Brass Band Repertoire in Manchester’s Public Parks in World War One: Tradition and Patriotism

Permission from Gavin Holman

Brass Band Repertoire in Manchester’s Public Parks in World War One: Tradition and Patriotism, By  Dr Stephen Etheridge


1913 was a watershed year for the brass band movement. Labour and Love, Percy Fletcher’s tone poem, was performed at the Crystal Palace Contest.[1] The winning band was Irwell Springs who came from East Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley. Labour and Love was significant as it was composed music of some substance that was available to all bands.[2] It was the first test piece that was composed for the standardised brass band line-up and that the sources can account for fully. As Paul Hindmarsh wrote, ‘it was not part of a local ‘bespoke’ repertoire […].It stands like a solitary beacon in the writing for brass band in the early twentieth century[…].’[3]

One of the first arguments for the need to compose original compositions for brass bands can be found in the Outlook, in 1900. A commentator thought that ‘perhaps some of our younger and more enterprising music-makers, sparing an hour or two from the unremunerative opera and the superfluous cantata, may be in future disposed to try their hand in this direction.’ [4] Editors in the brass band periodicals had been arguing persistently that the only way band music could be taken seriously as ‘art music’ was to have their own original compositions written for them and to move away from the standard repertoire of arrangements largely based around opera and selections of works of great composers.[5] In 1910, the Conservative politician, William George Galloway (1868-1931), reflected that brass bands could be an important tool in developing English music, writing:

The brass band movement offers an excellent opportunity to young native composers, if they will be quick to take advantage of it, they will advance the case of music and incidentally improve their own prospects, for they will find an immediate market for their music.[6]


Yet, even though these were experimental times for brass band repertoire, during the Great War tradition, and, moreover, a belief in that tradition, held sway. It was in Manchester’s Public Parks that local bands expressed the national mood.

The Band Repertoire: A Brief Outline of Repertoire Development          

Early band repertoire consisted of songs, glees and national airs, J. L. Scott highlighting that this had been the standard repertoire since the 1800s.[7] In 1833, Northallerton Band, for example, was booked to play at a dinner that celebrated the election to parliament of W. Duncombe. It is not known what the instrumentation of the Northallerton band was, nevertheless, they most likely used a mixture of wind, brass and keyed brass that was common in ‘bands of musick’ from 1804 to the late 1830s. These bands were not standardised. In 1807, for example, Wellwyn Band of Musick had 1 flute, 4, clarinets, 2 bassoons 1 horn, drums and percussion and 7 unidentified instruments which Roy Newsome argues were most likely oboes.[8] In the late 1830s Lewes band consisted of 3 clarinets, 1 trumpet, 2 keyed bugles, 1 horn, 2 trombones, 1 serpent together with drums and percussion.[9]

At the dinner the Northallerton band played ten different pieces: God Save the King, Britons Strike Home, Here’s Health to All Good Lasses, Hurrah for the Bonnets of Blue, We Gae the Kildrum, Oh the Roast Beef of Old England, Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill, Duke of York’s March, Duke of Cumberland’s March and Should Auld Acquaintances Be Forgot.[10] Also in York, in 1833, the losing Conservative Party held a dinner where an unknown band played the following pieces, God Save the King, Roast Beef of England, Hail, Star of Brunswick, Rule Britannia, Duke of York’s March, Hurrah for the Bonnets of Blue, Air, Merry Christ Church Bells, See the Conquering Hero Comes, Auld Land Syne.[11] The first music published for brass band, in March 1836, was Macfarlane’s Eight Popular Airs for Brass Band, published by R. Cocks and Co.

This pattern of repertoire continued to the 1840s when there was a rise in trade of solo pieces and smaller ensemble arrangements. From the mid-1840s Boosey began publishing their Repertory for Cornet and Piano, mainly consisting of operatic arias, costing three shillings each.[12] In 1847, Distin published a Selection of the most Favourite Swedish melodies as sung by Md. Jenny Lind for cornet à pistons, saxhorn or tuba with piano accompaniment. In addition, in 1852, Wessell published their Brass Band Journal which cost two shillings per arrangement and was aimed at smaller bands of modest ability and income. By at least 1859 brass band periodicals were mainly devoted to publishing arrangements of Italian opera.[13]

