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Harmoniemusik (German: literally, "harmony-music") is a musical term denoting a form of 18th century chamber music similar to Tafelmusik, but almost exclusively for wind instruments. From 1780 until 1840 harmoniemusik flourished in the courts of Europe. Harmoniemusik is not a single form of wind ensemble and would later evolve into the military band and our modern concert band or symphonic wind band.


In 1782 Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, founded his Imperial Wind Ensemble in Vienna, composed of pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons. This make up would prove to become very popular until at least 1825.

Just to illustrate the popularity of the Harmoniemusik at this time: At the banquet in the finale of "Don Giovanni", Mozart has a "Harmonie" perform parts from Una cosa Rara by Vicente Martín y Soler, I due litiganti by Giuseppe Sarti and the aria Non piu andrai from his own The Marriage of Figaro.

There is no strict separation between the harmoniemusik and the very similar wind sextet for pairs of clarinets, horns and bassoons. Oboes or english horns could be substituted for the clarinets (see Joseph Haydn). On some occasion basset horns would be used. The wind sextet existed long before 1782. Joseph Haydn wrote a substantial number of works for wind sextet.[1]

František Vincenc Kramář adds a contrabassoon (some editions of these works also mention string bass, serpent or trombone) to the usual form of 4 pairs of "winds" in his famous "harmonies á neuf parties".[2] Josef Triebensee and Antonio Rössler-Rosetti (in his Parthia in F) would even add flutes.

The ensembles with flutes appear at the start of the 19th century to accommodate transcriptions of romantic compositions.

The "Harmoniemusik" has had an important influence on the development of the symphonic orchestra, of which it becomes an integral part. Think about the symphony no. 40 of Mozart, the London symphonies of Haydn, the opera The Magic Flute. It is clear that wind instruments are becoming more important for a number of composers (Mozart, Beethoven) wishing to use their color palette in their orchestrations.

Names of wind ensembles[edit]

Some of the names given to a band of wind instruments:

  • Harmonie
  • "Türkische Musik" (in 1816 foundation of the "Journal for Harmonie and Turkish music", with Turkish percussion, also named ‘Janitscharenmusik’,[3])
  • Militärorchester
  • Bläserorchester
  • Tafelmusik (start 18th century)
  • Blasende Instrumente
  • Hautboistenbande

Musical Forms[edit]

Works for wind ensembles have been published using different names. Some of these names point to the structure of the piece, whilst other names point to the specific use and purpose of the compositions.


  • Partita (Parthia, Parthie, Partia, Feldpartita): In general a composition with a cyclic suite structure (also variation structure). Starting in the middle of the 18th century this name is used (in Vienna) for a chamberwork composed of several movements. In general, it is a triadic form closely related to the concerto form.
  • Serenade (Nachtmusik): This points to incidental music for use in the evening or at night.
  • Divertimento (Divertissement): This points to incidental music for use at dinner on festive occasions, as "entertainment" for the guests.
  • Suite: This is a reference to the classical danssuite of the Baroque.
  • Harmonie: A four part form resembling closely the symphonie at the end of the 18th century.

Notable works[edit]

Notable works of Harmoniemusik are exclusively for wind instruments, or wind instruments are prominently featured. Examples include Mozart's Gran Partita, the Serenade for Winds in C Minor, K. 388, Elgar's Harmony Music for wind quintet, Haydn's Harmoniemesse (1802), and Mendelssohn’s Harmoniemusik op.24 (1824).

Harmoniemusik often took the form of transcriptions of other works, most notably operas, symphonies and ballets. Wenzel Sedlak, Jan Nepomuk Vent and Josef Triebensee were some of the most successful transcribers, leaving a substantial body of works. Many of their transcriptions have been recorded and are available on CD.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Recordings by Consortium Classicum on Teldec 242 740-2, © 1988, (p) 1980, 1981
  2. ^ Recordings by Sabine Meyer
  3. ^ Spohr Op. 34 en Beethoven Op. 91
  • Roger Hellyer. "Harmoniemusik", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed 1 June 2005), grovemusic.com (subscription access).
  • Janet Heukeshoven. "A Harmonie arrangement of "Barber of Seville" by Wenzel Sedlak," Doctoral Dissertation, 1994.