IV. Music, the Military and Festivals: The Importance of the Band in Banal Nationalism
Because institutions play a large role in the development of a national identity, much of the social-science research on institutions has focused on the role of the military and its ability to unite a nation in times of war, the state’s ability to mobilize the energies of its soldiers, and the connection between nationalism and war (Posen, 1993; Stern, 1995; Evera, 1994). Research has considered the standard operating procedures of the institution (SOPs) – both the obvious and more subtle – and how the military is viewed by the people of the state. When considering the role of the military band, most researchers look to the traditional role of the band to announce the army’s presence on the battlefield and music’s ability to help soldiers “ward of fatigue, inspire[e] heroism, mak[e] their enemies tremble, and ultimately decide[e] the outcomes of battle” (Kastner, 1855:45, 47), as seen in case of the French National Anthem Marseillaise. Logically, the primary focus of the research centers on how the military band interplays with specific military functions; but, this narrow review fails to consider how the band affects other social aspects such as state sponsored festivals, funerals and celebrations.
As Billig argues, banal nationalism plays an essential role in the development of a national identity. Banal nationalism is the flag hanging from the bakery, the politicians “God bless the (fill in the nation)” in his inaugural speech, and the national anthem played at sporting events. This form of nationalism plays an essential role in the minds of citizens giving them “pleasure-saturated reminders” of the possibility to serve (Billig, 1995:175). This form of nationalism was crucial to the French military throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century, in times of piece and war. Yet, as Hobsbawm argues, tradition is invented, the practice and rituals of the military all were invented to create certain values and norms of behavior through a justification of the past (Hobsbawm, 2003). Just as these norms were crucial for the solider, the same traditions (and many different ones for the musician) were instilled in the bandsman as well.
A nation’s military success or failure is a critical element in the examination of a nation’s nationalism. For
, the military was committed
to the battlefield quasi-continuously throughout the nineteenth century. France France
had fought in the Franco-Prussian War, had multiple revolutions, and was
continually at war with Europe under
Napoleon. This made the military and its
band an essential institution in the minds of the French. Wielding a French horn became inseparable
from wielding a mitrailleuse. The band
grew to symbolize national strength, grandeur and glory. Gradually the German musicians that first
populated the military band were replaced with musicians “locally trained” at
the Conservatoire (J.B., 1890). This
step removed the perceived foreign dross from an institution that needed to be
seen as distinctively French in nature.
At the same time these musicians were becoming uniquely French, the
state began to use the band in less militaristic roles such as funerals,
festivals and celebrations. By expanding
the exposure of the band to the civilian populace the state gained audience for
a state sponsored message.
In times of peace, the military band was used by the state to encourage its people and to infuse citizens with pride in the nation which was best accomplished through the use of festivals. Attendance of these festivals could often be vast with as many as 300,000 representatives from eighty-three departments present at any one festival (Pasler, 2009:109-10). No matter the purpose of the festival, music was always the focal point of ceremonies. Music would structure the procession and once the procession ceased, the people would join in singing as a form of ratifying “the ideal of the common will in harmony with the will of the organizers” (Pasler, 2009:110-11). Music created an imagined community through the act of participation giving the people a way in which they could identify with current events.
The military band through festivals created a three-prong legacy. First, the band made the populace aware of its presence and identity through participation in song. Much like
’s argument that newspapers allowed
citizens to imagine every other citizen doing the same thing at the same time,
musical pieces at festivals allowed citizens to participate in the same
activity at the same time thereby contributing to a unified national
mindset. Second, the band legitimized
the government at festivals. Each
festival allowed for the government to use its bands, the musicians from the
Conservatoire, and often stars of the Opéra.
The state was able to commission works and composers which focused on
its success. Finally, the music involved
at the festival was seen as useful to the state to create an emotive feeling
toward the nation and durable because the pieces would be played long after the
festival had ended (Pasler, 2009:232-3).
