Saturday, November 7, 2015


In the late 1960's the Quaker Oats Company
created a television commercial to sell their
"Puffed Rice" cereal. As the cannon went
going off, while playing "The 1812 Overture,"
the slogan used was,
"It’s the cereal shot from guns."
Napoleon's rout by the Russian army inspired Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture

Tchaikovsky: 1812 Festival Overture
Ouverture Solennelle 1812, Op.49 (A)
Riccardo Muti, Conductor
The Philadelphia Orchestra

Tchaikovsky: 1812 Festival Overture
Ouverture Solennelle 1812, Op.49 (B)
Riccardo Muti, Conductor
The Philadelphia Orchestra

Tchaikovsky incorporated these previously
written songs into his overture:

God Preserve Thy People

La Marseillaise/French National Anthem


Arrangers: Gareth Cousins and Julian Kershaw
(from CD “Born” recorded in 2000)
1812 Overture
1812 Overture

Painting "1812 Overture & Harbor Illumination"
Christopher Gurshin: "1812 Overture & Harbor Illumination
The Fourth of July and the 1812 Overture:
 A History
Article Written By: Andrew Druckenbrod

How a rousing Russian tune
 took over our July 4th

Friday, July 04, 2003
By Andrew Druckenbrod,
Post-Gazette Classical Music Critic

Cookouts, fireworks and the "1812 Overture."
On the Fourth of July,
we hold these truths to be self-evidently American,

Don't light the cannon fuses just yet.
The "1812 Overture" may be an American tradition, with its
patriotic strains and thunderous battery. But while
orchestras across the land, including the
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra tonight
at Point State Park, will perform it
with clanging bells
and cannon fire, the
music could hardly be
any more distant from
the Stars and Stripes.
That's because the overture, written by famed
composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, depicts
Napoleon's retreat from Russia in 1812,

and not America's battles against
the British, as many might think.

That's right -- at the height of most
Independence Day ceremonies,
Memorial Day pageantry
the "1812 Overture" blares strains of the
French national anthem "La Marseillaise"
and the old Russian national anthem
"God Save the Czar "
across our amber waves of grain.

But this bizarre twist is not as unpatriotic as it might seem.
The obvious reason why the piece found a home during
America's annual firecracker festival
is that gunpowder
loves company.

"It is one of the few pieces with good musical
content that has cannons exploding,"
says Leon Botstein,
president of Bard College, a conductor, and
music scholar who has written about
The "1812 Overture" premiered in 1882 at
the consecration of a church in Moscow
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
commemorating Napoleon's
retreat from Russia.

Telling the story of the end of the French invasion of Russia in
musical themes, "La Marseillaise" is eventually beaten back by a
rousing Russian anthem and cannon fire and church bells. When
performed with full-scale replica artillery (with blanks) today, the
"1812 Overture" usually requires musicians to wear earplugs.

"It is the one piece of classical music that
includes 'The Bombs Bursting in Air,'"

says Deane Root, a music professor at the University of
Pittsburgh and director of its Center for American Music.
But can the popularity of the piece be tied only to cannon fire?
Bard's Botstein, for one, feels that although Tchaikovsky
disparaged the "1812 Overture" as "very loud and noisy," the
music should be given more credit:
"Tchaikovsky knew how to write a barn-
burner, and they are really hard to write."

Tchaikovsky's popularity in America also played a role.
"Tchaikovsky had a foothold in the late 19th century
in the broadening public taste for classical music,"
says Botstein.

"He came to open Carnegie Hall in 1891

and was a kind of pop figure when he arrived in the United States."

While America was developing an affinity for Tchaikovsky, it
was not having much success creating patriotic music of its own.
"With the exception of 'America the Beautiful,'
the U.S. is short of patriotic hymns,"
says Botstein.
'The Star-Spangled Banner'

is a tongue-twister; then you have 'America,'
which is really the British national anthem.
Being an immigrant nation, we are not offended by
using another country's national anthem."

These developments set the stage for the Russian overture's
remarkable transformation in America in the midst of the Cold War.

Though some ensembles had played the "1812 Overture"
earlier -- Chicago's Grant Park Orchestra performed it on
Independence Day 1935 -- most had done so only
sporadically before the '70's. The PSO, for one,
played it only four times prior to that decade. In
1974, however, the "1812 Overture" came
into its own as a pan-American tradition.

That July 4, famed Boston Pops
conductor Arthur Fiedler
decided to perform the overture with fireworks,
real cannons and a coordinated steeple-bell choir
to increase attendance at the Pops' summer concerts
on the Esplanade, says Bridget Carr, archivist of the
Boston Symphony. Also, the nation's bicentennial
was around the corner and the desire to have a
spectacular show outweighed Cold War conniptions.

"He was a good musician but the ultimate showman,"
says PSO clarinetist Thomas Thompson,
who toured with Fiedler in 1962.
"Audiences loved him, and he was a genius at marketing."
A massive, celebratory outdoor piece pushed by the nation's premier
outdoor orchestra, whose July 4 concert was broadcast across the
country, captured the public's imagination.

Countless orchestras began performing the work
outdoors, quickly solidifying the tradition and the
piece's connection to American patriotism.

