Music of the Civil War (HDCD review)

Frederick Fennell, Eastman Wind Ensemble. HDTT HDCD408.

The American Civil War (1861-1865) was one of the ugliest, bloodiest, most-destructive, most-divisive conflicts in the country's history. Moreover, it came smack dab in the middle of the Romantic period of classical music. I mention these two items at the outset because it may give you some idea of the popular music of the day. The music of the War had to serve a purpose, in part sad and sentimental and in part lively and uplifting. So that's the way conductor Frederick Fennell (1914-2004) plays it, depending on the piece in this classic, 1958 Mercury recording with the Eastman Wind Ensemble, remastered by HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers).

In the New York Times obituary of Fennell, colleague Jerry F. Junkin said of him, "He was arguably the most famous band conductor since John Philip Sousa." Certainly, Fennell did as much as anyone in the twentieth century to promote the wind ensemble as a serious orchestral group, something more than simply a band for performing marching music. As a result, on this disc Fennell does not attempt to make his collection of Civil War tunes of the North and the South a simple entertainment, although entertaining it is. The opening song, "Hail to the Chief," the Presidential anthem we usually hear done in quickstep time, is a good example. Fennell remembers the context of the Civil War and plays it almost as a dirge. This was no time to think of the President (both the North and the South used the song for their respective Presidents) in a joyous, festive, up-tempo manner; these were grave times, reflected in the gravity of the songs.

Anyway, Fennell does not do up all the tunes as gravely as "Hail to the Chief," with a few of them intended to buck up the spirits of the soldiers and the general population. It helps, too, that wherever possible he uses the original Civil War-era arrangements of the songs and something approaching the original instruments intended. The album includes eighteen selections, about half of them representing the North and half the South:

  1. "Hail to the Chief"
  2. "Listen to the Mocking Bird"
  3. "Palmyra Schottische"
  4. "Hail Columbia"
  5. "Freischutz Quickstep"
  6. "Parade"
  7. "Port Royal Galop"
  8. "Nightingale Waltz"
  9. "La Marseillaise"
10. "Dixie" and "Bonnie Blue Flag"
11. "Cheer Boys Cheer"
12. "Luto Quickstep"
13. "Old North State"
14. "Easter Galop"
15. "Come, Dearest, the Daylight Is Gone"
16. "Maryland, My Maryland"
17. "Waltz No. 19"
18. "Old Hundreth"

Frederick Fennell
Favorites? Sure thing. I liked the "Palmyra Schottische" for its vigor and vitality. "Hail Columbia" has a regal presence. "Freischutz Quickstep" is an invigorating march take on an old and familiar favorite, with Fennell appearing to have great fun with it. "Dixie" and "Bonnie Blue Flag" have an appropriate swagger to them. The "Ludo Quickstep" exhibits virtuoso playing. "Come, Dearest, the Daylight Is Gone" reflects the nostalgic Romanticism of the age. And if "Maryland, My Maryland" reminds you of "O Tannenbaum," well, it should, both songs based on the same sixteenth-century folk melody.

Conspicuous by its absence is "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Perhaps Fennell never recorded it for this particular collection. I don't know. In any case, I can't think of another disc of Civil War music better played or sounding more authentic than Fennell's. Kudos to HDTT for remastering this outstanding set.

Producer and recording director Wilma Cozart, co-engineer Robert W. Eberenz, and engineer and recording supervisor C. Robert Fine recorded the album in 1958 on 35mm film, and HDTT transferred the music to CD in 2014 from a Philips/Mercury 4-track tape. As with most Mercury recordings of the time, this one exhibits excellent imaging, both across the soundstage and into it. So we get dimensionality and depth, things often lacking in modern recordings. There is also good transparency, although not quite so much as on some of Ms. Cozart's own CD transfers; I suspect a touch of noise reduction reduced a little of the high-end sparkle. Nevertheless, the sound is very natural, warm and resonant, with good frequency balance and quick transients. The sonics clearly delineate each of the instruments while retaining a realistic roundness and lifelike hall ambience.

For further information on HDTT's various configurations, formats (CD, HQCD, FLAC, DSD, DVD-24, DVD-24, etc.), and prices, you can visit their Web site at


To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click here:


  1. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was recorded by Dr. Fennell in a choral version and was included in the 2 CD Mercury set "The Civil War--Its Music and Its Sounds."

  2. Thank you, Jfddoc. I figured he probably recorded some version of it.


Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa