Historic Music for Serpent 
This article briefly describes the types of historic music composed for, or otherwise featuring, the Serpent. Some examples, although not by any means extensive or comprehensive, are given. Most parts originally written for the Serpent or Ophicleide have since been changed to call for French Horn, Trombone, Tuba, Bassoon or Euphonium. On parts which have not been updated, modern orchestras and bands usually ignore the composer's intentions and substitute modern instruments.

For this most original of forms, the Serpent by definition accompanied the vocal lines. Accordingly, there is a limited amount of plainsong which specifically mentions the Serpent in the manuscripts. However, there is lots of plainsong for which we are certain the Serpent was used. For example, refer to the Louis Marchand and DeCaurroy recordings in the Discography.

West Gallery
Like the Plainsong, the Serpent was used in West Gallery music to play the bass line. There did not need to be a specific part for the Serpent, since it could play any low instrument line where accompaniment existed, or the low vocal line. For example, refer to the Mellstock Band recordings in the Discography.

Harmonie / Janissary
Harmonie Music refers to the compositions which were created for the (then new) Harmonie band, which was an ensemble comprised of woodwinds, brass and percussion, as distinguished from ensembles of woodwinds only or brass only. Janissary Music was popular around the time of Mozart, capitalizing on the fad for Turkish fashions and styles; a typical Janissary band was basically a Harmonie Band that played more exotic musical styles. These forms did employ the Serpent, with examples calling for the instrument by name. A couple of examples: Louis Spohr's (1784-1859) Notturno in C Major for Wind Instruments and Turkish band, and Beethoven's Wellington's Victory (Battle Symphony). Refer to the Octophoros recordings in the Discography.

Like Plainsong and West Gallery, the Serpent frequently played whatever the bottom line was, with or without being specifically mentioned. Some music in a military style can be heard in the Francis Johnson material listed in the Discography. Some examples:

Haydn: Six Field Marches for Military Band (#1, 4, 6)

Haydn: Three English Military Marches (Derbyshire March)

The Serpent in the orchestra had specific music written for it. Some of this can be heard on recordings in the Discography. Composers such as Mendelssohn, Wagner, Beethoven, Berlioz, Mozart and others during this period called for the Serpent. This was not always because they liked the way the Serpent sounded in the orchestra (see Quotes), but because they had no better alternative. The Ophicleide was called for in a great number of operas. Some examples....

G.F. Handel (1685-1759): Water Music, Music for Royal Fireworks [Serpent]

Gioachino Rossini: several operas [ophicleide]

Haydn (1732-1809): The Creation  [Serpent, doubling the bassoons]

Haydn: Divertimento "St. Antoni", see also Military Music [Serpent]

Klose (1792-1868): Das Leben ein Traum [Serpent]

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869): Messe Solennelle [Serpent]

Berlioz: Grande Messe des Morts [Serpent]

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique [Serpent & ophicleide]

Berlioz: Grand Symphonie Funebre et Triomphale [Serpent]

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): Meerestille (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage) [Serpent and/or basshorn]

Mendelssohn: St. Paul [Serpent]

Mendelssohn: Midsummer Night's Dream [ophicleide]

Louis/Ludwig Spohr (1784-1859): 9th Symphony, see also Harmonie Music [Serpent]

Carafu: Masaniello

Giuseppe Verdi: Les Vepres Siciliennes [ophicleide]

Ludwig v. Beethoven: Military March [Serpent]

Richard Wagner: opera Rienzi

Wagner: Das Liebesmahl der Apostel

The Serpent Website: Return to Index

Copyright Paul Schmidt 1997
revised December 1999