History of Brass Bands 
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The Golden Age of Brass
This article is from the program notes for the Summit Records series of recordings The Golden Age of Brass which take an American perspective on vintage brass music

The Keyed Bugle

At the dawn of the 19th century, the keyed bugle was invented in Dublin, Ireland. It caught the public's eye in 1815 when it appeared at celebrations following the Battle of Waterloo. This new chromatic brass instrument was an improvement on the common field bugle and soon became known as the "Kent Horn" because its inventor, Joseph Halliday, dedicated his creation to his military commander, the Duke of Kent. As various military bands adopted the chromatic bugle, the stage was set for a new musical ensemble, the all-brass band, to sweep Europe. As early as 1816, the keyed bugle can be documented in America at the Military Academy at West Point. Ensembles of all brass instruments became typical for military bands the world over.

The B-flat keyed bugle (and its smaller version in high E-flat) was the most popular solo voice in the brass band. This instrument should not be confused with the alto keyed trumpet (in E-flat or E) for which the Haydn and Hummel trumpet concerti were written.

In contrast, stringed instruments have always been the mainstay of symphony orchestras. As strings dominate the indoor orchestra, so brass dominate the outdoor band. Certainly there was military music before the brass band, but the public's perception and appreciation of bands increased dramatically with the keyed bugle's virtuosic display. Towards the end of the 18th century, rythmic or "Turkish" instruments such as drums, cymbals, bells, and triangle were added. For this lovely ensemble, Haydn, Mozart, and others composed music which was used mainly for serenading royalty or marching in front of small armies. In America, then and English Colony, such ensembles could be found in Boston, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg, Virginia, prior to the the Revolutionary War and after until about 1850.

The Ophicleide borrowed its technology from the keyed bugle and became the bass member of the brass family.

Families of trombones (including this B-flat soprano) have been used in brass bands, orchestras, and Moravian trombone choirs.

The Valve Development 1818-1838

The 19th century brought about the industrial revolution with its many technological inventions and mass migration to America. A new style of music developed and found its expression in the all-brass band which took root in America after the European Revolution of 1848. Edward "Ned" Kendall from Boston, Richard Willis from West Point, New York, and a black musician-composer-bandleader from Philadelphia, Francis Johnson, were pioneers of brass bands in America. They were virtuoso keyed bugle players who became the first public heros in the brass music world.

B-flat cornet with crooks to low F

Today, the B-flat flügelhorn is a popular jazz and brass band instrument. It was developed from the military "grand bugle."

Only five years after the invention of the keyed bugle, there was news about another technical invention for brass instruments from Leipzig, Germany. Valves had been added to a horn to make it chromatic and by 1818, a patent was granted by the King of Prussia to two horn playters, Blühmel and Stoezel. This was an invention which could be applied to all existing brass instruments. A young and talented band leader in charge of all of Prussia's military music eagerly grasped this idea and even developed a sturdier version of the valve. Wilhelm Wieprecht's "Berlin Pistons" were added to existing horns, trumpets, and even trombones. Also, larger and smaller sized brass instruments were designed which led to whole families of new instruments. Wieprecht is also credited with inventing a large bass instrument called the tuba which provided a much needed big sound and voluminous base upon which a large ensemble of chromatic brass instruments could be built.

Early Brass "Cornet Bands"

In France, valves were added to the circular posthorn in 1828. Halary's "cornet ordinaire" thus became the first true cornet. The bell was later pointed forward like a trumpet. This new instrument became knows as the "cornet-a-pistons" and was immediately popular. Originally a high-pitched (French) horn in Bflat, it soon attracted trumpet players and became the star and solo voice of the all-brass "cornet bands" in Europe and America. After the first valve patents in 1818, many other systems were developed up to 1838. These first 20 years marked other improvements and many more patents were granted up to the end of the century for all kinds of technical improvements on brass instruments. With these improved brass instruments, composers such as Berlioz, Meyerbeer, and later Franck, Wagner, and Verdi began writing beautiful solo passages for brass.