It should not be underestimated how much operatic arrangements standardised brass band musicianship. It was these arrangements that were spread by the periodicals that began to regulate the public repertoire of the bands, together with what was expected from the players in terms of technique and sound production. For example, Charles Godfrey arranged every contest piece for twenty years. Godfrey was a bandmaster with the Royal Horse Guards Regiment. His arrangements had a routine formula: tutti orchestral or choral sections from the opera, interspersed with melodic solo or ensemble sections arranged for the principal soloists, the whole ensemble section or solo dotted with operatic cadenzas. Little attention was paid to elements of structure or proportion, and as the style was familiar, some pieces, such as Rossini’s Moses in Egypt (1897, Belle Vue Contest) and Mehul’s Joseph and His Brothers (1914, Bell Vue Contest) were decidedly obscure.[14]

This taste for operatic selections choice was determined by the dominance of middle-class taste. It was culturally conservative music, catering to popular middle-class choices. This music was not insurgent but deferential to top-down influence. It did not revolt against the established order but relied upon it to grow. What this meant was that the brass band repertoire showed regard, respect and compliance with middle-class taste. What was lacking from the brass band repertoire in this period were many music hall songs, with the exception of minstrelsy tunes, and domestic songs were rarely heard, even though they were hugely popular and readily available.[15] The main difference for brass bands, however, was that these  operatic and classical arrangements were not the full pieces, just the most melodic or tutti selections, that best suited the sonority of brass instruments, hence working-class musicians were familiar with the most tuneful parts of the middle-class concert repertoire, but also, the arrangements created the language of instrumental technique common to all brass band players.

 Parklife, Garden Parties and Functions

Bury Brass Band, Permission, Gavin Holman,


Summer was when brass bands gained most public exposure. From May to the end of September local bands played in the public parks.[16] They played an eclectic mix of summer events: balls, flower shows, Grammar School and police sports days and charity events. Park concerts were the most regulated. The Public Park Movement started in the 1830s, developing from a desire to improve the health of the Victorian towns and cities’ populations. Parks became symbols of civic pride, providing locals with fresh air and attractive surroundings. Parks were places to encourage rational recreation and attractions included music, sports facilities and horticultural displays. Often the park was linked with a museum or art gallery.[17] Parks, together with the town hall, library, museum and art gallery, articulated a particular sense of identity and civic pride. Carole O’ Reilly recently argued that the purchase and development of Manchester’s Heaton Park –from 1902-1912 – by Manchester City Council, ‘marked the transition from the Victorian idea of parks as improving spaces for ‘rational recreation’ to the Edwardian idea that parks offered spaces for many diverse activities centred around active citizenship and social responsibility.[18]

Manchester Road Recreation Ground, Bury. Permission, Gavin Holman,


They were important places for the bands to play, resulting in a top down control from the Town Clerk’s Office, and, in the case of Manchester, the Parks’ Comitee. Bury, for example, had three ‘recreation grounds’, and Mr J. Haslam, the Town Clerk, held control over which bands played in them. Two of the most important things to Haslam and his committee were what programme the bands played and where the money made from the performances went. Park Concert programmes had a formal structure; the bands would play two programmes, one from 3 pm to 5 pm, and another from 7 pm until dusk.[19] The programmes usually had the same order. They started with a March then followed with an Overture. The overtures were usually Italian opera, including the ubiquitous William Tell, but Beethoven’s Egmont and Mozart’s Don Giovanni were also popular. There was then a number of waltz tunes. These were followed by lengthier arrangements of selections of the Master’s works, usually arranged for brass band by Edwin Swift, John Gladney or Alexander Owen, again Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner and Weber were popular. After these there would be a cornet or euphonium solo. Cornet polkas and Theme and Variations arrangements for euphonium were common. These pieces were followed by a selection of ‘show’ music – Gilbert and Sullivan gaining ascendancy from 1903, and ending with another March.[20] Standardisation was important to the Town Clerk’s office but it also gave the bands commonality of performance in a public arena.

 British Values Versus Reckless Modernism

This blog explores brass band repertoire that was played in Manchester’s public parks as an expression of tradition and patriotism during the first years of World War One. Just one year after the brass band movement had broken free from the standard repertoire of operatic selections and arrangements of the ‘great’ composers brass band music in parks developed to embrace the patriotism that joined with the ‘rush to the colours’ from 1914-1915. Arguably the bands reinforced the long nineteenth century’s repertoire to express feelings of national pride and traditionalism in a defence against German ‘Kultur’. As Gerard J. DeGroot argued, ‘because the British lived in sheltered valleys (or rather empires), they still naively believed that everlasting values like honour, duty, and patriotism mattered in a struggle between industrial nations.’[21] The war became a crusade and the British were inspired crusaders. This war was fought not to inspire change but to protect the values at the heart of Britain’s greatness. Germany, it was argued, promoted reckless – and mad- modernism which upset the peaceful world order.[22] Britain, in other words, felt a comfortable fondness towards all things old. Significantly this conservatism filtered down to the working class. In terms of brass band music this working-class traditionalism was expressed through the park concert. It was axiomatic that the public park was a piece of civic furniture that represented certainties found in Edwardian culture, not least in expressions of class.

