A walk down memory lane? Maybe, but for many a ravishing introduction to the beauties of a forgotten, yet highly significant age.
“The Gilded Age – Late 19th Century American Music for Wind Band” GILMORE: Salute to New York March; BEYER: Yankee Tickle Medley; CAVALLINI: Fantasia on La Sonnambula; VERDI: Overture to Nabucodonosor; MISSUD: Mañana Chilean Dance; SCHLEIFFARTH: Jolly Bears (Polka Humoristic); DAMM: Through the Air; SOUSA: Semper Fidelis; PINSUTI: Serenade on Good Night Beloved; LIBERATI: The Battle Cry of Freedom; COATES: I Am Up (Quickstep); WALDTEUFEL: L’Estudiantina Waltz; VERDI: Terzetto and Finale – Newberry’s Victorian Cornet Band/ Elisa Koehler – MSR Classics 1726, 68:45 *****:
The period of reconstruction following the American Civil War was a difficult one for all involved. The South, still reeling from defeat and perhaps even more from the ravages of those from the North seeking to take monetary advantage of the situation, was slow to get back on its feet even though those who had barnstormed it like General Sherman were back in Atlanta only a few years later giving lectures! What was evident is that the country, emerging from an apocalyptic war and feeling like it would be difficult for things to possibly get worse, experienced an energetic influx of optimism and change brought on partly because of its newfound restored union, and partly because of the nascent industrial age that was bringing all sorts of material advantages never before experienced. Travel, gas lighting, and an unbelievable explosion of manufacturing ability gave many an economic boost still unrivaled to this day. Others, especially those on the low end of the economic spectrum, experienced a lot of pain and suffering as the nation struggled to bring a degree of equal opportunity for all, a struggle that is part and parcel of the American Dream, yet perhaps by definition something that will never be fully realized. But even for these folks, material prosperity to a degree was available to them as the next 40 years tried to divest the country of class redundancies and level the playing field. While real income went up anywhere from 48 to 60 percent for many workers, the influx of immigrant populations also led to abject poverty among many, and the obvious concentrations of “great wealth” in relatively few hands became obvious.
Speaking of playing, while today we think of ourselves as a musical society because of the availability of all kinds of music in an easy and accessible manner, our forefathers and mothers of the so-called “gilded age” (1870-90) brought music into their homes in many ways, and in an even more basic manner as the ability to learn and play an instrument went up exponentially. Music stores opened, publishers were feverish in providing arrangements of the popular European and folk pieces for in-home pianos and other instruments, and the remnants of the Civil War military bands began playing in all sorts of venues and circumstances, paving the way for what would become the American wind band movement, still going strong today in the public schools. For many Americans, these bands were the only window to the artistic movements of Europe and the United States at that time. America was truly becoming an ontologically musical nation.
These bands also proved to be experimental laboratories for the development and improvement of wind technique, forging better instruments, and establishing a virtuosity of solo flights of fancy that boded well as the greatness of our city orchestras began to take shape.
The Newberry Victorian Cornet Band was established in 2002 to shed light on the wind band repertory from the end of the Civil War to the beginnings of the Sousa Band in 1892. They are in effect a “period instrument” group that seeks to present music as it was heard then, in all the various formats and presentations one might have heard in a concert in the park. The stylistic talent of these folks is superb; intonation spot on, great technique, and a real feeling—and dare I say devotion—to this music and its importance. The nostalgic element is unavoidable, but when you relax and just listen to the music as music, you quickly find yourself enjoying it for its own sake. This is refreshing, buoyant, and a perfect antidote for the considerable angst of our present day. The sound is natural and perfectly balanced, showing these outstanding musicians to full advantage. Enthusiastically recommended!