The state would often commission composers to create works to be played outdoors
for the nation to hear – this began a transition in music toward bugles and
drums because of their ability to carry sound. Anderson
The state used the emotive power of the military band to unify the citizenry under one flag (Pasler, 2009). As with any well planned battle strategy, the state would seek out composers sharing the same views as the state and commission those composers to create centerpiece compositions selling the position of the government. For the state the primary focus of these pieces was the political ideology. For the composer it was expression of the art. One of
’s most highly admired
composers to be used by the state was Hector Berlioz. Berlioz (composer, critic, and teacher) once
wrote in an essay entitled On limitation
in Music that “it was never his intention to paint pictures or tell stories
in music, but rather to explore emotions” (Langford, 2000:54). Additionally, due to his critiques of other
composers who did not follow the French model the state wanted to use his work
(Langford, 2000). The state understood this emotive connection and utilized it
to its fullest. France
Festivals were particularly important to the French government because they created a sense of community; the state saw the band as fulfilling a ceremonial purpose of creating unity (Langford, 2000:65). One of the most important festivals was the one held in remembrance of the three-day revolution of July 1830. The Minister of Interior, Charles de Rémusat commissioned Berlioz to provide music for the procession and conclusion of the festival at which the remains of the victims of the revolution were exhumed and transported for reburial beneath the monument at the Place de le Bastille. Berlioz found inspiration for the works in patriotic music written for outdoor celebrations during the Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire (Langford, 2000:66). Berlioz wrote a seven movement symphony for the occasion entitled Grande Symphonie funèbre et triomphale. Critics, audiences, and Berlioz’s usual detractors all thought this was the best piece he had ever composed, though musicologists believe this was due to the work’s “basis of immediate accessibility and overall simplicity of style – all hallmarks of traditional French patriotic music” (Langford, 2000:66). The state was able to use music and the military band to capitalize on the patriotism of the French people thereby increasing state prestige in the minds of the citizenry.
Musicologists have shown the military band also played a role in the construction and maintenance of French identity throughout the French colonies. Music performed by the bands in new theatres especially helped the Algerians to assimilate into the French culture (Pasler, 2009:401). In the Algerian colony, the band provided entertainment through French music, but also used the Moorish sounds to blend the two cultures and aid in assimilation. A clear example is Saint-Saëns’s Rhapsodie mauresque, set in a Moorish café amid dancing while still suggesting the French military presence in
through the traditional French use of horns and drums. The opening prelude, as well as the closing,
used the bugle horn; the second piece used a pompous and lively French military
march. The structure of the piece was
designed to deliver the French message while highlighting the colonial
musicology by blending the two concepts the state and its political song in a
musical language understood by its colonists.
The military band aided in the construction of the French imagined
community by strengthening the notion of “French-ness” in the minds of the
colonists as well as at home. The use of
the band at national festivals and celebrations allowed the state to have a
strong presence in the minds of the people.
Although these observations of the military band are useful in the examination of music and French nationalism, the examination falls short in a number of areas. Once again, musicologists largely limit their research to
with only a passing consideration of
outlying areas such as the colonies. This
is an addictive trail to follow as the band was supplied by the Conservatoire
and most large festivals were held in Paris . Because the examination is so limited it does
call into question musicologists’ claims that the band was a national
tool. Additionally, this approach does
not focus on the way the military was used in general in conjunction with the
band (Buruma, 2004; Anderson, 2006; Hobswbawm, 1968, 1990). Again, a thorough investigation of
institutions is missing from this narrative.
Social scientists have shown that the military itself is an institution
that is used to create uniformity and emotive connections to the state and its
members (Anderson, 2006; Stern, 1995) through such SOPs as chanting war songs
and military drills that create brotherhood on the field - most of which the
citizen does not see. The musicologist’s
approach does not show how music fulfills this role within the military
institution itself, nor within the state of Paris . France
Moreover, this approach does not consider how the military was viewed in general.
constant turnover in nineteenth century going through numerous republics,
monarchs, empires, and revolutions – all violent. The state always used military backing in
hopes of keeping their place of power.
Therefore, depending on which side of the battle one was on, the view of
the military could be drastically affected.
If one did not support the state, they very well may not have supported
the military and may have seen the band as only an extension of the institution
they did not support. This has been seen
in the many revolutions during the nineteenth century, the desertions of the
Napoleonic army that continuously plagued the French state. With such instances as the peasant
self-mutilation of the first two fingers to prevent being able to fight (Cobb,
1970:96-7) to flight and desertion (Scott, 1985:30-40) it is not such a far
stretch of the imagination to think the view of the state influences the view
of the military and its band. France
Additionally, the view of the peasantry toward the military has not been considered in the musicologists’ approach. Many peasants saw the military as a way to provide for themselves and to climb the social ladder, not as a unifying institution (Scott, 1976; Weber, 1976). Peasants could have fallen on one side of the state politically and joined the military only for its ability to provide, creating a conflict within the citizen for which the band could not provide an antidote. The use of the band in overcoming these views is not considered, and therefore, musicologists fall short once again.
The military as an institution plays a role in the development and continuation of the nation. Musicologists have shown that music used by the band in the military, especially at festivals, plays an important role in the development of the nation (both within the band and in the public that hears its music). However, their focus centrally on
and lack of indepth understanding of SOP’s makes their contribution to
nationalism limited at best. However,
the exclusion of music within the military band by social scientists limits
their understanding of the role of the military in nation formation, creation,
and why people would go to war to die for their nation (as recent research
tries to answer). It is only by uniting these
disciplines that the role of the military in nation formation can truly be