsch. Good specimens of this rhythm are the two Marches (Pianoforte duets) by Schubert, No. 3, op. 40, and No. 1, op. 51, in the latter of which we have also the preliminary fanfare. The march form in pianoforte music has indeed been used by several modern composers: by Beethoven in his three Marches for two performers (op. 45); and the Funeral March in his Sonata, op. 26; and, to a much greater extent, by Franz Schubert in his many exquisite pieces of the kind for four hands, among them being two (op. 121) in a tempo (6-8), sometimes, but not, often, employed in the march style: another such specimen being the 'Rogues' March,' associated for more than a century (probably much longer) with army desertion. This is also in the style of the Quick March, the tune being identical with that of a song once popular, entitled 'The tight little Island'—it having, indeed, been similarly employed in other instances. The following is the first part of this March, whose name is better known than its melody:—
[ H. J. L. ]
- The notes are lozenge-shaped in the original.