Claudio Grafulla was born in 1810 (some sources say 1812) on the island of Minorca, a Mediterranean possession of Spain. He was a french horn player and moved to the United States when he was twenty-eight years old. Living in New York, he was a member of Napier Lothier’s Band, part of the 7th Regiment of the 107th Infantry of the New York National Guard. Grafulla became better known as a composer, arranger and conductor and he later served as the conductor of the band. One of its performance highlights was the occasion Grafulla and his band performed at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D. C. on December 8, 1864 for an audience that included President Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865.
Though Grafulla was recognized as an arranger, he composed many different works in a number of different styles, including marches, waltzes, schottisches and galops. Some of his best known works are Washington Grays (also known as Washington Greys), Freischütz Quickstep, Captain Shepherd’s Quickstep, Captain Smith’s Quickstep and Big Thunder.
Quoting his Findagrave entry, “Grafulla composed Washington Greys in 1861 for the 8th Regiment, New York State Militia. This work has been called a march masterpiece, a band classic, and the prototype of the concert march. Showing the stylistic influence of both German and Italian marches, the march has a marvelous balance of technique and melody in a continuous flow of musical ideas. It dared to break the old formulas, however, because it has no introduction, no break strain, and no stinger.”
(Grafulla’s funeral, as reported in the Chicago Tribune, December 9, 1880)
Grafulla never married and it has been said that he lived for his music. Upon his death in 1880, he was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.
An example of Grafulla’s work: Washington Grays (Youtube).