On one hand Labour and Love represented a maturity, and long awaited musical independence for the brass band movement, but, on the other, it represented a departure from arrangements that were at the forefront of what many amateur musicians – and especially the editors of brass band periodicals  believed was a defence against the German accusation that England was Das Land Ohne Musik (The Land Without Music). Moreover, much of the music came to be based around patriotic themes: pieces that supported Britain’s view of itself in this war.

 Pre-War Musical Conflict in Britain: Das Land Ohne Musik

 In its August 1907 editorial the British Bandsman argued that the brass band contest had developed elements of education, musical performance and musical democracy that had ‘removed from us the stigma of being accredited an unmusical nation, and has stimulated unusual musical activity on every hand.’[23] To argue that the brass band movement was the overpowering element in creating a musical nation was an audacious statement. Nevertheless, this boldness was not without some justification.

The periodical’s defensive tone was understandable. European and particularly German reporting of England being Das Land Ohne Musik was something that British Victorian and Edwardian music lovers had worried about for decades. The roots of this reputation lay in the reports of the poet and satirist Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) when he travelled through England in 1827. In 1840, he told a French newspaper that, ‘these people [the English] have no ear, neither for the beat nor indeed for music in any form, and their unnatural passion for piano-playing and singing is all the more disgusting. There is […] nothing on earth so terrible as English musical composition, except English painting.’[24] This theme was expanded by the German organist and music scholar Carl Engel (1818-1882), a friend of Friedrich Engels. In 1866, Engel published a monograph called An Introduction to the Study of National Music (London, 1866), which was a loose survey of folk-song collections from around the world, scattered with his own observations. The English, he asserted, had developed their notable folk-songs by borrowing themes from other countries, the English were more likely to adopt a foreign tune as their own than the Germans. He wrote, ‘the rural population of England appear to sing less than those of most other European countries.’[25] He did concede that his information had been gathered from insignificant sources, and that towns a long way from the large urban centres must have preserved songs that had been passed down over the generations, he also noted that these melodies had not been collected by outsiders.[26] The notion that the country was unmusical became engrained in the musical consciousness of the English in 1904 when the German philosopher Oscar Adolf Hermann Schmitz published his treatise on English social problems called Das Land Ohne Musik (1904). For Schmitz the unmusicality of the English was a subtext for more perceived basic social deficiencies: their unimaginative personalities; their selfishness and their lack of empathy, which, he argued, made them such good imperialists.[27]

How was it that England had developed this dismal musical reputation? By the eighteenth century, London had become an international centre for credit, trade and commerce.[28] The capital attracted major composers and performers that Richard Taruskin argues had a crushing impact on domestic, and more pointedly, provincial talent.[29] In the eighteenth century there was Handel, whose Messiah became perhaps the defining performance piece of the amateur choral society in the nineteenth century, followed by Johann Christian Bach. In the nineteenth century there were other musical visitors including Weber and Mendelssohn. In this way, London became a centre for international talent and, as a result, it was not surprising that English composers felt their skills were ineffective against such international reputations. By the end of the nineteenth century the main composers influencing the English were Brahms, Dvořák, Liszt and Wagner. It has been argued that Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918) and Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) could not compete with non-English composers because their amateur status as gentlemen left them musically unadventurous. It was not until the emergence of Edward Elgar (1857-1934) that English music was perceived to halt its terminal decline.[30]

Therefore, when the British Bandsman argued that it was the brass band movement that had made the nation musical they were contemplating the mainly amateur musicianship of brass bands. This amateur music-making also existed in strength amongst choirs, wind and military bands and orchestras, together with more esoteric groups such as hand-bell ringers and accordion bands. Some commentators felt that it was provincial amateur musicians that helped construct musical reputations, and that they were the main defence the country had against these barbs of being unmusical. The Times argued, in 1885, that the bands and choirs that performed at the International Inventions Exhibition proved that, ‘as a nation, we were musically superior, at least in terms of amateur performances, to the French and Germans, in particular, the terrible visitation which the country of Beethoven sends to our shores in the shape of the typical German band.’[31] Pre-war hostility to Germany was being expressed in terms of the notion that the amateur was best.

