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The Trumpets Will Sound

The History of British Military Bands volume one

The History of British Military Bands volume two

The History of British Military Bands volume three

The Trumpets Will Sound:
The Story of the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall

by Gordon Turner & Alwyn W Turner

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The following extract is taken from Chapter 2 of The Trumpets Will Sound and begins with the founder of the School, the Duke of Cambridge:

George, Duke of Cambridge, was the son of Adolphus, tenth child of that most fecund of monarchs, George III. Born in Hanover in 1819, he was for a few months the heir presumptive to the throne of the United Kingdom, until the birth of his cousin, Victoria, placed the succession beyond his grasp. When he was nine-years old he was made a colonel in the Hanoverian Guards, though this was strictly an honorary position, and his military career did not really commence until 1836; it ended some 59 years later, when he was finally forced to retire as Commander-in-Chief at the age of 76.

History has long cast Cambridge in the role of the original Colonel Blimp, an old-fashioned soldier who opposed every innovation that might change his beloved army. It is certainly true that in his later years he fought a series of desperate, doomed rearguard actions against the reforms of Gladstone's Liberals - resisting such progressive measures as the abolition of the sale of commissions and the introduction of khaki - but within the service he was always held in high regard, seen as a doughty champion against political interference. And in his first decade as Commander-in-Chief he was himself a reformer, responsible particularly for two major institutions that have survived to the present: the Staff College at Camberley (building on an initiative by his uncle, Frederick, Duke of York) and the Royal Military School of Music.

During the Crimean War, Cambridge led the First Division, comprised of Guards and Highlanders, and served with distinction at Alma and Inkerman. He revealed no great genius for battlefield command, but he did win universal praise for his courage and commitment, and he was undoubtedly well liked by his men; a sergeant in the 63rd Foot wrote that: 'No officer was more truly beloved by the Army than was the Duke, from his constant attention to their welfare, his identity with them in their sufferings, and his ready acquiescence in anything likely to add to their comforts.' And Florence Nightingale pointed out that his 'manner is very popular, his oaths are popular, with the army.'

He was invalided out of the campaign shortly after Inkerman, but not before he had attended perhaps the most significant parade in the history of British military music.

Duke of CambridgeAt a Grand Review in Scutari to celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday in 1854, before the General Staff of the allied forces, the massed bands of the British Army struck up the national anthem. The result was deeply humiliating - not only did the individual bands play different arrangements, they even played in different keys.

The cacophony that ensued must have been a particular embarrassment to the Duke of Cambridge. He was the senior member of the royal family present, he prided himself - as a lover of opera - on his appreciation of music, and he was by far the youngest of the divisional commanders in the British army, perhaps therefore more sensitive to being shown up in public than his rather elderly colleagues. It is believed that the parade at Scutari was the point at which he decided something needed to be done about the state of military music.

To understand what went wrong on that fateful day in the Crimea, it is necessary to look back to the early evolution of British military bands.

Drums had been part of the army since at least the battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, and trumpets, fifes and bagpipes had been gradually introduced over the years, but these were all essentially battlefield instruments, valued for their military rather than their musical function. It was not until the Restoration era that hautboys - an early incarnation of the oboe - were authorized for the two senior regiments of foot-guards, and not until 1749 that we find the first reference to what is recognizably a modern band. An advertisement appeared in a local Sussex newspaper that year for a concert to be given on 29 December by the Band of The Buffs, though how long this ensemble survived is unclear, since an inspection of the regiment in 1785 noted that there was 'No Band'.

More durable was the Band of the Royal Artillery, raised in Germany in 1762 during the Seven Years' War. This band, which is still extant, was inspired by the hugely successful Prussian army, a force that boasted bands capable of playing wind instruments on the march and string instruments on parade, and was originally recruited from German musicians. Likewise both the Grenadier and Scots Guards took on Germans in the mid-18th century to replace serving British bandsmen.

There was thus an early presumption in favour of continental musicianship: the Prussians had shown the way forward and their lead was respected, especially at a time when the monarchy was itself still more Hanoverian than English. For a century or so, the received wisdom was that British musicians were inherently inferior to their European counterparts; when the Commanding Officer of the 15th Hussars requested permission of his Colonel, the Duke of Cumberland, to recruit a band, the son of George III replied: 'It will be utterly impossible to form a Brass Band as these instruments require Germans who alone can play the trumpet as it ought to be played.'

Such an attitude was a little extreme - most British regiments of the time had begun to employ British bandsmen - but it was not unprecedented; musicians aside, foreign bandmasters were at a premium and would remain so for some time.

The major problem was the attitude of the central authorities. The politicians of the War Department - ever conscious of financial restrictions - were reluctant to accept that bands might be of any significance in the armed forces, notwithstanding the sterling service rendered by bandsmen during the Napoleonic wars, and there was no attempt to institute musical training. The size of bands was kept under tight control, and the only bandmasters to receive a salary directly out of central funds were those of the Royal Artillery and the Royal Military Academy. For the rest, the officers of each regiment were responsible for taking on whomsoever they saw fit; bandmasters were recruited and paid on an entirely private basis, and more often than not were either foreign or civilian or both.

