Today in Music / August 20

On this day in 1882, the world heard the first performance of Tchaikovsky‘s 1812 Overture, in Moscow. It was commissioned by Tsar Alexander II for performance at Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

The music is a retelling of the invasion of Napoleon’s French Allied Army into Russia. The Overture’s score calls for the firing of 16 (precisely timed) cannon shots: 5 as the orchestra plays La Marseillaise (representing the Battle of Borodino), and 11 more at the very end of the piece to signifiy Russia’s hard-fought victory. Here is a video of the part in question (still without real cannons though). Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely that Tchaikovsky himself every heard the piece performed with any degree of musical accuracy (in regards to the cannons), or any real cannons at all!

For us, far removed from the events the piece is meant to depict, we generally just hear a bombastic piece of classical music normally played around Independence Day (here in the U.S.). But to Tchaikovsky, and the Russian people at the 1882 debut, this was a very important musical event that was relevant to them.

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One comment

  1. Actually, I found it very emotional, very moving! I woulda been standing up and shouting if I’d been there. 🙂

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