QUICKSTEP: Brass Band Music of the American Civil War • Douglas Hedwig, cond; Coates Brass Band • MSR MS 1422 (58:28)
More than half of the music on this collection is by Thomas Coates, an American bandmaster whose career encompassed the Civil War and most of the late 19th century. He has become sufficiently obscure that we cannot be certain whether he was born in 1803 or 1810, but he is known to have died in 1895. I suppose it was inevitable that the “historically informed” mania would spread to include bandRead more music. You will not hear the power, brilliance, and raspiness of modern brass instruments here; these numbers are all performed (using period mouthpieces, too) on small-bore 19th-century cornets, alto, tenor, and baritone horns, and a tuba, with support from snare drum, bass drum, and cymbals. According to the annotations, the mouthpieces and instruments date from approximately 1855 to 1872. The result is a smooth, mellow sonority that may take some getting used to. This is the sound that accompanied the Civil War’s marching armies and emerged from the gazebos or bandstands of town parks.
A few pieces may be familiar. There are, for example, Red, White, and Blue, probably better-known as Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean, (Home) Sweet Home, and Hail Columbia. Many towns across the United States were the proud possessors of an “opera house,” but it is doubtful that much in the way of opera was ever heard there. Except for piano transcriptions of “famous airs,” I expect that many people heard their first (and maybe, only) opera excerpts performed by a band like this. The Coates Brass Band offers a large portion of Edgardo’s death scene (both arias) from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, “sung” by a B?- and an E?-cornet. As Michael O’Connor’s detailed annotations point out, Coates’s music “is full of surprise and quick turns, with ideas that tend to come and go seemingly on a whim.” His marches, which return to the main themes, bear no resemblance to those of the later Sousa, who usually favored a first strain, second strain, trio (AABBCCCC) setup. As an example of Coates’s originality, O’Connor points out a B?-Minor to D?-Major modulation in the Cottage by the Sea Two-Step. This, as it happens, is the exact same modulation used by Tchaikovsky in the introduction to the Piano Concerto No. 1, but Coates goes on to modulate into F Major. While I am mentioning Cottage by the Sea, I should point out that it and every piece after it is mistimed on the back of the jewel box. Whoever was responsible for this gave Cottage by the Sea (cut 8) the timing for cut 9, George H. Goodwin’s Waltz, so every subsequent timing is off, which leaves the last cut, a Quickstep by Coates, with no timing at all. The timings in the booklet are accurate. I have not listed the names of the 19 numbers on the CD because almost all of them will be unfamiliar, anyway, and most of the music hasn’t been heard for more than a century and it has probably been nearly a century since a band made a mellow, blended sound like this.