Early printing of Hail Columbia, with a portrait of President John Adams
“Hail Columbia” is not a well-known song today, but it has a prominent place in American history. It became a hit immediately after its first performance and remained popular for more than a century.
Of all patriotic songs before the Civil War, only “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America” rivaled “Hail Columbia” in popularity. The former uses the old English drinking song “Anacreon in Heaven” and the latter the English national anthem “God Save the King.”
Oscar Sonneck, who examined these and many of the patriotic songs that never caught on with the public, noted, “”’Hail Columbia’ holds a position quite unique in the history of our national songs for both the words and the music were written in America.”
The word “Columbia” obviously comes from the name Christopher Columbus. The District of Columbia and Columbia University share the name. Columbia is a lady, by the way. Continue reading →
A poster by C. Burckardt advertising for a circus, ca. 1880
By about 1750, the trombone had nearly disappeared. Many musical centers in the Holy Roman Empire continued to use it. Otherwise, it was found only in isolated cities in Germany and Italy. By 1850, trombones could be found all over the world, including places that had never used it before. What happened?
As for Germany, the town band in Leipzig, known as Stadtpfeifer, attracted the earliest scholarly attention. It comprised a group of trombone and cornett players. Its proud history dated back to the 15th century. By the beginning of the 18th century, such bands were so old-fashioned that all German courts and most German cities started to replace them with newer ensembles. Not Leipzig.
Leipzig did not update the makeup or function of its band, either. As director of music at the Thomaskirche, J.S. Bach supervised it. He used trombones in just over a dozen pieces. By that time the band didn’t play well. Its instruments were in poor condition. The trombone’s persistence in Leipzig and a few other towns, then, had almost no role in its eventual revival.
The Moravian community of Herrnhut, on the other hand, developed a new style of trombone playing. Moravian missionaries took their trombones all over the world. Less well known, the trombone not only persisted in a few Italian cities, but Italian composers discovered new ways to use it. When the trombone came back into international prominence, it was almost like a new instrument. Continue reading →
c. 1562-68—Germany: An embroidered tablecloth depicts an aristocratic woman playing trombone
Both big band and bebop jazz have made great use of the trombone as a solo instrument. Otherwise, the trombone has a handful of concertos, a few solos in orchestral music, somewhat more in wind band and brass band literature, and hundreds of pieces for music majors and college professors to play on poorly-attended trombone recitals.
Those recitals often include music from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Even so, we have to expand the definition of “solo” to include ensemble pieces with sections that feature the trombone. As it turns out, those pieces represent two short-lived traditions of limited geographic scope.
It didn’t help anything that generations of aristocrats liked play lute or keyboard instruments that allowed them to show off their musical skills without help from any underlings. Trombones and other wind instruments require accompaniment to play solos. And the aristocrats thought playing them made the player’s face ugly!
But where did those early pieces that feature trombone come from? And what happened to those traditions? Continue reading →