1979 was a year to remember! Margaret Thatcher was elected as Prime Minister; Burgess, Philby, Maclean and Blunt were exposed as spies; and, in the music world, The Hanover Band, which has since performed to great acclaim throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada, Europe and the UK, was founded.
The Hanover Band was formed by cellist Caroline Brown, who studied first as a Junior exhibitioner at the Royal College of Music and then as a post graduate at the Vienna Academy of Music with Andre Navarra. One might have expected Caroline to join one of the London Orchestras but, instead, she chose to form her own: an orchestra that mirrored the type of orchestra with which Mozart or Beethoven would have recognised in Vienna in the 1790’s.
Beethoven’s ‘band’ (the name of an orchestra in his time) was a group of 32 musicians, who played on instruments that look very similar to those that we see today, but are different in many ways. The fittings of string instruments are of a lighter construction: strings were made of gut and the neck and the bridge of the instruments were angled differently to produce less tension on the strings.
Wind instruments were made from box wood. Brass instruments of that period are valveless: watching a horn player with a natural (eighteenth century) horn is fascinating, as each time a key is changed, the player will use a different ‘crook’ (piece of tubing). It is worth coming to a concert just to see and hear the rasping sounds of the brass instruments.
After a year of planning, Caroline’s Band gave its first concert in St George’s, Hanover Square, London – hence the name Hanover.
Shortly to follow was a recording contract with Nimbus Records to record all the Beethoven Symphonies, in a style and manner that “Beethoven himself would have recognised”. Caroline set about commissioning and undertaking research to try to ensure that what the Hanover Band produced was faithful to the original performances of Beethoven’s Symphonies.
It soon became apparent that Beethoven had a number of versions of his works on the go, at any one time, and that the final versions of the symphonies which he delivered to his publisher, were not necessarily the ‘final’ manuscript versions that are in the libraries in Vienna.
On behalf of the Hanover Band, Caroline commissioned her friend, the musicologist Jonathan Del Mar, to undertake research work in libraries throughout Europe, to track down Beethoven’s various manuscripts and compare them to the first performance of each work.
This research has now been published, with new ‘urtext’ editions (the final versions of the complete Symphonic cycle as created by Beethoven) – and these are the scores used by all the major symphony orchestras, from the New York Philharmonic to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Hanover Band completed recording Beethoven’s Symphonic cycle in 1992 to great critical acclaim. The New York Times commented that the Hanover Band’s sound was raucous and spirited; and Music Week heralded the first authentic Beethoven cycle as ‘distinguished and inspired’.
Since then, the Band has gone from strength to strength. They have made over 170 commercial recordings, including the complete Schubert Symphonies, the Mozart Requiem, Mozart Horn Concertos, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, and most of the Haydn Symphonies.
In 1996, the Hanover Band, with the Choir of New College Oxford, made a recording of anthems for a coronation, composed by William Boyce. One of the choristers involved was a young man called Alexander L’Estrange, today he is known for his own work as an extraordinarily talented composer.
The Hanover Band, which is now based in Arundel, has an impressive schedule of recordings, concerts and tours planned for the next few years. This summer, the Band can be heard in a series of concerts in the most beautiful churches in the South Downs area of Sussex and Hampshire. They will also be staging a very special event in Arundel Cathedral, for which Caroline Brown has commissioned Alexander L’Estrange to compose Zadok Rules Hallelujah, for the Hanover Band to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Alexander, Caroline and members of the Hanover Band are currently visiting schools in Alfriston, Seaford, Brighton, Rottingdean, Steyning, West Meon, Cheriton and Midhurst, to teach the children the new composition. All the schools will sing the new work together at Arundel Cathedral accompanied by the Hanover Band, in an exciting world premiere. This concert, on 6 June, will also include Handel Zadok the Priest; Pachelbel Canon; Boyce Symphony No.5 in D; J.S.Bach Air on a G String (Suite No.3).
The Hanover Band will perform works by Bach, Boyce and Geminiani at: St Andrew’s Church Alfriston (16th May), St Margaret’s Church Rottingdean (17th May), St Andrew and St Cuthman Church Steyning (21st May), St John’s West Meon (22nd May), St Michael’s Cheriton (23rd May) and St Mary’s Midhurst (24th May). All tickets are available from Chichester Tickets 01243 813595 or online at www.chichestertickets.co.uk or in person from each church.