The Manchester Parks’ Repertoire

Levenshulme Brass Band, early 20th Century. Permission, Gavin Holman,

In 1914 band concerts were popular entertainments, which were advertised in the local press.[32] It was typical to see band concerts advertised together with the offer of cheap railway tickets. On the 25 July, for example, Shaw Brass band were playing at Heaton Park and the train company offered a service every fourteen minutes and the tickets cost 5 ½ d.[33] In July, 1914, close to the outbreak of hostilities, concerts were held in the Prussia Street Recreation Ground (Irwell Old Prize Band);Lower Crumpsall Recreation Ground (C.W.S Tobacco Factory Band); Cheetham Park (5th Battalion Manchester Regiment Band);Prestwich Clough (Prestwich Brass Band);Hulme Hall Recreation Grounds(Miles Platting, Adamson Military Band);Chapel Street Recreation Grounds, Levenshulme(Levenshulme Brass Band) and Beech Road (Manchester Military Band). [34] The programmes played highlighted the musical tastes that had dominated the Victorian and Edwardian brass band era. Many of the operatic and ‘classical’ selections played would have been arranged by influential brass band arrangers and adjudicators such as John Gladney, Alexander Owen and Edwin Swift, often referred to as the Great Triumvirate of brass band arrangers. Prestwich Brass Band, for example played:

March – Sympathie – R. Smith

Selection –Nabucco– Verdi

Waltz –Will o the Wisp – Clements

Overture – Tancredi Rossini

Two-Step- Luxemberg Glide (sic) Pether

Selection – Reviews of London – Williams

Finale –Westward Ho – Firth[35]

Park Programmes Reinforcing Patriotic Feeling by Looking to the Past

In November 1914 the repertoire had changed and patriotic tunes were becoming prominent in the programmes. There often remained an operatic or classical selection, but these were being usurped by arranged selections of patriotic tunes.  These selections and marches looked to the past. In spite of worries about the strength and capability of the British Navy at the outbreak of hostilities recurring themes revolved around the greatness of the British Navy in ‘days of yore.’ In particular, references were made to the Elizabethan Navy, and later great battles and heroes, such as Nelson. Other themes included the notion of Britannia and Empire. Another theme drew out the ‘old soldier’. It was a theme that reflected on perhaps a mythical – or at least desirable – notion of comradeship and duty found amongst the common soldiers. What emerged, then, from 1914-1915, was a propaganda campaign where music supported nationalism and patriotism. Through musical performance, and other media, as David Welch has written, ‘all the belligerents were …compelled to recognize that they had to justify the righteousness of the war and, to this end, themes such as patriotism and nationalism played an important role.[36]

By the 1 November, 1914 one of the largest brass band music publishers, Wright and Round, were advertising collections of ‘Patriotic Marches’. One collection held the following:

  1. Newton. Britannia, Pride of the Ocean
  2. Barri. The Old Brigade
  3. Round. Our Fallen Heroes, including Rule Britannia and trio Conquering Hero
  4. Newton. God Bless the Prince of Wales
  5. Round. The Men of Harlech
  6. Linter. The Hero of Trafalgar
  7. Glover. The Empress of the Wave on the famous song, The Sea is England’s Glory
  8. Linton The Red, White and Blue
  9. Round. The Field of Glory including The British Grenadiers
  10. Rimmer. Patriotic Fantasia including Ye Mariners of England, Last Watch and The Death of Nelson.[37]

 In spite of concerns over the strength of the armed forces, in spite of losses starting to eat away at the membership of brass bands, and, in spite of some apathy amongst brass bands for fundraising  the music bands played reinforced a nostalgic, patriotic and nationalistic view of the past. This, after all, reflected the view that Britain was defending something that was more valid than modernism. From 1913 the repertoire of the brass band movement  was becoming independent and inventive, composers such as Elgar and Bliss would soon write for them. Yet, in the most public of arenas, brass band music reinforced older certainties of nation and Empire that were found in the long nineteenth century. If the park concerts in Manchester reflected the national mood, then tradition and patriotism mattered.

References and Notes:

[1] Jack L. Scott, The Evolution of the Brass Band and its Repertoire in Northern England (unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Sheffield, 1970), p. 267.

[2] Paul Hindmarsh,’Building a Repertoire: Original Compositions for the British Brass Band, 1913-1998’, in, Trevor Herbert (Ed.), The British Brass Band: A Musical and Social History (Oxford,2000), p. 248.

[3] Hindmarsh, ‘Building a Repertoire’, pp. 248-249.

