Hermann L.Blankenburg

Hermann Ludwig Blankenburg was surely the world's most prolific march composer, having written over 1,000 (probably over 1,300). No composer before or since has had more marches published (about three hundred counting scores for piano and chamber orchestra), and few can equal the figure of 126 marches recorded at one time or another.

He was born in Thamsbrück in Eastern Germany in 1876, the only son among three children of a sheep farmer, and in fact was christened Hermann Louis - the Beethoven connection having been adopted in later life!

He taught himself the fife as a boy and retained a love for the instrument throughout his life; he also learned bassoon, violin and tuba. On completion of his studies he was drafted into the army where he played tuba for the Field Artillery Regiment No.6. After that he played mostly bassoon in a number of orchestras in Dortmund, Duisberg and Wuppertal before being recalled into the army in 1923 (Field Artillery Regiment No.43).

By this time the name Blankenburg was well known among bandsmen around the world, and the reason for the fame was a march he had written when he was eighteen years old called "Germany's Princes". It had been rejected by several publishers in Germany, but some of his colleagues coaxed him to enter it in a March competition in London. It was placed first out of over 500 entries and forever more was to be known as "The Gladiators' Farewell". This success gave the composer a great boost in confidence and Hawkes & Son were to record more of his works as time went on.

His fame eventually reached Germany itself - something which the modern German is really quite proud of - and Blankenburg by now was turning out a march a week, a feat he kept up for over twenty years. Those best known to us are the above mentioned "Gladiators' Farewell", "Action Front", "Flying Eagle", his own favourite "My Regiment" and arguably the best of them all "True Comrades in Arms". He was to call his 1,000th composition "Jack of All Trades".

H.L. Blankenburg was a very respected conductor of his time, and his bands drew huge crowds wherever they appeared, playing a wide range of music from popular tunes to the classics. Offstage he was a modest individual and usually short of a penny, but in his tuxedo it is said that he was one of the all time great bandleaders. He also expected his marches to be played at a nice tempo (i.e. not too fast) - once described as like playing marches on a Sunday!

Blankenburg tended not to accept commissions but rather he wrote marches down when the inspiration came to him. He would be heard constantly whistling a new tune or sometimes found tapping out a new melody on the piano. Otherwise he composed without a musical instrument. In fact he had to call a schoolteacher friend to play the final drafts because he wasn't pianist enough himself!

He died in his 80th year and it is claimed that he was composing pretty well up to the end. Sadly many of his marches have not survived the interim years. No doubt there are many reasons for this, but it is known that he often submitted up to a dozen at a time to publishers, resulting in them being "picked through", and during the second world war his house was bombed - by the time he was allowed to return, a wealth of manuscript had gone missing.

It is perhaps for reasons like this that different people in different parts of Germany have undertaken research to bring his compositions together and to preserve his musical heritage as the uncrowned king of German march composers. This includes The International Blankenburg Organisation, dedicated to raising awareness of his achievements. He lived the last thirty-five years of his life in Wesel on the Rhine, just downstream from Cologne and Düsseldorf, and it was here that 40 of his marches were discovered in 1972 in a theatre basement.