March (music)

A march, as a musical genre, is a piece of music with a strong regular rhythm which in origin was expressly written for marching to and most frequently performed by a military band. In mood, marches range from the moving death march in Wagner's Götterdämmerung to the brisk military marches of John Philip Sousa and the martial hymns of the late 19th century. Examples of the varied use of the march can be found in Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, in the Marches militaires of Franz Schubert, in the Marche funèbre in Chopin's Sonata in B flat minor, and in the Dead March in Handel's Saul.

The Band of the Welsh Guards of the British Army play as guardsmen march up the Mall to change the guard



Marches can be written in any time signature, but the most common time signatures are 4/4, 2/2 (alla breve, although this may refer to 2 time up until the time of Johannes Brahms, or cut time), 6/8, and 3/4; however, some modern marches are being written in 1/2 time. The modern march tempo hovers around 120 beats to the minute (the standard Napoleonic march tempo); however, many funeral marches conform to the Roman standard of 60 beats to the minute.

The form of a march typically consists of 16 to 32 measures in length with multiple repeats until a new section. Most importantly, a march consists of a strong and steady percussive beat reminiscent of military field drums.

Marches frequently change keys once, modulating to the subdominant key, and occasionally returning to the original tonic key. If it begins in a minor key, it modulates to the relative major. Marches frequently have counter-melodies introduced during the repeat of a main melody. Marches frequently have a penultimate dogfight strain in which two groups of instruments (high/low, woodwind/brass, etc.) alternate in a statement/response format. In most traditional American marches, there are three strains. The third strain is referred to as the "trio".

A military music event where various marching bands and units perform is called tattoo.


Marches weren't notated until the late 16th century; until then, time was generally kept by percussion alone, often with improvised fife embellishment. With the extensive development of brass instruments, especially in the 19th century, marches became widely popular and were often elaborately orchestrated. Composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Gustav Mahler wrote marches, often incorporating them into their operas, sonatas, or symphonies. The later popularity of John Philip Sousa's band marches was unmatched.

The march tempo of 120 beats or steps per minute was adapted by Napoleon Bonaparte so that his army could move faster. Since he planned to occupy the territory he conquered, instead of his soldiers carrying all of their provisions with them, they would live off the land and march faster. The French march tempo is faster than the traditional tempo of British marches; the British call marches in the French tempo quick marches. Traditional American marches use the French or quick march tempo. There are two reason for this: First, U.S. military bands adopted the march tempos of France and other continental European nations that aided the U.S. during its early wars with Great Britain. Second, the composer of the greatest American marches, John Philip Sousa, was of Portuguese and German descent. Portugal used the French tempo exclusively—the standard Sousa learned during his musical education. A military band playing or marching at the traditional British march tempo would seem unusually slow in the United States.

March music originates from the military, and marches are usually played by a marching band. The most important instruments are various drums (especially snare drum), horns, fife or woodwind instruments and brass instruments. Marches and marching bands have even today a strong connection to military, both to drill and parades. Marches, which are played at paces with multiples of normal heartbeat, can have a hypnotic effect on the marching soldiers, rendering them into a trance,[citation needed] This effect was widely known already in the 16th century, and was employed to lead the soldiers in closed ranks against the enemy fire in the 16th and 17th century wars.

March music is often important for ceremonial occasions. Processional or coronation marches, such as the popular coronation march from Le Prophète by Giacomo Meyerbeer and the many examples of coronation marches written for British monarchs by English composers, such as Edward Elgar, Edward German, and William Walton, are all in traditional British tempos.

European march music

Many European countries and cultures developed characteristic styles of marches. Some of the styles and characteristics are

British marches typically move at a more stately pace (ca. 88-112 beats per minute), have intricate countermelodies (frequently appearing only in the repeat of a strain), have a wide range of dynamics (including unusually soft sections), use full-value "stingers" at the ends of phrases (as opposed to the shorter "marcato" stinger of American marches). The final strain of a British march often has a broad lyrical quality to it. Archetypical British marches include The British Grenadiers and those of Kenneth Alford, such as the well-known Colonel Bogey March and The Great Little Army.

German marches move at a very strict tempo of 110 beats per minute, and have a strong "oom-pah" polka-like/folk-like quality resulting from the bass drum and low-brass playing on the downbeats and alto voices such as "peck horn" and the snare drums playing on the off-beats. This provides a very "martial" quality to these marches. The low brass is often featured prominently in at least one strain of a German march. To offset the rhythmic martiality of most of the strains, the final strain ("trio") often has a lyrical (if somewhat bombastic) quality.

Notable German and Austrian march composers include Carl Teike (Alte Kameraden), Hermann Ludwig Blankenburg, Johann Gottfried Piefke (Preußens Gloria), Hans Schmid, Josef Wagner, and Karl Michael Ziehrer.

French military marches are distinct from other European marches by their emphasis on percussion and brass, often incorporating bugle calls as part of the melody or as interludes between strains. Most French marches are in common metre and place a strong percussive emphasis on the first beat of each measure, hence the characteristic "BOOM-whack-whack-whack" rhythm.

