What is Harmoniemusik?
At eleven o'clock at night I was treated to a serenade performed by two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons - and that of my own composition... These musicians asked that the street door might be opened, and, placing themselves in the centre of the courtyard, surprised me, just as I was about to undress, in the most pleasant fashion imaginable with the first chord in E-flat!
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, letter to Leopold Mozart, 3 November 1781
Mozart’s comment in this 1781 letter to his father are indicative of the popularity of the harmonie in the late 18th century. The term harmonie denotes an ensemble of between five and fifteen players, usually pairs of oboes and/or clarinets, horns and bassoons. On some occasions, the harmonie could be supplemented by flutes, basset horns and other large and small clarinets, trumpets, trombone, double bass, contrabassoon, serpent, or even violas!
During the period 1780-1830 for fashionable or economic reasons many wealthy patrons and nobles in German-speaking lands who had previously employed small orchestras adopted the harmonie, and these bands provided music at dinner, evening serenades and even morning-music to wake especially favoured guests.
At the same time several thousands of revolutionary and military bands in France and much of the rest of Europe created a huge demand for music, and as well as their martial functions these groups would also play for religious services, and for places of entertainment, such as pleasure gardens and spas.
This led to the creation of some 12,000 different works, many existing only in manuscript, by master composers (Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn), kappelmeisters (Krommer, Druschetzky), band masters (Triebensee), arrangers (Sedlak) and even royalty, including princesses, countesses, a king and an archbishop. Arrangements of opera, ballet, orchestral works, or other forms of chamber music form a significant part of the repertoire.
Whilst the best-known repertoire for harmonie is for the 9-piece ensemble that became standard in Austria following the formation of the Imperial Harmonie in the 1780s, the majority of works are for the more intimate sextet of clarinets, horns and bassoons, the model that Boxwood and Brass follows.