Cornopeon (cornet) in B-flat with Stoezel valves. One of the first valve designs patented, the valve itself was an actual wind-way and caused the instrument to feel and sound congested

The soon popular Sunday convert in the park seems to have started in a big way with the Germania Serenade Band, the brass section of a larger symphonic orchestra from Berlin, who had excaped religious persecution and political recuitment in 1848. This fine band introduced the East Coast of America to the classics of Mozart, Beethoven, and other in the 1850s. P. T. Barnum engaged them to accompany the "Swedish Nightingale," Jenny Lind, on her immensely successful tour of the United States. From France came Monsieus Antoine Jullien, a splendid conductor who starte outdoor concerts in New York's famous Castle Gardens. Jullien brought with him a well known cornet soloist from Germany, Herman Koenig, who later became famous for his composition, "The Posthorn Gallop," a solo for the short Engligh posthorn (in A-flat) and band. One of Koenig's best know students was Matthew Arbuckle (1828-1883), an Irish immigrant later known as the "Gentleman Cornet Soloist." Arbuckle's lyric playing and musical renditions of songs became a model for countless players to come.

The Germania Serenade Band brought the brass band concerts in the park to great popularity

Cornet with rotary valves operated by Allen levers


With the outbreak of the Civil War in America in 1861, many soldiers wanted to march to band music. In New York, a military bandmaster, Allen Dodworth, had invented a new style of marching horn (patented in 1838) which was based on an old style marching trombone where the bell pointed backwards over the player's left shoulder. A complete family of "over-the-shoulder" horns became the most popular band instruments of the Civil War period and were made almost exclusively in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. There were drawbacks, however, to the new design when it came concert formation. This led to convertible designs where the bell could be taken off and a forward pointed one substituted.

Tenor over-the-shoulder horn with rotary string action valves

In Paris, a well known instrument maker named Adolphe Sax invented a family of brasses which included seven different sizes. The names of these instruments were borrowed from choral nomenclature and included the sopranino, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass horn. Other Sax instruments included the flugelhorn, various sized drums, and the family of saxophones. With the expansion of the Civil War bands by the various families of brass instruments, the concert band was exstablished and gradually enlarged by adding flutes, clarinets, and other woodwinds.

Civil War period band (family?) with cornets, saxhorns, and drums

Concert Bands

After the long and bloody Civil War, the band movement soared to a new height with "civilian" bands springing up everywhere. by the 1880s, the piston valve became the fashion, and new brass instruments with silver and gold plating and elaborate engraving could even be obtained through mail order catalogs. Also, new designs such as the double-bell euphonium (the smaller, forward pointing bell acting as a trombone substitue), orpheons, sarrousaphones, and echo-bell instruments were often a part of enlarged bands. To celebrate the ending of the Civil War, peace jubilees were held, and Patrick Gilmore, then unquestionable the most famous conductor, organized huge concerts in Boston and Chicago with thousands of singers and instrumentalists participating. Afterwards, he would organize world tours for his enalarged band. What P. T. Barnum was to the circus, Gilmore was to the American band.

Another man was destined to become the greatest of all, with lasting fame. John Philip Sousa, the "March King," equally remembered as a composer and conductor, became the most highly regarded musician of his day. Becoming a member or soloist of his band represented the pinnacle of any musician's career. Sousa was able to engage the finest brass musicians in the world including Herbert L. Clarke, Ben Bent, Walter Rogers, Hermn Bellstedt, Arthur Pryor, and Simone Mantia.

The late 19th century and the early 20th century constituted the Golden Age for bands, brass instrument manufacturing, and brass soloists. Hundres of military, civic, and private bands were formed and thousands of new compositions were performed. Companies such as those started by Henry Distin, Adolphe Sax, E. G. Weight, J. Lathrop Allen, Thomas Paine, Isaac Fiske, and later by C. G. Conn, Vincent Bach, Tom King, and Frank Holton, manufacutred millions of high quality brass instruments which were enjoyed by professional and amateur musicians the world over. Music became the number one art and entertainment in the lives of the middle class. Conductors such as John Philip Sousa, Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, Frederick Innes, Karl King, Edwin Franko Goldman, Giuseppi Creatore and Victor Herbert became legends.

