I will be presenting at the Institute for Historical Research’s Long Eighteenth Century seminar on Wednesday, 11 January 2023. The talk, entitled ‘Military Music and Society during the French Wars, 1793-1815’, will take place in Room C3.09 of University College London’s Institute of Education (20 Bedford Way) at 5.30pm. All are welcome to attend in person or register to watch remotely on Zoom via the IHR website (click here).
Synopsis: ‘The French Wars were experienced by the ears as much as the eyes, yet the aural dimensions of these conflicts have received relatively limited attention from historians. This paper interrogates the reach and reception of military music in wartime Britain and Ireland by drawing on a wealth of evidence from memoirs, diaries, press reports, and archival research. It demonstrates that regimental bands provided sought-after entertainment in provincial and garrison towns, playing not only at military parades but at myriad public events including balls and dinners, civic processions, concerts, and church services. Martial music-making, moreover, was regarded as a potent form of cultural propaganda: a means of inculcating patriotism, intimidating political dissenters, and asserting the sonic supremacy of the established order in a revolutionary age. The performances of drummers and regimental bandsmen certainly enjoyed considerable popularity across society and evoked a variety of affective responses, including national pride and fond feelings towards the military. Yet martial music also provoked irritation, controversy, and distress, not least by generating noise complaints, violating the sanctity of the Sabbath, and exacerbating sectarianism in Ireland through the performance of so-called party tunes. The paper concludes by considering the role of military music in overseas colonies and foreign theatres, arguing that it functioned as a form of soft power, helping legitimise imperial authority, aiding diplomacy, and easing relations with local inhabitants. An intrusive symptom of large-scale military mobilisation, martial music shaped civilian attitudes and soundscapes while profoundly influencing the development of wider musical culture.’