Despite their irregular nature, some of the bands of the first half of the 19th century reached very high standards, and managed to attract the cream of the country's musicians. This was particularly true of the Guards and the Artillery, who enjoyed the stability of being based in London. The Coldstream Guards, for example, were conducted for seven years from 1818 by Thomas Lindsay Willman, the principal clarinettist with the Philharmonic Orchestra, whilst in the mid-century the 2nd Life Guards benefited from the leadership of Henry Cooke, principal oboeist with the same ensemble as well as being a professor at the Royal Academy of Music. Individual musicians also frequently doubled up in the leading orchestras of the day, including such famous names as William Winterbottom, who came from one of the greatest dynasties in military music and who played trombone in Michael Costa's orchestra for many years before becoming a Bandmaster in the Royal Marines.

For the regiments of the line, however, who were constantly on the move between Britain and the outposts of Empire, it was more difficult keeping hold of quality players. The peripatetic nature of army life and its accompanying hardships held little appeal for civilians. It was expected and accepted that a posting abroad would result in the resignation of the bandmaster, and his transfer to a regiment lucky enough to be stationed at home.

The consequence was that when the Crimean War took Britain back into full-scale armed conflict after forty years of peace, large numbers of bandmasters sought other appointments. Typical of many was Henry Schallehn, a German who had been appointed bandmaster of the 17th Lancers in 1845; declining to accompany the regiment to the Crimea, he became instead conductor of the Crystal Palace Band, pursuing a civilian career before re-entering our story.

Those enlisted bandsmen who went to war in 1854 were therefore in the unhappy position of being musically leaderless; of the twenty or so regiments who paraded at Scutari, no more than four could boast a bandmaster. In any event, music was not considered to be a priority - the bandsmen were there primarily as soldiers, not musicians, and the casualties sustained give a good indication of why civilian bandmasters were none too keen to get involved: the Charge of the Light Brigade cost the 4th Light Dragoons ten musicians, whilst the Band of the Rifle Brigade saw its strength reduced from 45 to just sixteen during the campaign. Under such circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that the Scutari review was such a disaster.

There was, moreover, another factor contributing to the chaos that day. The decentralized structure of British military music had ensured that there was no standard instrumentation for bands, or indeed any universally acknowledged tuning. This had long been a problem and there were some who recognized the need for uniformity. Chief amongst them was Carli Boosé, the Bandmaster of the Scots Guards and - needless to say - a German.

In 1845 he produced the first-ever British publication of a military band arrangement, a selection from Verdi's opera Ernani. So enthusiastically was it received that Boosey & Co. provided the funds to establish a periodical entitled Boosé's Military Journal, an endeavour that was soon imitated by other publications: one under the editorship of Charles Godfrey, bandmaster of the Coldstream Guards, and another edited by Adam J Schott of the Grenadier Guards. The fact that all three Foot Guard bandmasters were now publishing their own arrangements, and that they all used essentially the same instrumentation, exerted a powerful influence on other bands.

Even so, the process of standardization was not undertaken with any degree of urgency, and the discordant tuning at Scutari demonstrated that there was still a long way to go.

What made the humiliation of that parade even more difficult for the British to endure was the fact that the French bands who had been sent to the Crimea maintained an extraordinarily high level of musicianship. The cause was not hard to discover - in 1836 France had founded the Gymnase de Musique Militaire, a central college of music designed to raise standards throughout the army. In 1852, shortly before the Crimean conflict, there had even been published a training manual, Albert Perrin's Organization of Military Bands, to further this aim.

Henry SchallehnThe lessons were not lost on the more influential figures in the British band world. Two men in particular campaigned for reform: James Smyth, Bandmaster of the Royal Artillery, who wrote to the authorities at Horse Guards to point out the superiority of the French bands, and the afore-mentioned Henry Schallehn, who had booked some of the French ensembles at Crystal Palace, and who went a stage further, circularizing a memorandum entitled 'The British Military College of Music'.

Their arguments were straightforward. No-one doubted anymore that, at their best, British musicians were capable of matching their European rivals, but the opportunities for bandsmen were so limited that few regiments could achieve any continuity; as Mr Schallehn's memo pointed out: 'The numbers of trained performers in this country being small, they are soon able to obtain increased remuneration by buying their discharge.' What was needed was better training, better pay and conditions for serving musicians (civilian bandmasters enjoyed far superior rewards and treatment to those of enlisted men), and a promotion structure to give some career prospects to the talented.

The main thrust of those calling for change was that a central institution should be created. Apart from anything else, argued Mr Schallehn, a music college would enable bandsmen to 'acquire a unity of style in playing together, not attainable by any other means.' Just a few years earlier the first-ever massed bands concert, at Chelsea in 1851, had ushered in a new era. There was a growing desire on the part of military musicians to take their trade to the public, a dawning awareness of the potential social role of bands; massed band events were clearly a part of that future, and common standards an essential prerequisite.

By the mid-1850s, then, there was a sense of dissatisfaction with how military music had previously been structured; throughout the upper echelons of the hierarchy, pressure was building for reform. What was needed was a man with the power, influence and inclination to make the break with the past.

In 1856 that man was found. The death in that year of Lord Hardinge enabled Mr Schallehn's former commanding officer in the 17th Lancers, the Duke of Cambridge, to realize his greatest ambition and to become Commander-in-Chief of the British Army.