The First in a New Series of Famous Bands of the World
Presented by MilitaryMusic.com
Contributed by Jack Kopstein
Republican Guard band
With over one and a half centuries of experience behind it, the Republican Guard Wind Orchestra is one of the figureheads of French cultural heritage.
On the 4th of August 1855, Jean-Georges Paulus was appointed at the head of the "Paris Guard Band.” On the 12th of March 1856, the decree making the orchestra official was signed by Napoleon III
The Conservatoire National de Paris and the Musical Gymnasium trained up new musicians taken from the populace and Adolph.Sax provided new wind instruments for the military bands.
Paulus, as orchestrator, adapted symphonic works for his new wind orchestra. This group rapidly made a reputation for itself, and on the 21st of July 1867, the Republican Guard Band carried off its first success at the international military band competition at the Grand Palais in Paris, playing the opening of Oberon
and extracts from Lohengrin
On the 18th of September 1870, the Paris Guard became the Republican Guard. The “Republican Guard Band” was immediately raised to the status of a veritable cultural ambassador for the French Republic.
Wherever they went, from the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1871 to the Peace Jubilee in Boston in 1872, Paulus and his “soldier artists” were a resounding success, firing public enthusiasm and making all the headlines, including A 70-day tour across the United States with 25 concerts between the 6th of June and the 14th of August 1874.
"…At one point catastrophe threatened as the hall (the Pittsburgh Opera house), which was of very light construction, started to crack under the weight of the audience. Nothing disastrous happened though, and the theatre held firm, despite creaking out its complaints. Even the noise of the thunderous applause did not cause it to collapse.”
Report of the concert held on the 24th of July 1872
The status of the musicians from the Republican Guard was rather different. At that time, military bands recruited “simple soldiers” to swell their ranks but the State offered the musicians from the Republican Guard a more attractive career as an NCO, thus attracting the musical elite of the time such as Henri Paradis (solo clarinet) or Léon Fontbonne (solo flute).
A. Sellenick was the first composer-conductor at the head of the Republican Guard Band. He was the very prolific author of lyrical works and light music, some of which was specially written for the band. The care taken in recruiting the musicians and in the musical and professional qualities of the conductors reflects the artistic ambition of our band.
“The soldier venerates his standard but he loves his music. He is proud of it, fusses over it and is indulgent towards it because it moves him, encourages him, consoles him, reminds him of his native country and inspires him with patriotism.” “La semaine musical” from Lille, 9th April 1882.
became the French national anthem in 1879, but its final version, tune and orchestration arranged by G. Wettge and A. Sellenick for military bands was not official until 1887. At this period, each concert given by the Republican Guard Band opened with the national anthem, putting the national values and Republican ideal to music.
Thousands of musical societies organised the cultural life of the country at the end of the 19th century, relaying or succeeding the popular choral movement. For thousands of amateur musicians, the Republican Guard Band represented an inaccessible dream of artistic and social success. This “model” of the popular orchestra, exported by the band when it journeyed abroad, helped to spread the international reputation of French culture.
• 1893 Gabriel Parès
• 1911 Guillaume Balay
• 1927 Pierre Dupont
1893 Gabriel Parès
“I was twelve when I suddenly fell head over heels in love with music (....) The Republican Guard Band, playing in the gardens of the Palais-Royal, opened my eyes for me. The orchestra was playing Lucie de Lamermoor. (…) Something inside me broke free and just one week later I bought a cornet mouthpiece with my meagre supplies of pocket money…”
Louis Ganne, author of “les Saltimbanques” and the famous Lorraine March
The “Belle Epoque” was to be a period of resounding success for our orchestra. The presence of the Republican Guard brought the prestige of the Republic into popular events: concerts in parks and bandstands, inaugurations, festivals, etc. and 72,000 spectators at the exhibition in Tourcoing in 1906! The cornet reigned over the light music of the period and cornet players had “star” status.