The Dazzling Soloists

Crowds of thousands would mass for concerts by well known bands. Highlighting these concerts were solo performances by famous cornetists, trombonists, and b aritone horn players who had b ecome public heros. Some brass soloists would receive fabulous salaries, such as the extreme egoist, Jules Levy, who received a fantastic sum of $10,000 per year.

Jules Levy (1838-1903), the most celebrated corenetist of all time

Each soloist was a self styled performer who specialized in certain acrobatic techniques such as triple tonguing, flying fingers, or incredible intervallic leaps. Each soloist had a title (often self-endowed), such as the "Paganini of the Cornet," the "Cornet King," or the "World's Greatest Cornetist," and donned magnificent uniforms garnished with silver and gold medals.

Some of the greatest cornet soloists included Jean Baptiste Arban, Henry Maury, and Saint Jacome from France, Allesandro Liberati from Italk, Hermann Bellstedt and Theodor Hoch from Germany, John Hartmann, George Swift and Jack Macintosh from England, Bohumir Kryl from Bohemia, and Del Staigers, Herbert Clarke, Walter Rogers, Framk Simon, Walter emerson, Ben Bent, W. Paris Chambers, and Walter M. Smith from America. Other great brass soloists included Arhtur Pryor, Henry Filmore, Somone Mantia, Frank Holton, and Leo Zimmerman on trombone, and Joseph DeLuca and Thomas D. van Osten on the double-bell euphonium.

The Double-bell Euphonium was also introduced as the "Doubleophone" and the "Wonderphone." The fourth valve diverts sound from the main bell to a smaller, trombone-like bell

End of an Era

John Philip Sousa once said that the phonograph record ("canned music," as he called it) was the doom of live music. In reality, the invention of the grammophone in 1877 was only a small link int the chain of modern events which ultimated spelled disaster for the Golden Age of the cornet and its ilk.

Modern conveniences and electronic wonders such as the radio, television, and motion pictures pampered the public and gave many new entertainment options. Soon every houselhold owned a telephone and an automotobile. Collegiate and professional sports became increasingly popular through new mass communication technology. The Sunday stroll in the park, capped off by a band concert in the gazebo, was gradually replaced by a drive through the countryside followed by an afternoon of opera on the radio or a basebll game on the television.

The popularity of jazz and swing music after World Wr I profoundly influenced the public's taste towards brass music. Jazz, which Herbert Clarke called the "devil in music," would soon bring the trumpet and its more brilliant tone to great popularity, paving the way for such artists as Lous Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, and Harry James. Other brass stars included Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Jack Teagarden.

By the 1930s and 1940s, most public schools and colleges had active music programs. The sounds of the stage band and marching band influenced the tonal concepts of the brass musican. Instrument manufacutrers, eager to capitalize on this new demand, began glamorizing the trumpet and trombone. Eventually, the cornet and baritone were considered old fashioned. Even the deep, funnel-shaped mouthpieces of the cornet and baritone were given up for shallower, bowl-shaped cup mouthpieces which added brilliance and ease of upper range to these instruments. Subsequently, the mellow, sweet sound of these conical bore instruments became piercing and harsh.

While it is true that the Golden Age has passed, it is important to note that many bands and brass performers still preserve the original instruments, music and performance styles associated with the likes of Gilmore, Sousa, filmore, and clarke. Indeed, nearly all of the published methods of technique development used by brass players today were from this early tradigion (i.e., Arban, Saint-Jacome, Clarke, Goldman, Williams). Like the paintings of Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Norman Rockwell, the culptures of Constantin Brancusi, or the architecture of Lous Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, the music and musicians of the Golden Age deserve their rightful spotlight in the annals of social evolution. It is an age well worth remembering.