Following on from Joe's post about the music of war, I heard Beethoven\'s 10th Symphony the other day (he actually seems to have slipped in between the 7th and the 8th). This is his fascinating Battle Symphony, or Op.91 Wellingtons Sieg oder Die Schlacht bei Vittoria, if you must. Ludwig originally wrote it as a bit of a pot-boiler to be played on the panharmonicon, an ingenious “mechanical device capable of imitating various orchestral sounds” but then made a full instrumental piece out of it, including military brass and drums, also muskets and louder bangs. On the advice of the entrepreneur who commissioned the piece, he went for popular appeal with English audiences, flushed by Wellington\'s recent great victory at Vittoria in 1813. The piece starts with the two armies approaching each other and the British advance to “Rule Britannia” and later switch to “God save the King” whilst the French play “Marlbrook s'en va-t-en guerre”, a bit ironically. This got me thinking that it would be good to know if the impressive and distinctly different drum tunes were true to what would have been heard on the battlefield. Was I hearing “Old Trousers”, the typically witty squaddy slang for the French pas de charge? I came across a couple of re-enactor groups, the 79th Camerons and Drum, Bugle and Fife of the Napoleonic Wars and I am hoping they will have the answers!
I think I read that Old Trousers was an onomatopoeic depiction of the repeated crash and roll that Napoleon\'s drummers produced as the columns went forward, but I suspect there is a better technical or musicological description. There may even be some recordings out there. Then I\'ll just have to go and buy myself a drum!
This has also set me thinking about the whole topic of music, both to communicate and inspire, and musical instruments, including the voice, on the battlefield. We get plenty of help visualising (tens of thousands of Osprey images for a start!) it, but I would love to hear the pipes and trumpets the Greek phalanxes marched to, or the Roman Legions\' bucina, and, yes, of course, the rebel yell!
This is as far as I have got with the latter, courtesy of Company H, Texas 4th Infantry:
“One of the most detailed descriptions came from J. Harvie Drew, a soldier in the 9th Virginia Cavalry. He gave this transcription of the rebel yell: Woh--who--ey! Who--ey! Who--ey! Woh--who--ey! Who--ey! (The best illustration of this "true yell" which can be given the reader is by spelling it as above, with directions to sound the first syllable "woh" short and low, and the second "who" with a very high and prolonged note deflecting upon the third syllable "ey.") Others rendered the yell as "yai, yai, yi, yai, yi" and "y-yo yo-wo-wo." From these examples, it would appear the yell was both multi-syllable and also composed of pattern that was repeated several times”.I\'m not sure which the neighbours will appreciate most, the drumming or the yelling!