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Overture to Nabucco

The Cyfarthfa Band was the first virtuoso brass band. Its music survives in more than a hundred hand-written part books. It is an archive of immense importance. Not only does it contain a wide range of music, but it casts light on musical taste and practices in the ninteenth century. Some of the pieces were composed specially for the band, and many pieces, such as The Triumphal March, The Tydfil Overture and The Carnival of Venice variations, do not exist in any other sources, but the majority are unique arrangements by the bandmasters or by George D'Artney.

This is a bespoke repertoire, so it is a perfect testimony of how well the band could play. D'Artney and the bandmasters would not have written music that was beyond the ability of their musicians; on the contrary, they would have wished to exhibit their strengths. The music illustrates the two main functions of the band. It was on the one hand a dance band which played all the main popular dances of the time, while on the other it had to function as a surrogate orchestra, playing the classics and the latest compositions, both light and serious, by the most presigious modern composers in Europe.

Verdi's Nabucco was first performed in Naples in 1842, but it is not certain when this arrangement was first heard in Merthyr. It would not be surprising if it were only a matter of weeks after the Naples performance. Many of the latest Italian opera selections were quickly disseminated to British audiences through band transcriptions. This arrangement was performed by the band when it won the great Crystal Palace contest in July 1860, one of the rare occaisions when it appeared in a brass band contest.

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