There were town bands around Valencia during the last years of the 1700's. Documentation during this time was not felt to be important, so there were no band rosters written down and little information as to how the bands were formed. The only agreed information was that during this time there were many needs for groups of musicians to march in parades for religious and civil holidays during the year. If one grew up in a household where a parent played a musical instrument, it was common that the parent taught that same instrument to the child. It is common knowledge that the same instrument was often passed down for generations.
It is thought that Valencia's first formal band society was the "Unión Musical Santa Cecilia de Enguera" about two hundred years ago, just before 1800. There is some dispute on the official starting year in that another society the "Circulo Musical Primativa Albaidense" of Albaida also claims to be the first formal society formed. There are three other bands that claim the year 1800 as the start of their societies: "La Sociedad Musical la Marinens", "La Unión Musical" de Aldaya and "El Centro Instructivo Cultural Unión" of Benaguasil. In 1812 the "Sociedad Arte Musical de Callosa" of Segura was started. In 1819 the "Banda Primativa" of Llíria was formed. The Primativa has had the most continuous activity, hence they claim that they are the oldest of the bands. Many of the other bands around Valencia were started during the nineteenth century. The " Centro Instructivo Musical La Armonica" in Buñol was formed in 1886. In 1993 there were disagreements among the membership of the Banda Primativa of Llíria and many of the members broke away to form a second band in Llíria the "Unión Musical".
The town bands copied the basic style and instrumentation of the military bands of the time. During the nineteenth century the bands' main activities were to play in parades for the religious holidays, for the civil holidays and for the special presentations such as when a queen was chosen for a special holiday or as the queen of a society. The band would play as the queen and her court were be presented. There are still many such presentations in Valencia.
The band societies formed at the beginning of the nineteenth century became primarily social clubs in their towns. In addition to giving the band a place to rehearse, there would often be a bar very near the rehearsal hall and it was common for musicians and social members of the band to meet at the bar before the rehearsal and after the rehearsal for conversation. The bars on the Mediterranean have different social environments than those in the United States. It is common for all of the family members, including the children, to meet at their neighborhood bar to talk with friends. Since all of the bars have some kind of "tapas", a family could even have a snack or an entire meal there.
As some of the band societies became stronger social clubs, the activities of the bands became more apparent. The pride of these bands grew with the societies. Some of the bands started to rehearse more and play more than just the pasodobles for the parades. Some of the musicians started to transcribe orchestra compositions for the band to play in concerts. Some of the bands from certain towns gained reputations as being something special, hence were invited to play concerts and parades in other towns.
There were also arrangements of Zarzuelas for bands. The Zarzuelas are light operas that were very popular in Spain during the Nineteenth Century. These Zarzuelas were very similar to the works of Gilbert and Sullivan in England with stories, heroes, love songs and happy endings. These arrangements of Zarzuelas along with the pasodobles were a staple of the band repertoire in the Nineteenth Century.
In 1886 the city of Valencia decided to augment their activities for the July Fair by holding a festival of bands. There were two categories: one category for Military bands, "exhibition bands" considered professional bands so there were no prizes awarded in this category, and a second category for "civil bands" where there were prizes. The prize this first year went to the Sociedad Musical La Primativa de Carlet when Joaquin Guillomina directed the band in a transcription of William Tell by Rossini.
The Certamen de Bandas in Valencia became an annual event that the band societies relished. This was an opportunity for the band to compete and show which band was best. These "bragging rights" were and are today very important to the society members. It is believed that this competition changed the environment for the bands. The musicians in the winning bands would gain more respect in their respective towns. Reputations grew as years of the Certamen competitions went by. Conductors were beginning to be paid for their services to conduct the bands for competition. The societies would raise money for special uniforms, instruments and other necessities. The band societies also became centers for music education in Valencia. Schools were set up as an important band society activity. Along with the regular band there was often a junior band started.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, some of the Valencian bands traveled to national and international band competitions. In 1905 a Valencian band went to the Certamen International in Bilbao, Spain. In 1935 the Valencian band "Banda del Centro Musical Explorador" won first prize in a competition in Cuenca, Spain. In 1932 the "Sociedad Musical Santa Cecillia" of Cullera won first prize in the International Music Competition in Narbon, France. Valencia bands were invited and often won prizes in the National Competition in Kerkrade, Holland. It was these international competitions that built the reputation for the prestigious bands of Llíria, Buñol and Cullera, each of these towns having two very large competing bands.
During the twentieth century the bands continued and flourished. During the Spanish Civil War in the years 1933-36 many of the bands disbanded temporarily. In Buñol, where there were two very active bands, both bands were combined into one. The combined band did not last very long however, because the competitive feelings between the bands remained too strong.
On March 31, 1968 the "Federación Regional Valenciana de Sociedades Musicales" (Federation of Musical Societies of the Valencian region) was born. This organization was formed to facilitate communication between the bands and to help cooperation with band festivals and competitions in Valencia. That day, twenty two band societies joined the federation; now over three-hundred and sixty Valencian band societies are members.
During the 1980s the bands of Valencia started to play more compositions especially composed for the symphonic band. Up until this time, the playing of original compositions for band was for the most part not common. After the functional pasodobles and the arrangements of the Zarzuela suites the bands would next turn to orchestra transcriptions. It is ironic that many of the famous composers of Spain never composed for band.
There are many reasons that the bands started to go in the direction of playing original compositions for band. The aftermath of the death of the Spanish dictator brought optimism and a general feeling of rebirth in the entire Spanish culture. There were also several established and recognized composers around Valencia such as Bernardo Adam Ferrero, Amando Blanquer, Francisco Talens and Francisco Tamarit who started to compose well-respected compositions for band. The International Certamen of Valencia also started to commission works for the obligatory work for the annual competition.