Anton Reicha

Symphony for Band

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Symphony for Band, composed by Anton Reicha in 1815, modern edition for concert band by David Whitwell. This Symphony is one of the great monuments of the repertoire for the wind band.

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Product Description

Sym­pho­ny for Band
Anton Reicha (1770–1836)
Mod­ern edi­tion by David Whitwell (1937–)

Date: 1815
Instru­men­ta­tion: Con­cert Band
Dura­tion: 19:00
Lev­el: 5


This live per­for­mance was giv­en on March 8, 1991, by the Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty, North­ridge Wind Ensem­ble, David Whitwell, Con­duc­tor.

Notes on the Reicha Symphony

This Sym­pho­ny is one of the great mon­u­ments of the reper­toire for the wind band. To ful­ly under­stand the unique nature of this score one must first recall the late 18th cen­tu­ry tra­di­tion of the great pub­lic fes­ti­vals in Paris dur­ing which a large wind band, com­posed by bring­ing togeth­er numer­ous small­er bands, played a cen­tral role. Dur­ing the first of these fes­ti­vals in 1790, which fea­tured a Te Deum by Gossec for cho­rus and band, the pow­er­ful influ­ence on the pub­lic made by a large mass of musi­cians in an out­door envi­ron­ment caught every­one by sur­prise. The final orga­ni­za­tion of one of these large pub­lic fes­ti­vals result­ed in the Berlioz Sym­pho­ny for Band.

So it was that in 1815 with the final fall of Napoleon and the con­se­quent end of the long peri­od of the Napoleon­ic Wars, which had been so expen­sive in lives and mon­ey, Anton Reicha, a gift­ed com­pos­er then liv­ing in Paris, antic­i­pat­ed that anoth­er one of these great fes­ti­vals might be orga­nized. It seems clear that his pur­pose, in 1815, was to cre­ate in advance a com­po­si­tion suit­able for such a great out­door per­for­mance. In the same spir­it as Beethoven, who first ded­i­cat­ed his Third Sym­pho­ny to Napoleon and then changed his mind and scratched out the ded­i­ca­tion on the auto­graph score, Reicha appar­ent­ly real­ized that a work ded­i­cat­ed to Napoleon would have a very brief per­for­mance life and so he out­lined a much broad­er pur­pose. While the title on the auto­graph score reads, “Sym­pho­ny with­out strings” (Har­monie com­plete ou Sym­phonie sans insts. à cordes), in his hand­writ­ten pref­ace Reicha iden­ti­fies his pur­pose,

This work is com­posed to com­mem­o­rate: 1st, the mem­o­ry of great exploits; 2nd, the death of heroes and great men; 3rd, to cel­e­brate any impor­tant future event.

It was to make his Sym­pho­ny prac­ti­cal, no mat­ter how vast the open air space might be, that Reicha cre­at­ed a form based on the prin­ci­ple of the Baroque Con­cer­to grosso. This explains the curi­ous appear­ance of the auto­graph score, where one sees in nor­mal musi­cal nota­tion a sym­pho­ny for one wind band, but in the mar­gins, expressed in a spe­cial numer­ic code, his direc­tions where addi­tion­al wind bands could enter and exit in the man­ner of the old 17th cen­tu­ry con­cer­ta­to style. He makes this clear in a note in the score where he writes, “Cette Sym­phonie est Con­cer­tante.” In terms of the con­cer­to grosso tra­di­tion it seems clear that Reicha con­sid­ered the music in the score (music for one band) to be the con­certi­no, the prin­ci­pal ensem­ble, while the oth­er two bands rep­re­sent­ed by his mar­gin­al code were the rip­ieno, or the addi­tion­al ensem­bles which join the con­certi­no from time to time. This is what he refers to in his pref­ace when he says the extra parts are for use in music per­formed in hon­or of France (Les par­ties detach­es de la musique en l’honneur de la Nation française.)

The auto­graph score of this Sym­pho­ny for Band has one more note in the hand of Reicha which is of con­sid­er­able inter­est and curios­i­ty. But first it is nec­es­sary to make two brief quo­ta­tions from his auto­bi­og­ra­phy.

I have nev­er been inter­est­ed in writ­ing for the pop­u­lar demand. To enlight­en the pub­lic has been my aim; not to amuse it … Many of my works have nev­er been heard because of my aver­sion to seek­ing per­for­mances … I count­ed the time spent in such efforts as lost, and pre­ferred to remain at my desk …

It is impos­si­ble to dis­cuss my com­plete works here. More than a hun­dred have been pub­lished; about six­ty are still in man­u­script. Among the lat­ter will be found my finest efforts …

It is known that he kept some of his “finest efforts” in a trunk. All this is impor­tant as back­ground for one addi­tion­al note in his auto­graph score. He says the score of this sym­pho­ny for band is found in a col­lec­tion of scores (Cat­a­logue Nr. 1 Par­ti­tion) togeth­er with the rest of the vol­umes of band music in code (et il y a dans le meme vol­umes des Sceruirs d’harmonie). Tak­en with the above quo­ta­tions, one is tempt­ed to think that per­haps Reicha, who had a local rep­u­ta­tion for his inter­est in math­e­mat­ics, had fur­ther works for band abbre­vi­at­ed in some kind of code sim­i­lar to the one used in this Sym­pho­ny. I believe what­ev­er he was refer­ring to remains a com­plete mys­tery.

