Reicha, Symphony for Band, “Commemoration”

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Composed by Anton Reicha in 1815, the "Commemoration" Symphony is one of the great monuments of the repertoire for the wind band.


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

Score pre­view

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.


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