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Category Archives: Comedy and Tragedy Concert

The composer known conventionally as Franz von Suppe (1819-1895) was born to an Italian-Belgian father and a Viennese mother  in Croatia, which was then part of the Kingdom of Dalmatia in the Austro-Hungarian empire.  His full name befits his convoluted nationality: his parents named him Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppé Demelli.  His early musical training was in flute and singing.  His parents pushed him to study law, but he continued his musical studies nonetheless.  He eventually moved to Vienna to complete his studies and find work conducting in opera houses.  He went on to compose over 100 works for the stage.

Light Cavalry is a two act operetta written in 1866.  The story revolves around a troop of cavalry men who attempt to unite a young couple through many twists and turns.  The overture has taken on a life of its own, much beyond operetta that spawned it.  It is core repertoire for orchestras and bands everywhere.

Franz von Suppe on wikipedia,, and

There are all sorts of materials out there on Light Cavalry: a very thin Wikipedia article, program notes from the Amarillo Symphony, more from the Corpus Christi Symphony, a well-written walkthrough of sorts of the piece, and a collection of public domain scores of the piece.

Here’s the overture played by the Indiana University Summer Music Clinic Cream Band conducted by Stephen Pratt:

and now the original orchestral version, conducted by the legendary Herbert von Karajan:

Here’s another great arrangement for horn ensemble:

My first exposure to Light Cavalry came via this amazing Disney cartoon.  Watch all the way to the end for something truly unique.  Warning – you may wince in the meantime!

CFW 2013 band directors: click here for free, printable parts for the massed band.

Washington, D.C. native and legendary bandmaster John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) wrote a dozen operettas, six full-length operas, and over 100 marches, earning the title “March King”.  He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at an early age and went on to become the conductor of the President’s Own Marine Band at age 26.  In 1892 he formed “Sousa and his Band”, which toured the United States and the world under his directorship for the next forty years to great acclaim.  Not only was Sousa’s band hugely popular, but it also exposed audiences all over the world to the latest, cutting-edge music, bringing excerpts of Wagner’s Parsifal to New York a decade before the Metropolitan Opera staged it, and introducing ragtime to Europe, helping to spark many a composer’s interest in American music.

Sousa originally wrote Liberty Bell in 1893.  It features the chimes, perhaps in homage to the famous American landmark after which it is named.  The march is now most famous for its use as the theme song to Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

The march as used in the opening of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the 1970s British comedy show:

Now here it is in full played by the US Marine Band, complete with a short explanation of the piece by their conductor:

As played by the Rutgers Euphonium Choir:

Program notes on the march from the Concord (MA) Band.

A wealth of information on the Liberty Bell itself, famous crack and all.

Sousa shrine – including biography, complete works, and much more – at the Dallas Wind Symphony website.

French composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) is a unique figure in music history.  He never mastered one single instrument, dabbling in the guitar and flute early in his life.  He initially studied medicine before leaving school to become a composer.  His most famous work is among his earliest: the Symphonie Fantastique.  He developed a great love for Shakespeare, basing several of his composition on the bard’s work.  He was prone to fits of passion and obsession in both his life and his music.  As a young man he fell madly in love with Harriet Smithson, an actress whom he saw play Ophelia in Hamlet.  He pursued her for years and finally convinced her to marry him, only to have the marriage fall apart in short order.  He wrote his music on a grand scale: his Requiem, for example, was scored for: 20 woodwinds; a brass section of 12 horns, 4 cornets and tubas, and 4 additional antiphonal brass choirs of 38 musicians total; 26 percussionists on 16 timpani, 10 cymbals and more; more than 100 strings; a choir of at least 210 voices, plus a tenor soloist.  That’s over 400 musicians in total.  His experience with such immense musical forces lent him great expertise in instrumentation and orchestration, and led him to write a treatise on the subject.  He was prolific as a writer and critic throughout his life, often supporting his family on his writer’s income between compositions.

The “March to the Scaffold” is the fourth of five movements in the Symphonie Fantastique.  The symphony as a whole tells the story, in music, of a troubled young artist and his quest for his true love.  The true love is represented musically by a melody known as the idee fixe (fixed idea).  This melody appears in every movement of the symphony.  The first movement introduces the idee fixe and chronicles the beginnings of the young artist’s quest.  The second is a waltz, moving the action to a fabulous-sounding ball.  The third moves to an imagined countryside where a storm is brewing, reminiscent of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.  The fourth movement takes on a nightmarish character: having taken opium, the young artist dreams that he has killed his true love and is about to be executed for his crime.  This movement thus depicts the artist’s forced march to the scaffold.  The idee fixe appears only once, as a sudden remeniscence just before the guillotine strikes the young man’s head right off and the movement comes to a perversely joyous conclusion.  The symphony’s final movement imagines the young artist, still in his opium dream, transported to hell.  Here he sees his true love, now grotesque and distorted in comically demonic fashion.  The creatures of hell amass around the artist, gleefully celebrating his demise.

Berlioz wrote his own program to the piece, which he provided for audience members to read as they listened.  Two versions of it are reprinted here.  I prefer the first.

There is one go-to site on Berlioz: The Hector Berlioz Website. Go here for literally everything you could possibly want to know about him, including a detailed biography, descriptions of every work, and also downloadable scores of several of his works.

Symphonie Fantastique has many varied descriptions and tributes on the web:



An AOL member. Includes a manuscript of the idee fixe.

A British rock musician. He modernizes the program and discusses why Berlioz is still relevant.

This just scratches the surface.  Google it for even more!

The band version of “March to the Scaffold”:

Finally, “March to the Scaffold” performed by Leonard Bernstein and the Orchestre National de France:

Educated at the University of Michigan, composer Frank Ticheli (b. 1958) has become one of the biggest names in new wind band repertoire.  Since 1991 he has been a Professor of Composition USC-Thornton and, until 1998, Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony.  The recipient of many awards, he was most recently winner of the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2.

Ticheli’s own program note best describes his intent in writing Vesuvius:

Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that destroyed Pompeii in A.D. 79, is an icon of power and energy in this work.  Originally I had in mind a wild and passionate dance such as might have been performed at an ancient Roman Bacchanalia.  During the compositional process, I began to envision something more explosive and fiery.  With its driving rhythms, exotic modes, and quotations from the Dies Irae from the medieval Requiem Mass, it became evident that the Bacchanalia I was writing could represent a dance from the final days of the doomed city of Pompeii.

More info on Ticheli’s Vesuvius can be found here, at his publisher’s website.  This site is also home to a complete, downloadable set of mp3s of the vast majority of his large ensemble music – quite a find!

Frank Ticheli’s personal website,

Ticheli bio on wikipedia.

Frank Ticheli’s Facebook fanclub.

A video interview with Ticheli in which he talks about composing.

An anonymous band plays Vesuvius:

Want to know more about Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius?  Check it out on wikipedia.