Claudio Grafulla April 17 2013, 3 Comments

Compiled By: Jack Kopstein

20th century March composers all owe a debt of gratitude to Claudio Grafulla, whose outstanding composing, arranging and directing helped to bring bands into the modern era. He not only transformed "quicksteps" into modern marches, but also was one of the first to include woodwinds in brass bands.

Claudio S. Grafulla (1810–1880) was a composer in the United States during the 19th Century, most noted for martial music for regimental bands during the early days of the American Civil War. Claudio Grafulla was born in 1810 on Minorca, an island off the coast of Spain that was occupied by the British after the Napoleonic wars. At the age of 28, he immigrated to the United States, where he became a French horn player in Napier Lothian's New York Brass Band in New York City. This band was attached to the 7th Regiment of the New York National Guard, which was honored in 1922 by John Philip Sousa's "The Gallant Seventh" march. In 1860, he added woodwinds to a reorganized band and continued to serve as its director until his death in 1880.

Grafulla was a quiet, unassuming man who never married; his whole life centered on his music. His remarkable technical and musical skills allowed him to become well known as a composer, often writing music to order, and as an arranger. The hallmark Port Royal Band Books were composed and arranged for the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment Band, when it was formed for service during the Civil War. As a director of the 7th Regiment Band, his fame spread widely.

Grafulla composed "Washington Grays" in 1861 for the 8th Regiment, New York State Militia. This work has been called a march masterpiece, a band classic, and the prototype of the concert march. Showing the stylistic influence of both German and Italian marches, the march has a marvelous balance of technique and melody in a continuous flow of musical ideas. It dared to break the old formulas, however, because it has no introduction, no break strain, and no stinger. The popularity of "Washington Grays" is due in considerable part to its early arranger, Canadian Louis-Philippe Laurendeau (1861-1916) (using the pseudonym G. H. Reeves). Laurendeau made a modern concert band arrangement for Carl Fischer from brass band parts in 1905. Others who have made arrangements and editions include Frederick Fennell and Loras John Schissel. The duration of the march is between 3:30 and 4:00. "Washington Grays" is considered Grafulla’s most popular piece. The “grays” in the title refers to the color of the regimental uniforms of the 8th Regiment, New York State Malitia.

The band books of the American Civil War (including the Port Royal Band Books arranged by Grafulla) included many charts of the prolific composer’s music, including this composition. As explained earlier there are elements of the Italian and German marches in "Washington Grays." The running sixteenth notes and responding bass voices create a wonderful counterpoint. Frederick Fennell wrote of this march: “Masterfully simple, effectively contrasting, its incessant flow of musical ideas is overwhelmingly convincing. It is a march of great passion. A real indoor rouser from 1861." This march represents technical difficulties for band members. Seen below are two examples of the march.  

The original hand written E-flat cornet part (Library of Congress) by Grafulla seen in a march book he wrote in 1864.  

The 1905 arrangement (Public Domain) by Phillipe Laurendeau (GH Reeves). Visit the Wikipedia page. "Washington Grays" can be found on many Altissimo! albums, including Front & Center, Forward March, and 100 Famous Marches.