Brass band

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Brass band ([ ˈbɹɑːsbænd ], also brass band , English for " brass band ") is a brass band - formation that developed in Great Britain from around 1830 and in the past decades also in continental Europe, especially in Switzerland and the Benelux - Countries. In Germany and Austria, on the other hand, there are very few brass bands. In North America and Australia, the brass band movement has gone through its own development. The name derives from brass (English: brass ), who as a collective term for brass instruments is used.

History and social position

In contrast to the classical brass ensembles , which were formed worldwide from the brass setting of symphony orchestras, the brass bands originated in the English coal mining areas. For many workers of the early industrialization, the interaction with colleagues was a change. It was also assumed that the particularly intense stress on the respiratory organs caused by this type of music prevented work-related lung damage . The factory owners soon started to sponsor these music groups. In this way factory chapels were formed, with which workers were attracted and which served as advertising for their own products. Even today there are a number of in-house brass bands in the UK with a tradition going back over 150 years.

In addition to industrial companies, the Salvation Army also played a role in the development of brass bands: from 1880 all officers and soldiers had to learn to play a wind instrument, and six years later there were around 400 Salvation Army bands.

Parallel to the development in industrial companies and the Salvation Army, private brass bands were also founded, especially between 1860 and 1880, so that the number of all bands in England alone in 1890 should have been between 15,000 and 20,000.

With the competitions held annually in various leagues since 1850, not only was the musical level maintained or improved, but on such occasions the musicians also got to know colleagues and got out of their daily routine. Strict guidelines were developed for the contests , which were and still apply not only to the groups but also to the jurors. The latter sit in a shed during the performance so that they cannot see which band is playing.



The early factory bands and forerunners of the brass bands were not only made up of brass instruments, but also of woodwinds. The following line-up is named for the second decade of the 19th century: 4 flutes , 4 clarinets , 2 bassoons , 1 trumpet , 2 french horns , 1 flap horn, 1 bass horn, 1 ophicleide , 1 serpent and percussion .

After British military music was reorganized according to the Prussian model in 1857 and consisted of brass instruments, this also had an impact on the civilian bands, which were mostly conducted by military musicians. The pure brass instrumentation was made possible on the one hand by the development of the valves, thanks to which the brass instruments could be played fully chromatically . On the other hand, the cornets, trombones and french horns that were common up until then could be supplemented by the instruments of the saxhorn family newly developed by Adolphe Sax , thus developing a closed body of sound.

As a result of the early and broad-based competitive system and the British view of fair play , rules were soon drawn up to standardize the cast. At the turn of the century a band could have a maximum of 24 members.

Standard occupation today

The usual line-up of a brass band today consists of the following voices and instruments:

Typical seating arrangement for today's brass band
  • Soprano Cornet (in Eb)
  • Four Solo Cornets (in B flat)
  • Repiano Cornet (in B flat )
  • Two 2nd cornets (in B)
  • Two 3rd cornets (in B)
  • Flugelhorn (in Bb)
  • Three Horns (in Eb) (Solo, 1st, 2nd Horn)
  • Two baritones (in Bb) (1st, 2nd baritone)
  • Two euphonies (in B flat )
  • Two trombones (in B flat) (1st, 2nd trombone)
  • Bass trombone (in C)
  • Two tubes (in Eb)
  • Two tubes (in B)
  • Three drummers

In brass band literature, all wind parts with the exception of the bass trombone are traditionally transposed and notated in the treble clef.


In their early days, the brass bands, like many continental brass music groups, played especially arrangements of well-known themes from operas . On the other hand, pieces were composed especially for brass bands very early on, such as the Tydfil Overture by Joseph Parry , which is still played today. However, it is characterized by arrangements of popular opera and operetta melodies , for example from Verdi's Il trovatore (1857), or I Vespri siciliani (1880) or Meyerbeer's Le Prophète (1869). In many cases, different melodies by composers were processed in a single piece (" potpourri ").

At the contests, the bands could choose their own pieces, which led to a group performing a composition 22 times between 1884 and 1892. The first piece specially composed for contests was Orynthia by James Melling (1855).

In the first half of the 20th century, well-known composers created pieces for brass bands, including Percy Fletcher : Labor and Love (1913), Arthur Sullivan : The Absent Minded Beggar (based on Rudyard Kipling's poem), Cyril Jenkins : Coriolanus (1920 ) and Life Divine (1921), Hubert Bath : Freedom (1922), Henry Gheel : Oliver Cromwell (1923) and On the Cornish Coast (1924), Percy Fletcher: An Epic Symphony (1926), Gustav Holst : A Moorside Suite ( 1928) and Edward Elgar : Severn Suite (1930). These pieces are still played today.

The compositions of the bassoonist Gilbert Vinter , to whom the arrangement of modern pieces for brass bands essentially goes back, were of considerable importance .

Probably the best-known brass band composer of the 20th century was Eric Ball , who was born in Bristol in 1903 and died in 1989 . A number of impressive works of all levels of difficulty come from his hand. Three compositions from the 1960s, in which he processed themes from Negro Spirituals , achieved particular fame .

The film Brassed Off - With Timpani and Trumpets (1996) by Mark Herman explores a brass band and their problems today.

Regular brass band competitions are organized in Montreux (Switzerland, national championship), Lucerne (Switzerland, World Band Festival Lucerne ) and Amboise (France).


  • Trevor Herbert, Margaret Sarkissian: Victorian Bands and Their Dissemination in the Colonies. In: Popular Music, Volume 16, No. ( Core and Periphery: Routes in British Popular Music History 1850-1980 ) May 1997, pp. 165-179

Web links

Commons : Brassband  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Definition of the term "brass band" at , accessed on July 7, 2017 (English)