In his auto­graph pref­ace Reicha also makes inter­est­ing com­ments about acoustics and says the per­for­mance must be assigned to a good con­duc­tor, all of which are very rare com­ments for 1815. He also adds,

It is imper­a­tive to use the exact num­ber of instru­ments men­tioned in the score, oth­er­wise the work would not sound as effec­tive­ly. These instru­ments are: 3 pic­co­los, 6 oboes, 6 clar­inets, 6 horns, 6 bas­soons, 6 trum­pets, 3 dou­ble-bass­es, 6 army drums and 4 small field-guns.

He amends this to give approval for con­tra­bas­soons as an alter­na­tive to the string bass­es. The instru­men­ta­tion he gives above is for the prin­ci­pal band with two addi­tion­al “rip­ieno” bands. The instru­men­ta­tion of the pri­ma­ry band alone, the only parts giv­en actu­al musi­cal nota­tion, is pic­co­lo, pairs of oboes, clar­inets, horns, bas­soons, and trum­pets, plus bass [string bass or con­tra-bas­soon].

The ques­tion remains, how does one per­form this mag­nif­i­cent music today? If one decides to per­form the orig­i­nal ver­sion, as giv­en above, then one encoun­ters sev­er­al dif­fi­cult prob­lems. First, one has in hand the only score in 600 years of orig­i­nal band reper­toire which requires nine sep­a­rate bas­soon parts! One sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge is find­ing three con­tra­bas­soons. When I per­formed the orig­i­nal ver­sion in 1974 I used one my uni­ver­si­ty owned and the one owned by the LA Phil­har­mon­ic, but the search for a third instru­ment in good con­di­tion was sur­pris­ing­ly dif­fi­cult. Also, in my 1974 per­for­mance, I found that a con­sid­er­able dis­tance between these three bands was nec­es­sary in order for the lis­ten­er to under­stand that they were in fact sep­a­rate ensem­bles. That is, since all three bands play the same notes in uni­son, the ear tends not to sort things out into three divi­sions. As a result, for a good effect from the audi­ence per­spec­tive a very large stage is required, some­thing rarely found in most uni­ver­si­ties or civic insti­tu­tions.

In my desire to make this beau­ti­ful music avail­able to future stu­dents, I next tried to score the work for one mod­ern band, but hav­ing the “extra” bands iden­ti­fied through dis­sim­i­lar instru­men­ta­tion. This, to my ear, had even a worse result, for it sound­ed like a com­po­si­tion for band with an extra jazz band and brass band.

Final­ly, in recog­ni­tion of the fact that the com­pos­er heard in his mind and wrote down actu­al music for one band, the extra bands writ­ten in code, again, being giv­en only dou­bling parts in uni­son, and, as the read­er has seen above, described first a Sym­pho­ny with­out strings and sep­a­rate­ly a work which could be used “in hon­or of France,” I began to think of this sym­pho­ny as one for only one band. This for me was the key, for I real­ized it was still pos­si­ble to make an edi­tion for mod­ern band of just the prin­ci­pal part which could result in a per­for­mance that still sound­ed like a work writ­ten in 1815, still sound­ed like Reicha and cap­tured through­out his beau­ti­ful music.

Final­ly, bound togeth­er with the three orig­i­nal move­ments of the Sym­pho­ny is a works for the same instru­men­ta­tion, but minus the flutes, called a funèbre marche.
It is not clear whether Reicha expect­ed this work to be a move­ment in the sym­pho­ny, for he com­ments “It was prin­ci­pal­ly for the army that I com­posed this marche funèbre, which may be per­formed alone.” It is a beau­ti­ful and noble work and I accept it as part of the sym­pho­ny because it has the same instru­men­ta­tion, even the four can­nons. The miss­ing flutes prob­a­bly reflects the fact that the army did not use the flute, but rather the fife. Final­ly because he allows that “it can be per­formed alone” an alter­na­tive is assumed, and that must be the sym­pho­ny with which it is bound.

Performance Notes

This edi­tion has been pre­pared in such a way that one can use either the 4 can­nons, which is a remark­able effect if one has one tim­pani in each of the four cor­ners of the hall, or alter­na­tive­ly by one tim­pani play­er on stage.

For the long drum roll in the sec­ond move­ment, Reicha sug­gests plac­ing that play­er behind the audi­ence if pos­si­ble.