Dutch marches typically they feature a heavy intro, often (but not as a rule) played by the trombones, euphoniums, drums, and tubas, followed by a lighthearted trio and a reasonably fast and somewhat 'bombastic' conclusion. Dutch emphasis on low brass is also made clear in that Dutch military bands use sousaphones, which have a more forward projection of sound, rather than regular concert tubas used by most other European military styles. Some well known Dutch march composers are Jan Gerard Palm, Willy Schootemeyer, Adriaan Maas, Johan Wichers, and Hendrik Karels.

By far most Dutch military bands perform their music on foot, however some Dutch regiments, most notably the Trompetterkorps Bereden Wapens carry on a Dutch tradition in which its historical bicycle infantry had a mounted band; thus playing march music on bikes.

Italian marches have a very "light" musical feel, often having sections of fanfare or soprano obligatos performed with a light "coloratura" articulation. This "frilly" characteristic is contrasted with broad lyrical melodies reminiscent of operatic arias. It is relatively common to have one strain (often a first introduction of the final strain) that is played primarily by the higher-voiced instruments, or in the upper ranges of the instruments's compass. A typical Italian march would be "Il Bersagliere" (The Italian Rifleman) by Boccalari. Uniquely, the Bersaglieri regiments always move at a fast jog, and their "running bands" play at this pace.

The most characteristic Spanish march form is the Pasodoble. Spanish marches often have fanfares at the beginning or end of strains that are reminiscent of traditional bullfight music. These marches often move back and forth between major and (relative) minor keys, and often show a great variation in tempo during the course of the march reminiscent of an prolonged Viennese rubato. Typical Spanish marches could be Amparito Roca by Jaime Teixidor, Los Voluntarios by Geronimo Gimenez or El Turuta by Roman de San Jose.

Czech (Bohemian) march composers include František Kmoch and Julius Fučík, who wrote Entrance of the Gladiators.

While many of the marches of Tsarist Russia share similar characteristics with German marches of the period, and indeed some were directly borrowed from Germany (such as Der Königgrätzer Marsch) the indigenous, pre-revolutionary Russian march has a distinctly Russian sound, with powerful strains in minor keys repeated with low brass with occasional flashes of major chords between sections. The Soviet period produced a large number of modern marches incorporating both Russian themes and structure reminiscent of Dutch marches. Frequently in major keys, Soviet marches often span a wide range of dynamics while maintaining a strong melody well-balanced with the percussion, entering the "bombastic" range without overpowering percussion as is common with French marches. They are often in the A-B/Cb-A form or Ternary form.

Modern Turkey's march is İstiklal Marşı. It has power and anger with an aggressive tune. But generally, old Turkish marches at the times of the Ottoman Empire are aggressive in the lyrics and more confident in the tunes, but still frightful to enemy, e.g. Mehter Marşı. It is notable that Mozart and Beethoven also wrote popular Turkish marches.

American march music

The true "march music era" existed from 1855 to the 1940s as it slowly became shadowed by the coming of jazz. Earlier marches, such as the ones from Ludwig Van Beethoven, Wolfgang Mozart, and George Frideric Handel tended to be part of a symphony or a movement in a suite, and are generally not thought of as "typical American march music."

American march music cannot be discussed without mentioning the "March King," John Philip Sousa. Some of his most famous marches include "Semper Fidelis," "The Washington Post March," "The Liberty Bell," and "Stars and Stripes Forever".

A specialized form of "typical American march music" is the circus march, or screamer, typified by the marches of Henry Fillmore and Karl King. These marches are performed at a significantly faster tempo (140 - 200 beats per minute) and generally have an abundance of runs, fanfares and other "showy" features. Frequently the low brass has one or more strains (usually the second strain) in which they are showcased with both speed and bombast. Stylistically, many circus marches employ a lyrical final strain which (in the last time through the strain) starts out maestoso (majestically—slower and more stately) and then in the second half of the strain speeds up to end the march faster than the original tempo.

Marches continued to be commissioned throughout the 20th century to commemorate important American events. In the 1960's Anthony A. Mitchell, director of the United States Navy Band, was commissioned to write The National Cultural Center March for the center that would later become known as the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.[1][not in citation given]

Asian march music

Thailand's very own King Bhumibol Adulyadej is also a march composer. Royal Guards March is his famous march piece, played by military bands during the Thai Royal Guards parade at the Royal Plaza at Bangkok every 2nd of December yearly. It reflects the use of German and British military band influences in Thai military music.

Latin American march music

Although inspired by German, Spanish and French military music, marches of South and Central America are unique in melody and instrumentation.

Argentine military marches, unique in style and melody are inspired by the countless exploits of the Armed Forces of the Argentine Republic in its long military history. The San Lorenzo March by Cayetano Alberto Silva is one such march, combining German and French military musical influences. Others celebrate the heroes of its military forces or its military schools, while some are marches made for the cavalry bands of the Argentine Army, in slow time for cavalry trot pasts. Other Latinamerican march, well known, is Los peruanos pasan March by Carlos Valderrama Herrera inspired by european and andean influences.

Mexican marches, like the March of the Heroic Military College, Airborne Fusiliers March and the Viva Mexico March are all inspired by American, Spanish and French military music and have a faster beat.

See also


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Further reading

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