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Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

"1812" Overture in E Flat Major Op. 49 (1880)

Though far from Tchaikovsky's most important or impressive work, the "1812 Overture" is undoubtedly his best known piece. Tchaikovsky himself didn't feel much enthusiasm for the work while he was composing it, and if it were not for a lucrative commission for a ceremonial overture to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Russia's victory over Napoleon in 1812, it is unlikely that Tchaikovsky would have composed the overture on his own initiative.

Tchaikovsky worked on the overture from October 12 to November 19, 1880. In his own words, he found it "very loud and noisy." The commission was to mark the 1882 Moscow Exhibition, and specifically the consecration of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior which was built there to give thanks for the Russian victory during the Napoleonic Wars. The premiere was duly given on August 20, 1882 and was an immediate success. It was subsequently published as his Op. 49 and enjoyed many performances throughout Russia.

Its popularity has never waned. Tchaikovsky even conducted a performance of the in 1893, his last year. The response was raucous. In 1974, lamenting the declining audiences attending the Boston Pops concerts at the Hatch Memorial Shell on the picturesque Charles River Esplanade – a tradition dating back to 1929 – Boston businessman, David Mugar and the legendary Boston Pops conductor, Arthur Fiedler, hatched a plan to enliven the concert. The crowd responded so enthusiastically to the revitalized program, the pair made it an annual event. The enthusiasm was due in no small part to the concert's featuring the "1812 Overture." The musical program featured booming cannons, ringing church bells, patriotic sing-a-longs, and a grand fireworks finale. The Boston event became the first to play the overture as part of a Fourth of July celebration. The innovation has since been duplicated in countless cities around the country.

Copyright © Dave Lampson, 1996-9.

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