Mass mobilization during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, unparalleled in scale and duration, had a significant impact on British musical life. The drastic expansion of the regular army and proliferation of auxiliary corps prompted unprecedented investment in martial musical ensembles, expanding opportunities for ordinary men and boys to acquire instrumental skills while providing all levels of society with greater access to concerted entertainment. Military units of all shapes and sizes scrambled to source appropriate instruments and uniforms, engage competent teachers and identify promising players. Regular and militia regiments combed prisoner-of-war camps for interned black soldiers and sailors willing to take up Turkish percussion instruments while discharged drummers and trumpeters found their musical expertise in high demand among volunteer corps desperate for qualified instructors. Musical instrument makers quickly took advantage of the commercial opportunities created by the expansion of the military market, offering all-inclusive package deals to colonels eager to outfit budding ensembles with the requisite instruments and equipment.
All this effort and investment had a tangible musical impact, of course, training a generation of instrumentalists from plebeian backgrounds, but the Napoleonic-era ‘martial musical project’ also left a significant material legacy. Stray military musical instruments, some boasting dubious Waterloo provenances, can still be found in local and regimental museums, country houses, and parish churches across the UK.
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