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History of Military Music in Canada

(liner notes)

The Central Band of the Canadian Forces

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album cover vol1

Volume 1 - liner notes

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The earliest and most distinctively Canadian war music was, of course, that of the Indians of Canada. But this music was composed only for particular occasions and was never preserved in writing. To "re-create" samples of it from what is remembered of much later Indian music would hardly be legitimate.

The Te Deum with which this album begins was known in various forms to the earliest French settlers. It was sung at the first mass said in Canada with salvos fired by the guns of the fortress of Brouage; the version recorded here is a concert arrangement by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Another early hymn, Ave Maris Stella, was chosen by King Louis XIII as the special hymn of the colony and is still sung at all Acadia Festivals. Other music of the period includes Fanfare Royale, written in houour of Francois I by the Flemish composer Josquin desPres, and traditional sea songs such as A St. Malo and Vive les Matelots.

New France was frequently attacked, and almost constantly threatened, by Iroquois war parties and British troops. The defence of the colony was mainly in the hands of French regulars known as Troupes de la Marine and a militia based on copulsory service. In specific emergencies additional regulars, Troupes de Terre, were brought over from France. Companies of the Troupes de la Marine and battaliions of the Troupes de Tere had tiny bands consisting of a fifer and two drummers. Their repetoire leaned heavily on chansons de route, medleys of floksongs in march time. Later chansons de route, introduced in New France by the Troupes de Terre, included French marching songs of recent wars. En passant par la Lorraine was to be incorporated in the world-famour Marche Lorraine; Malbrough, s'en va-t-en Guerre pokes fun at the Duke of Marlborough, who had defeated the French at Malplaquet.

Anything resembling the modern military band was unknown, even in Europe, until the nineteenth century. Among its antecedents was a group of four oboes, ranging from treble to bass with percussions including a timpani. Such bands were at first restricted to the courst of Louis XIV and to certain elite cavalry regiments. At Versailles, the King's own band, tje "Grand Ecurie", eventually came to include trumpets, horms and trombones.

The director of the Versailles courst band, and composer of much of the surviving music, was Giovanni Battista de Lulli - better known by his French name, Jean-Baptist Lully. He was born in Florence in 1632 and died in Paris in 1687. The King's music librarian, Andre Danican-Philidor, was a specialist in the timpani.

Michel-Richard Delalande wrote several works that have been compared farourably with some of Bach, Handel, Purcell and Vivaldi. Jean-Joseph Mouret was primarily a composer of short symphonies. Of de Lirou nothing is known except that he was a member of the 11th Company of King's Musketeers and wrote his Marche Tactique in 1756.

From the conquest of New France in 1763 until after the emergence of Canada as a semi-autonomous dominion, this country was defended by British soldiers and sailors. British regimental bands, Helmut Kallman points out, "exercised an influence far beyond their military sphere. They gave impetus to the cultivation of secular art, music and made orchestral concerts possible" (A History of Music in Canada 1534-1914). Britain, in turn, was indebted to the Continent. Many of her bandsmen, including almost all band directors, were of German birth, while the repetoire was dominated by European compositions.

The Seige of Quebec was begun by Franz Kotzwara, a Bohemian composer who died in 1791, and was completed by W.B. de Krifft. James Nares' Thanksgiving Anthem refers to the taking of Montreal in September 1760, and "making us masters of all Canada". Why Soldiers, Why?, a drinking song that was to become more popular durint the Napoleonic Wars than in the Seven Years' War, is reputed to have been sung by General Wolfe on the eve of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Hot Stuff (tune traditional, words by a grenadier sergeant of the 47th Regiment) alludes to grenades. A Grenadiers March, possibly an early form of the one presented here, was played in the Battle of Montmorency, at the end of July 1759. Incited to charge madly uphill under devastating fire, nearly 500 grenadiers were killed, including the author of Hot Stuff. Heart of Oak is not of traditional origin, as widely supposed, but was written in 1759 by a major British composer, William Boyce.

