Spontini, Grosser Sieges- Und Festmarsch

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E.T.A. Hoffman said that Spontini's work, Grosser Sieges- Und Festmarsch, had "fiery energy and deep feeling and that the unexpected entry of God Save the King gave it splendid brilliance."


Product Description

Gross­er Sieges- Und Festmarsch
for His Majesty Friedrich Wil­helm III King of Prussia

Gas­pare Spon­ti­ni (1774–1851)
Mod­ern edi­tion by David Whitwell (1937–)

Date: 1820
Instru­men­ta­tion: Wind Ensem­ble (stan­dard con­cert band with­out saxophones)
Dura­tion: 8:00
Lev­el: 5

Score pre­view

Notes on Spontini, Festmarsch

As a youth, Spon­ti­ni stud­ied at the Con­ser­va­to­rio del­la Pietà de’ Tur­chi­ni in Naples. In 1803, he went to Paris, where he was appoint­ed court com­pos­er in 1805. With the encour­age­ment of Empress Joséphine in 1807, Spon­ti­ni wrote La vestale, his best known work. Its pre­miere at the Opéra in Paris estab­lished Spon­ti­ni as one of the great­est Ital­ian com­posers of his age. His con­tem­po­raries Cheru­bi­ni and Meyer­beer con­sid­ered it a mas­ter­piece, as did lat­er com­posers such as Berlioz and Wagner. 

The Fes­tive March was com­posed for a con­cert held August 3, 1820, to cel­e­brate the birth­day of the king in Berlin. In atten­dance was E. T. A. Hoff­mann, the most famous crit­ic of the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry in Ger­many, and as a result we have a very rare exam­ple of a con­tem­po­rary review of the pre­miere of an ear­ly band com­po­si­tion. The review was pub­lished in the Vos­sis­che Zeitung, in the issue of August 5, 1820, in Berlin. The first com­po­si­tion heard on this con­cert was an arrange­ment of a pop­u­lar song which Spon­ti­ni had com­posed after his appoint­ment as the music direc­tor for the king in Berlin, Borus­sia. Preussis­ch­er Volks­ge­sang. The orig­i­nal ver­sion of this song was scored for orches­tra, but on this occa­sion Spon­ti­ni expand­ed the forces to include the mil­i­tary band which would per­form the Fes­tive March and a choir of 130 voices.

Hoff­mann was quite moved by the result pro­duced by Spon­ti­ni as a conductor.

The strength, fire, and sub­lime exu­ber­ance which has won uni­ver­sal admi­ra­tion for Spon­tini’s works are also evi­dent in this song, which in the sim­plic­i­ty and dig­ni­ty of its thought bears the stamp of true inspi­ra­tion, this fire glow­ing with­in his works to those cho­sen to per­form them. In his hand the baton becomes a ver­i­ta­ble mag­ic wand, with which he wak­ens into life dor­mant forces which then rise up in majes­tic aware­ness of their power.

The sec­ond com­po­si­tion on the pro­gram was the new work espe­cial­ly com­posed for the occa­sion by Spon­ti­ni. This work was com­posed for a large band, although on this occa­sion the strings and singers joined in. Hoff­mann recalls that the Fes­tive March was per­formed “with fiery ener­gy and deep feel­ing and that the unex­pect­ed entry of God Save the King gave it splen­did brilliance.”

One could not deny, there­fore, that the effect cal­cu­lat­ed by our excel­lent Spon­ti­ni was in fact over­whelm­ing. Only that which is con­ceived and brought to life with inspi­ra­tion can awak­en inspi­ra­tion, and so it was that this inspi­ra­tion was expressed in the liveli­est man­ner by the tumul­tuous applause of an enrap­tured public.

The orig­i­nal instru­men­ta­tion for the Fes­tive March was,
Pic­co­lo Clar­inet­to in Fa
Clar­inet­to 1 in C
Clar­inet­to 2 in C
Oboe 1
Oboe 2
Corno di Bas­set­to 1
Corno di Bas­set­to 2
Flute 1
Flute 2
Flute 1 in Eb
Flute 2 in Eb
Horn 1 in C
Horn 2 in C
Horn 1 in F
Horn 2 in F
Trombe 1 in C
Trombe 2 in C
Trombe 1 in F
Trombe 2 in F
Trom­bone 1, 2 and 3
Fagot­ti 1 and 2
Con­tro Fagotto
Bashorno 1
Bashorno 2
Tam­bour di Soldat
Tam­bourin Piatie with Grosse Caisse

Performance Notes

The fun­da­men­tal ques­tion regard­ing the per­for­mance of this work is that of tem­po. The pub­lished parts call the first part “Alle­gro bril­liante” fol­lowed by “Metronome von Maelzel No. 92 = [quar­ter-note].” This, in 1820, is undoubt­ed­ly one of the very ear­li­est exam­ples of pub­lished metronome indi­ca­tions, Beethoven hav­ing been the first com­pos­er to use them in 1817. The prob­lem is that quar­ter-note = 92 is too fast to be musi­cal, by about the same degree that the ear­ly Beethoven mark­ings are too fast.

What is one to think of this prob­lem? One pos­si­bil­i­ty is that per­haps the first metronomes ran too slow­ly, thus influ­enc­ing the com­pos­er to write high­er num­bers. In the case of Beethoven, his own metronome has been found, but the weight is miss­ing, mak­ing it impos­si­ble to test its accu­ra­cy in this regard. 

Anoth­er pos­si­bil­i­ty which occurred to me was that per­haps the first metronome was not mea­sured against the clock, but against an arbi­trary numer­i­cal chart of some kind. Indeed, there were oth­er inven­tors work­ing on this prob­lem and in one case I have stud­ied the num­bers are not mea­sured against the clock. This is an edu­ca­tion­al work enti­tled, Des Her­rn Zmeskals Tact Mess­er Wiener Zoll [“inch”] A man­u­script by Georg Druschet­zky (1745–1819) gives both mark­ings for the Maelzel metronome and for a Wiener Zoll. In cas­es where the metronome is giv­en as per­haps quar­ter-note = 74, the Wiener Zoll is indi­cat­ed at 9! How­ev­er, this solu­tion does not apply in the case of the Spon­ti­ni as the orig­i­nal patent for the metronome clear­ly spec­i­fies the rela­tion­ship with the clock.

Yet anoth­er pos­si­bil­i­ty which has occurred to me is that we have here a mis­read­ing of the man­u­script by the engraver, tak­ing “72” to read “92.” A tem­po of 72 for the beat does result in a log­i­cal, musi­cal result and so I pre­fer to think this is what hap­pened. In any case, in this edi­tion I have changed this num­ber to read “72.”

David Whitwell
Austin, 2015