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Whirlwind Polka

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.

The polka was one of the most popular ballroom dances of the victorian period and came to be used as a vehicle for stunning displays of virtuosity by cornet players. The Whirlwind Polka is by Jules Levy, who styled himself "the world's greatest cornet player". A version of it with piano accompaniment was published in 1861.


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