Fortissimo has been celebrated on Parliament Hill for the last 21 years. However, the tradition began many, many years ago.
“Fortissimo is essentially based on two evening routines carried out by soldiers every day. It dates back well into history. It first occurred at sunset when soldiers fired evening guns, they withdrew into fortified camps and cities locked the gates,” said Captain Brad Ritson, director of music.
As darkness approached, the flag was lowered for the night, and this was what they call the retreat. The calls were generally beaten on drums and became known as the Beating Retreat.
“Fortissimo is essentially a beating retreat, based on stuff that had taken place in history with the British Army,” explained Capt. Ritson. “There was a second routine that followed, at or near dusk, when the night watch was set. Rounds were made to check the centuries, and so they used bugles, which indicated the first post and they used bugles in the last post, to make sure centuries were in place.”
During this time, the drums would beat a warning for all the soldiers to return to their barracks. The band would play favorite songs and evening hymns, concluding with the national anthem.
“This became known as the ‘tattoo.’ Fortissimo is essentially these two things of the beating retreat and the tattoo kind of drafted into one,” added Capt. Ritson.
Today, Fortissimo has become more of a musical presentation, featuring bands, pipes and drums, and dancers. Beginning on July 19, 2018, Parliament Hill will host three nightly shows starting at 7 p.m., and admission is free.
“We wrap up the show on the hill with the playing of the 1812 overture by Tchaikovsky, and in that, it features the Carillon from the Peace Tower, as well as live cannon fire. So it’s really quite something to watch,” said Capt. Ritson.
Following the Fortissimo performances, the Sound and Lights Show will also take place on Parliament Hill.