As long as kings and princes have made war there has been a need for military music, to “rouse the spirits and summon up the blood.” In medieval times military music was a simple affair of signals and fanfares to signal attack or retreat, and the instrumental palette was simple too. As the balladeer of the battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 put it, military music was “a merry sound of pipes trumpets and drums.”
In later ages as military life became more complicated, and local aristocrats raised their own regiments, military music became more complex. The idea of a band arose, involving more sophisticated instruments such as oboes, euphoniums and later saxophones, to entertain the troops at camp and inspire them in battle.
The embarrassing jumble of different bands in different keys at a ceremonial during the Crimean War convinced the government it was time to create the Royal Military School of Music, which opened at Kneller Hall in Twickenham in 1857. After that standards rose dramatically, and the best musicians composed for military bands, including Arthur Sullivan (whose father was a band leader) and Edward Elgar.
Kneller Hall closed in 2021, and the number of bands has been trimmed back, but they are still superb ensembles, all with their own proud history.
To represent the incredible variety of band music with only 10 pieces is a real challenge, and my list is very much a personal choice. I’ve given special prominence to band music of the RAF, whose support organisation the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund is one of the charities supported in this year’s Telegraph Christmas Charity Appeal.