Why do many marches start in the minor key?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Gorgie boy, Oct 18, 2008.

  1. Gorgie boy

    Gorgie boy Member

    Bo'ness on the beautiful Forth
    Here's a question that's been bothering me for a while. Having joined the ranks of contesting bands a few years ago coming from a SA background (still an active member if not currently an active bandsman) I have often wondered why it is that most of the traditional British contest marches (Ravenswood, The Cossack, ORB, Simoraine, Arnhem to name but four) commence in the minor key, whereas most of the SA marches (Red Shield, Montreal Citadel, et al) are in the major key with perhaps the exception of Gullidge and some of Albert Jakeways

    So why are most marches written to start in the minor key?
  2. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Paul, I would imagine it would be related to the earlier form of ceremonial march that is slower and more stately.
  3. Straightmute

    Straightmute Active Member

    That's an interesting question but I'm not sure it's the right one to ask! If you look up the marches in the Wright and Round archive a significant majority seem to be in major keys (based on my knowledge of the ones I know - and that is certainly not all of them!), so the better question might be 'why are the dozen or so contest marches which have best survived the test of time predominantly in minor keys'?

    Certainly we seem to prefer that sound - I remember a converstation with David King in which he said that he'd chosen one particular march for Whit Friday because it was in a minor key throughout. That sense of stoical grit and determination which the best minor key contest marches possess seems to set them apart from the lightweight, upbeat military marches of Sousa and Alford; it's become one of the factors which defines the contest march genre, along with florid cornet solo, bass feature etc.

    Oddly enough my favourite Sally Army marches are Rosehill and Praise, both of which begin in minor keys...

  4. Jacob Larsen

    Jacob Larsen Member

    Stavanger - Norway
    A very interesting question indeed... I think it has something to do with the emotions you wish to express in the march. If you start the piece in minor you can create something dramatic in the beginning and then lead on to "victory" in the last major bit... But it must have something to do with tradition, timeperiod ect.. In the Danish military marches you can see a clear change.. Before 1940´s the marches are written in the German style and after the 2nd World War (Denmark was liberated by Montgomery on 5th may 1945) the marches has a clear british touch..

  5. Rambo

    Rambo Member

    North Wales
    Because the composer wanted them to and they sound great

    Ignorance is bliss!;)
  6. eanto

    eanto Member

    Eh? Pass me my Arban....
  7. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    There's a tendency amongst children, when they first beging composing to do so in a minor 'mode'. I'm not using the word 'key' deliberately, as they often don't fully understand what keys are at that stage. They find the concept quite difficult. However, the minor mode seems to be a Western European thing, maybe related to the common use of the church modes in the renaissance and also to the fact that the minor sound is 'softer' (hence some of the european names (molle = soft)). Minor keys also tend to conjure up dramatic images (when used in marches) and, as has been said before) helps to create the effect of striving and overcoming (in the major trio section) your enemy.
  8. RamasII

    RamasII Member

    Mephistopheles? Im sure this starts in F minor (concert pitch)
    Champions in a nice B flat Major
  9. Super Ph

    Super Ph Member

    minor is v. good for the big dark sounding chords and drama.
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