[4] Outlook, Vol. 4. No.104 (27 January, 1900), p. 844.

[5] See, for example, editorials in the British Bandsman throughout 1911-1912.

[6] William George Galloway, Musical England (New York, 1910), p. 205.

[7] Scott, The Evolution of the Brass Band and its Repertoire in Northern England, p. 186.

[8] Newsome, The 19th Century Brass Band In Northern England, p. 27.

[9] Newsome, The 19th Century Brass Band In Northern England, p. 27.

[10] York Gazette (5 January, 1833), cited in, Scott, p. 187.

[11] York Chronicle (24 January, 1833), cited in, Scott, p. 187.

[12] Trevor Herbert, ‘Making A Movement’, The British Brass Band: A Musical and Social History (Oxford, 2000) pp. 54-55.

[13] Herbert, ‘Making A Movement’, p. 55.

[14] Paul Hindmarsh, ’Building a Repertoire: Original Compositions for the British Brass Band, 1913-1998’ in, Herbert, (Ed.), The British Brass Band, pp. 246-247.

[15] Herbert, ‘Making A Movement, pp. 55-56.

[16] See the Music in Greenhead Park Concert Programmes (1903 -1920), Huddersfield Local Studies Library.

[17] Harriet Jordan, ‘Public Parks, 1885-1914’, Garden History, 22/1 (Summer, 1994), p. 1.

[18] Carole O’ Reilly, ‘From ‘the People’ to ‘the Citizen’: Municipal Leisure in Manchester’s Urban Parks’, European Association for Urban History conference, University of Ghent, 2010

[19] Music in Greenhead Park Concert Programmes (1903 -1922).

[20] Music in Greenhead Park Concert Programmes, also see, Bury Archive Service, Correspondence re Bury Recreation Grounds, ref, ABU2/3/7/1 (1895 -1905).

[21] Gerard J. DeGroot, Blighty:British Society in the Era of the Great War (Harlow, 1996), p. 9.

[22] See DeGroot, pp. 9-11.

[23] British Bandsman, XX / 283 (3 August, 1907), p. 301.

[24] Pariser Berichte (29 July, 1840), cited in, Richard Taruskin, ‘The Symphony Goes (Inter)National’, The Oxford History of Western Music (Online Edition) <> accessed, 15 May, 2012.

[25] Carl Engel, An Introduction to the Study of National Music, Comprising Researches into Popular Songs, Traditions and Customs (London, 1866), p. 176.

[26] Engel, An Introduction to the Study of National Music, p. 176.

[27] Oscar A. H. Schmitz, Das Land Ohne Musik:: Englische Gesellschaftprobleme (Munich 1904, this edition 1914) p. 30, cited in, Richard Taruskin, ‘The Symphony Goes (Inter)National’.

[28] See, for example, Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837 (New Haven: London), pp. 56-70.

[29] Taruskin, ‘The Symphony Goes (Inter)National’.

[30] Taruskin, ‘The Symphony Goes (Inter)National’.

[31] The Times (17 February 1885). The ‘German Band’ was a nineteenth-century term that described a group of buskers, whose ensemble was largely a mixture of brass and woodwind instruments, that played in the streets of most large cities, but were most noticeable in London. The antipathy that The Times expressed was part of a larger dislike of street music throughout the capital. In London Labour and the London Poor (1861) Henry Mayhew noticed that the German Band was made up of German brass players, but, importantly, he estimated that there were upward of one-thousand street musicians of many nationalities plying their trade in the capital, including English violin-players, French hurdy-gurdy players, Italian street entertainers and many English percussionists and minstrels-singers, as well as musicians from India and the United States. The German Band came to represent, for many commentators, a larger problem with the seemingly constant cacophony of noise that was street music. Writing in 1898, The Minim: A Musical Magazine for Everybody, summed up the situation of street music thus, ‘unknown to the medical faculty […] there are at the present time two contagious “diseases” rampant of the most virulent type. I may describe them respectively as The Bazaar Fever and the Barrel Organ and German Band Mania.’ [Source The Minim: A Musical Magazine for Everybody, 5/52 (January 1898), p. 97.

[32] The reader will note a mix of brass and military style bands. This reflected a wide range of amateur music-making in the Manchester region, together with the popularity of regimental bands from the regular forces.

[33] Manchester Evening News (25 July, 1914)

[34] Manchester Evening News (29 July, 1914)

[35] Manchester Evening News (29 July, 1914)

[36] .David Welch, Patriotism and Nationalism’ <accessed 30.06.2016>

[37] Brass Band News(1 November, 1914), p.3.


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