European origins, Part 2

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European origins, Part 2

Postby Thomas Altmann » Thu May 13, 2021 5:42 pm

The follow-up to the first part of European Origins deals with my study of marching music as performed on the side drum.

The military side drum had derived from the medieval tabor imported from the Middle East by the Moors to the Iberian peninsula, and a few hundred years later by returning crusaders. It was originally played by one musician with a single stick who also played a type of flute with the other hand. This is still a tradition in Southern France maintained by galoubet musicians.

When the traversal fife was invented, it had to be played with both hands, so the drum had to be played separately by another person - now with two sticks. The fife-and-drum tradition emerged in Switzerland in the 14th century. Side drummers and fifers first accompanied Swiss mercenaries. Their tradition was adapted by the French armies, where it gained special fame under the warfare of Napoleon Bonaparte, which helped spread this particular drumming style all over Europe.

Another fascinating branch of the Swiss drum-and-fife tradition is still practiced in Basle for the explicitly non-military event of "Fasnacht" (Carnival). There is also a traditional pagan masked folk play in Basle, performing a legend of the "Vogel Gryff", the "Leu" and the "Wilde Maa", which is accompanied by side drummers who beat out specific traditional rhythms, like "toques", as we might say. Both French and Basle drumming have become a rather peaceful European folklore.

As a side note, nearly all the so-called "European" percussion instruments had actually come from Asia Minor and the Middle East at various moments in history, like the snare drum (as the tabor which was to become the side drum), the bass drum, the cymbals and the timpani (Turkish), and the tambourine.

North American rudimental drumming found its main influx from English military drumming. While the American rudimental method of Charles Ashworth (1812) is actually older, the English side drum method by Samuel Potter (1817) gives us an indication of what American rudimental drumming came from. I am not really sure, where the English military drumming originated. At one point, it must have branched off the Swiss lineage, and I suppose that the French acted as mediators; to my knowledge, however, England and France have rarely had any peaceful relationship in their history. Anyway, the Basle, French, and English drumming traditions do have a lot in common. They share double stroke rolls, paradiddles, flams and drags.

Interestingly, the oldest side drum method that has been preserved, is an anonymous Prussian booklet with the title "Kurze Anweisung das Trommel-Spielen auf die leichteste Art zu erlernen" from 1777, i.e. under Frederick II the Great. The contents are sparse and somehow disappointing. What sticks out, is that the drummer-author introduces the single stroke roll, but does not mention the double stroke roll! Does that mean that, traditionally, the Prussians never used the double stroke roll, relying on the single stroke roll instead? A marching drum tradition dispensing with double strokes?
Reinforcing, but not proving this theory is the Dutch method "Over het tromslaan" from 1809. It is almost identical to the Prussian school, but additionally listing the double stroke roll ("de Molen"), however without giving examples for its application. What might explain this, is the fact that meanwhile, between 1777 and 1809, Napoleon and "La Grande Armée" had invaded and occupied the Netherlands, introducing the double stroke rebound technique to Dutch military drumming.
By the way: "de Molen" (Dutch) or "die Mühle" (German) is a misnomer (English: "the mill") for the double stroke roll, while "le moulin" in French or "s'Mihli" in Swiss originally designate the English/American paradiddle.

The Prussians are to be credited for re-inventing and popularizing the shallow snare drum as it is known today, f.i. in the jazz drum set. Before, the military side- or field drum, tambour or Basle drum has had the dimensions of a floor tom or even a bass drum or surdo (thinking of Rembrandt's "Nightwatch"). Still under Frederick the Great, even the Prussians had used this type of drum. I don't remember exactly when the innovation had taken place.

The Reveille:

I made an interesting discovery concerning a French signal called "le réveil". This is a wake-up call composed of two sections; the diane and the rigodon (or rigaudon). The diane is in 6/8 meter and its basic motif is to be found in the Prussian school as the Reveille, and in the English/American rudimental school as the Dinner Call ("Roast Beef"), with minor differences. (The central rudiments here are the double drag and the nine stroke roll.) The name "la diane", Spanish "la diana", (German/Swiss: "Tagwacht") has the additional meaning of an introduction or preparation for a subsequent march, which in the réveil is the rigodon.

I think it's obvious that the introductory "diana" in Yambú and Guaguancó borrowed its name from the military tradition. The rigodon or rigaudon, which gave the second march in the réveil its name, is an old French dance. There is also a Cuban song by Roberto Duany called "Rigodón", recorded by Revé and by Mario Patterson, which probably is named after the dance.

Thomas Altmann
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