During the 1775-76 siege of Quebec, both the British and American forces sang Marching Down to Old Quebec, though with different words. The British version went:

Oh, We're marching down to old Quebec
And the fifes and the fifes and drums are a-beating
For the British boys have gained the day
And the Yankees are retreating.

Volume 2 - liner notes

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Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the third son of J. S. Bach, wrote some thirty works for band besides the two marches recorded here. The Rogues March, whatever purpose its unknown composer had in mind, was used in a ceremony for expelling undesirables.

The composer of Royal Fusiliers' Arrival at Quebbec, 1791 was Charles Voyer de Poligny D"Argenson, a Quebec notary. His Marche de Normandie, when revived by the Royal Fusiliers in 1928, became the oldest secular Canadian composition in use. Franz Josef Haydn is represented by two marches which he wrote during a visit to England in 1795 - the first for mounted troops, the second for dismounted. The War of 1812 medley begins with a song attributed to a Private Glummerflet of the York Volunteers and commemorating the capture of Detroit; USS Cheapeake, referred to in the third song, was the loser in an engagement off the east coast with HMS Shannon. Mozart's Figaro and Handel's Scipio have come to be associated with Canadian, as well as British, guards regiments. The March of the 13th Battalion Canadian Volunteers was composed by a British bandmaster, William Miller.

The departure of British bands with their regiments left a musical gap, but this was soon filled by Canadian militia bands. Civilian bands, which had begun to emerge early in the 19th century, also were on the increase. Most directors were retired British army bandmasters, though Joseph Vezina, described as this country's first great bandmaster, was largely a self-taught Quebec musician.

Canadian National Hymn (music by F. A. Muller, words by George C. Hutchinson, both of Saint John, New Brunswick) was registered in 1872, five years after the compsition of The Maple Leaf Forever and eight years before the first performance of O Canada by massed bands under Vezina.

The first of the three marching songs of the North West Campaign is a variation on Old Solomon Levi, under which title it eventually became the regimental quick march of The Royal Winnipeg Rifles. Riel's Song recalls a visit home by the banished Metis leader between the two uprisings (1870 and 1875), while Falcon's Song recalls a much earlier clash between the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company.

The title of Joseph Vezina's march Royal Rifles refers to a Quebec City militia regiment and that of Arthur Wellesley Hughes' Royal Canadians to The Royal Canadian Regiment. Both marches date from the period of the South African War (1899-1902).

The title Vimy Ridge is, of course, derived from the great Canadian battle of April 1917, but the composer was an Englishman - Thomas Bidgood, best known for his Sons of the Brave. Jean Josephat Gagnier, the composer of Le Caporal, directed the band of the Canadian Grenadier Guards before and during the Second World War. Charles O'Neil (Nulli Secundus), despite his Irish name and long association with the Royal 22e Regiment, was by birth a Scotsman.

Phantom Squadron, an unpublished march, was presented to the Royal Canadian Air Force by its composer, Steven Vowden, and this is the first commercially available recording. Also unpublished is Imjin River, a British march honouring the herois, almost suicidal battle of the 1st Battalion, The Gloucester Regiment in Korea in April 1951. (The "Glosters" are allied with The Royal Canadian Regiment and share with the 2nd Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry the distinction of having been awarded a US presidential citation).

Con Furey's Golden Hawks is named after and dedicated to an RCAF aerobatic team. James McDonald Gayfer's march Canada Overseas (1954) alludes to this country's military contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

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The liner notes of the 2 CDs - History of Military Music in Canada, Vol 1 & 2 (quoted above) were written by Frank R. McGuire.

Copyright 1993 by Wayne J. Primeau. All Rights Reserved.

The Central Band

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The Central Band of the Canadian Forces is the preimier military musical organization in Canada. It dates from 1968, the year the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Air Force were unified under the title Canadian Forces.

Permanently stationed in Ottawa, Canada's federal capital, the Central Band is called upon to provide music for a variety of occassions. Apart from military and ceremonial duties normally asociated with a national capital, the Centrla Band travels throughout Canada presenting public concerts. It has undertaken a number of tours of Europe and the United States of America.

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This page was updated on 26 November 2007.

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