Band Music from the Civil War Era

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Set of over-the-shoulder saxhorns from the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, Division of Musical Instruments.

From left to right: E-flat soprano saxhorn, B-flat contralto saxhorn, E-flat tenor horn, B-flat bass (baritone), and E-flat bass (tuba).
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The cornets and saxhorns made up the all-brass bands of the 1850s and remained a popular, though decreasingly prominent, feature of American wind bands hrough the nineteenth century. The leading E-flat soprano part usually demanded extraordinary virtuosity, and the prominent role played by the E-flat cornet or soprano saxhorn-Flügelhorn-type instruments is characteristic of early American brass band music. At the same time, the uniquely homogeneous and mellow sound created by the whole family of horns ranging from soprano to bass is the outstanding quality of these instruments.

All the instruments illustrated here bear the name "J. Howard Foote" but may have been manufactured by John Stratton. Foote and Stratton were partners for two years (1864-65), and Foote appears to have been a dealer rather than a maker.

Stratton was an entrepreneur of first rank. He himself claimed to have developed the first plant for the mass production of brass instruments, and at a most propitious time. Just before the Civil War, he recognized the market for band instruments that could be delivered immediately and were not made to order. The war and the great number of instruments required by the Union Army made him and his New York factory a great success.

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Band Music from the Civil War Era