A march is defined as a piece of music which has a strong and regular rhythm. This type of music can be categorized into a particular genre because it is specifically developed for being played while marching like the typical beat of German marching songs. Because it is generally and most often performed by a military band, up till the sixteenth century marches were still something that weren’t known and only makeshift fife embellishment was used. However, the sixteenth century marked the first penning down of marches and the nineteenth century witnessed an extensive advancement in terms of brass instruments, extravagant orchestras and German soldier songs.
Marching music has its origins in military and drums and especially snare drums are a must for playing marches in addition to other musical instruments like fife, horns, brass instruments, woodwind instruments all of which characterize German soldier songs. An interesting fact pertaining to it is that when played at paces which are multiples of the regular human heartbeat then it has an amazing hypnotic effect on the soldiers who are marching. This is why German marching songs were extensively used. March music can be broadly classified into four different kinds, namely Latin American march music, Asian march music, American march music and European march music.
German marching songs feature an extremely strict tempo, like 110 beats in one minute. Also, it is easy to identify this kind of music because they sound like polka or folk music due to a strong ‘oom-pah’ which is attributed to the playing of brass in a low note, off-beat playing of snare drums and the bass drum.
Alto voices like ‘peck horn’ are also used and because of all these factors, German marches have a very strong ‘martial’ quality. Because these were composed keeping the army in mind, they are also referred to as German soldier songs. Although classified as a part of European march, these have a distinct quality.
Among the many German soldier songs or marching music pieces, Erika stands out as a unique composition. This marching song pertains to the German military and it even has a German name which is quite lengthy in comparison to the English name. Herms Niel composed this popular song during the 1930s and this masterpiece was originally meant for the Waffen-SS. However that didn’t happen and the song ultimately came to be used by the Wehrmacht which is why it is classified amongst German marching songs as well.
Did you know that the name of this song was derived from a plant of the same name in Germany, which is known as the heather plant in English? Heather plants can be found all over Germany so it is but natural for one of the German soldier songs to refer to it as it would be a perfect way to remind them of home. While the exact date or time during which this song was written is still not clear, a majority of the opinions points towards some time during 1930s when German the Third Reich came to power and was encouraging the formation of German marching songs.
Erika was very popular even before the World War II started. This song has three stanzas and the name ‘Erika’ was used quite generously when the lyrics of the song were penned. When the song is playing, one will be able to hear the beat of the drums after every three or four words thus establishing its likeness with German marching songs. The reason as to why this song is considered to be one of the best in the treasury of German soldier songs is because it enabled the soldiers of Wehrmacht who were forced to fight in a battle to express their feelings or love for their girlfriends or wife.