The third month? No. The region on the Adriatic coast of Italy? No. The kind with music and soldiers. Though the form is typically brisk and commonly associated with parades and halftime shows, it is pliable and is often connected with less than happy events. Here are a bunch of them, in no particular order – just as they came to mind. Of course, there are many more – almost as many as Vermont has leaves in autumn.
There are a lot of marches in opera. Likely the most familiar is that in the Triumphal Scene of Verdi’s Aida. The six onstage “Aida Trumpets” are straight with only one valve; both B-natural pitch and A♭-pitch models are used together. They are especially made for the Grand March. The tune was too good to use just once. Verdi brilliantly reprises it to end the gigantic ensemble that concludes the second act. The combination of extraordinary technique and equally exceptional inspiration creates one of opera’s greatest moments.
Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète is about Jean of Leyden. The famous Coronation March starts Act 4 scene 2. Jean intends to be crowned Emperor in Münster Cathedral. The march is suitably regal. Of course his plans go awry and ther opera ends with a bang.
Berlioz added the Rakoczy March to his Damnation of Faust when the piece was first performed in Hungary. It was such a sensation there that he kept it as a permanent part of the score. Bernard Shaw wrote after hearing a particularly rousing version of the march that he wanted to immediately leave the hall and storm Trafalgar Square.
A couple of Wagner marches. The Wedding March (a chorus) that begins the last act of Lohengrin leads to one of the worst first nights in the history of marriage. What went wrong? The bride asked the groom for his name. Talk about leaping before you look. What entry was put on the license? Lohengrin abandons his new wife who then drops dead.
Siegfried is already dead when this funeral march is played in Act 3 of Götterdämmerung. Everything then goes wrong and the Ring Cycle ends essentially where it began.
The second movement of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No 2 in B-Flat minor has achieved a life of its own apart from the sonata. As a dirge the funeral march is almost as common as death. Here it’s performed as the composer wrote it.
Mendelssohn’s wedding march is from his incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At weddings it’s typically played as a recessional.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada is an opera-ballet in four acts. The well-known Procession of the Nobles is in Act 2 scene 3. The last performance of the work that I know of was about 30 years ago at the Bolshoi.
Beethoven’s Turkish March is from his Ruins of Athens. In 1811 he wrote incidental music for the play of the same name by August von Kotzebue. The play and music were written for the dedication of a new theatre in Pest.
Edward Elgar composed five Pomp and Circumstance marches. A sixth was compiled from fragments well after his death. The first march is the best known. Pomp and Circumstance No 1
George Gershwin wrote Strike Up the Band in 1927 for a musical show of the same name. Gershwin subsequently gave the song to UCLA where it has become one of the school songs.
Victor Herbert’s March of the Toys appears in his1903 operetta Babes in Toyland. The famous march is in Act 2. The operetta has many fine pieces, though time seems to have passed it by.
The US national march is clearly John Philip Sousa’s ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’. Many, including me, think it should be our national anthem. Here’s version that uses a tempo so fast that even Usain Bolt would have trouble keeping up with it. Stars and Stripes Forever. Now a more reasonably paced performance played by the US Marine Corps Band, the group that Sousa himself once led. Stars and Stripes Forever Marine Corps Band. Finally, Vladimir Horowitz arranged the march for piano. He typically played it as his last encore. His performance was astounding. I heard him do it on November 20, 1977. It was a Sunday and the recital started at 3pm as was Horowitz’ want during this part of his career. The reason I remember the day and date is that it was when Walter Payton set the NFL record for rushing in a single game – 275 yards (since broken). Horowitz and Payton, two virtuosi. Horowitz Stars and Stripes Forever.
Well, I’m all marched out. Perhaps I’ll put up a few more if the time seems brisk and ready for strutting.