G. Pares, author of a treaty on “instrumentation and orchestration” enriched the repertoire of the orchestra still further, and the Band brought the works of “wise” composers to a huge variety of audiences, spreading and democratising the wide repertoire which held an important place in concert programmes.
It was also under the baton of G. Parès that the first recordings of the Republican Guard Band were made under contract to the Pathé firm. Several thousand titles were soon available.
The Republican Guard Band accompanied many diplomatic missions, which were becoming more and more urgent as the First World War loomed on the horizon.
1899, St Petersbourg: invited by the Tzar / 1902, Turin: international exhibition / 1904: Saint-Louis exhibition (USA), 41 concerts including Montreal and New York / 1906: 22 concerts at Covent Garden: Entente Cordiale / 1907: Valence ...
“It would be an error to think that all orchestras must be organised according to a system based on the predominance of stringed instruments. Extremely good results can be obtained with the opposite balance of instruments.” Hector Berlioz, Treatsie on orchestration.
The Republican Guard Band accompanied the patriotic fervour in the aftermath of the victory of the Allies, just as it had after the First World War. A new type of popular music had crossed the Atlantic and the Republican Guard Band had to win back its place in a new cultural environment.
In 1948, F.J. Brun was appointed to direct an orchestra of 40 strings which was created in addition to the 80 wind players in the Band. The idea of joining the two groups into one immense wind and string symphony orchestra was born in the Champs Elysée theatre on the 26th and 28th of April, 1948 for the orchestra’s centenary.
Adaptations written for this new orchestral group were added to the repertoire.
Unfortunately, the symphony orchestra did not inspire the composers of the period and in spite of a certain amount of success and trips which led it as far afield as the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, this orchestra was to remain a musical curiosity with no future.
1953 was to go down in history as the great tour of the century, organised by the Columbia Artiste Management. It covered 38,000kms across the United States over three months, 80 concerts and 178,000 spectators...
In 1961, Japan discovered this “French-style” wind orchestra and its repertoire for the first time.
1973 Roger Boutry
“When the Republican Guard Band came to Japan for the first time, we were far from imagining that its presence would put symphony orchestras into the shade. (…) Moreover, whatever the genre of the pieces they played, the sound and expression of the soloists had a particular charm and their ability to create an overall harmony and subtle balance evoked a true ideal for the genre.” Band Journal, Japan 1984.
The activity of the Republican Guard Band was now fully concert-orientated and no longer took part in military ceremonies.
R. Boutry, a talented composer and arranger, adapted the orchestra’s repertoire for the public of his time. His original compositions for wind groups gave the band a new flavour, sometimes inspired by contemporary composers and sometimes by American musicians and jazz.
The organisation of the orchestra on the stage was inspired by the symphony orchestra: the desks of the violins, violas, cellos and double basses were taken over by the clarinets, saxophones and euphoniums and the woodwind and brass soloists placed behind the tutti.
A succession of trips to Japan was embarked on in 1984 and continued in 1987, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2007. There are many wind orchestras in Japan and a public of true connoisseurs rushed to see the Republican Guard Band in concert during its trips.
The Republican Guard Band became the Republican Guard Wind Orchestra in 1993, thus confirming its artistic and cultural vocation.
1997 François Boulanger
F. Boulanger obtained the creation of an administrator's post for the orchestra, to be in charge of communication in order to satisfy the requirements of an orchestra seeking to uphold its reputation on the national and international stage.
Japan, Korea, China, Russia and Kazakhstan are the latest places to be visited by the Republican Guard, still enthusiastically sharing with its public a musical heritage which has been shaped by generations of musicians of whom we are the heirs and guarantors.
We would like to recommend the very well-researched book by Sylive Hue entitled "150 ans de Musique à la Garde Républicaine” (150 years of Music in the Republican Guard) for a full history of the orchestra.
For more information on this incredible and interesting band, check out this website: