Instruments | Wind Bands | Classical Era | Classical
The classical period saw the rise of the ‘Harmonie’, a small wind band of up to a dozen instruments. Usually this consisted of a mixture of brass and reeds, such as horns, clarinets, oboes and bassoons: Beethoven’s octet op. 103 (1792) is written for two of each of these (the 1796 op. 71 sextet leaves out the oboes). Mozart wrote two octet serenades, but his K361/ 370a requires 12 winds plus a double bass. However, there were no fixed rules; when, at the end of the classical age, Felix Mendelssohn (1809–47) wrote an overture for Harmonie, op. 24 (1824), it was for no fewer than 23 winds plus percussion.
Because of their carrying power, wind ensembles are able to play successfully out of doors or in a noisy environment, something which has helped the development of military bands (there are no traditions of military string quartets). The Harmonie thus specialized in easy listening, such as pleasant background music during dinner: an example of this practice comes during the supper scene in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Mozart opera provides another nice example of the wind band at work, in Così fan tutte, where a serenade is performed in the garden scene as a seduction is being prepared.
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