Public Military Music and the Promotion of Patriotism in the British Provinces, c. 1780-c. 1850

Herbert, Trevor (2020). Public Military Music and the Promotion of Patriotism in the British Provinces, c. 1780-c. 1850. Nineteenth-Century Music Review, 17(3) pp. 427–444.



The role and importance of military musicians changed and intensified in the late eighteenth century through two important processes. The first was the culture of display that took root in both the home-based army and units in the colonies. The second was the result of successive militia acts which effectively ensured that military units with bands would be systematically placed in every corner of the British Isles.

It became evident that music as a component of military display served an important diplomatic purpose. Music performed in public spaces was heard by a population deeply sceptical of the army and with an essentially local sense of identity. The experience of the sight and sound of military music raised entirely new perceptions of nation and of the state as a benign power.

Two important and related themes emerge here. The first is the historical process that led, almost accidentally, to a realization that music as part of military display had potential to influence populations across the country and in the colonies. The second, more challenging, theme concerns the nature of the evidence for this idea and how it is to be treated. It is an idea that is totally convincing if the experience of hearing and seeing military spectacle by the mass of the people can be shown to have had impact. What is the evidence of listening to music by those people at whom it was targeted, how robust is it and what can be made of it?

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