Annual performances became customary in the
'80's and '90's; the PSO's tradition of performing it
yearly on the Fourth at Point State Park started in 1981.

In the Public Domain
The speed of the transformation of the "1812
Overture" is amazing. But how did it happen?
"America and Russia have always had a
kind of love-hate relationship, since
the 19th century as rival giants,"
proffers Botstein.
"We identify somewhat with
Russia -- they had Siberia,

we have the Wild West."
But because conductors, musicians and Americans in general
would probably not have accepted this work during the Cold
War if it were widely known to be a Russian victory piece, the
"1812 Overture" first had to lose its original meaning.

That's essentially what happened.

Common sense says a creation by a composer --or
a painter, or novelist -- is completed when the last
lines are done. But that's not necessarily the case.

"Almost any way that you look at it, a work
doesn't end when the composer puts down
the double bars -- that's when it begins,"
says David Grayson, professor
of musicology at the University of Minnesota.
"That's when it begins the process of reaching its audience,
and from that moment on it takes on a life of its own."

Like a misbegotten statement that later proves the downfall
of a politician, utterances are hard to control once proclaimed.
"The composer may try to influence its subsequent use and
meaning, but he or she will probably be unable to do so,"
says Grayson.
"And the work will eventually enter the public domain."
A school of thought arose in the literary field in the '60's and
'70's to try to define what might happen to texts after they are
published. A leading figure, Hans Jauss, argued,
"In the triangle of author, work and public, the last is
no passive part, no chain of mere reactions, but
rather itself an energy formative of history."

Many musical pieces change meaning over even short
time periods. Sometimes it's due to a misunderstanding,
as with Bruce Springsteen's anti-war song
"Born in the U.S.A."
being thought of as a patriotic anthem. Other
times it's an innocent re-association, such as
Rossini's "William Tell Overture"
for "The Lone Ranger."

In other situations, a stripping
of meaning occurs when a piece
is appropriated for another use.
Commercials are famous for this:
Copland's "Rodeo"

as the Beef Council's theme;

Iggy Pop's day-in-the-life-of-a-heroin-addict's
"Lust for Life"

promoting a major cruise line
(Royal Caribbean).
Many may remember an earlier shift in meaning that
the "1812 Overture" itself acquired when used in
Quaker Puffed Wheat TV spots.

"To Americans, this might conjure up memories of childhood,
watching television, or the family breakfast -- all presumably
happy memories and positive associations, even if only
of  breakfast cereal shooting from a cannon,"
says Grayson.

"This obviously could not have been what Tchaikovsky
intended, but it helps to explain why Americans enjoy the piece."

"We remake meanings all the time when
we recombine things and pieces,"
says Root.
"When people are raising that Budweiser
to the fireworks listening to the
'1812 Overture,' they aren't stupid.
They are relating to it in an individual way."

So, while its roots lie in a conflict continents away and its purpose
was to fete Russian superiority, Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture"
Emperor Napoleon and the Battle of Borodino
Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture:
It's Relationship to Napolean
and the Battle of Borodino

Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture"
Debuts in Moscow
August 20, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff

On Aug. 20, 1882, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky introduced his
"1812 Overture," which commemorated Russia’s defeat of
Napoleon, at the 1882 Moscow Exhibition

anniversary of Russia's victory over Napoleon in 1812. He

worked on the piece between Oct. 12 and Nov. 19, 1880.

Tchaikovsky did not personally enjoy the piece, calling it

"very loud and noisy," according to the Web site Classical

Net. However, the audience at the cathedral, where the piece

debuted on Aug. 20, 1882, loved it. The overture went on to

be played at many performances throughout Russia and

Tchaikovsky conducted the piece many times in his life.

Having conquered most of Europe, Napoleon led an army of
ill-fated invasion that crippled Napoleon's hold on Europe.


and strings intoning the quiet, even mournful hymn 'God
Preserve Thy People'" to represent the mood of the Russian
people following Napoleon’s declaration of war, according
to Sonia Knox of the Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra.

The next section includes a lively horn piece, with notes from
"This is followed by a Russian
folk dance theme, which commemorates the national unity
that developed in beating back Napoleon," according to the

University of Kansas' William Comer.

The Russians chose not to engage Napoleon in direct battle;
instead, they retreated to Moscow and employed a scorched
earth policy. 

Suffering from exhaustion, starvation and
sickness, Napoleon’s army lost an average of 5,000 people
a day from death and desertion, according to PBS. The French
losses, says Comer, are reflected in Tchaikovsky's piece through

"dizzying spirals of a diminuendo."
On Sept. 7, the Russian Army finally met Napoleon head-on in

the Battle of Borodino,
about 60 miles outside Moscow. More

than 100,000 people died in the battle, which was not a decisive
victory for either side.
At this point, the overture reaches

"its explosive climax using the

utmost power of brass and percussion, at which point the cannons
add their voices to the score,"
writes Knox.
The Russian forces then retreated from Moscow after stripping it
off food and supplies, and setting buildings on fire.

In October,
at the onset of the Russian winter, caught deep in the Russian
interior with inadequate food and supplies, 

Napoleon decided 

to retreat from Russia.

The overture ends with a church chant and "God Preserve The
Czar," the Russian national anthem, which commemorate the
Russian victory.

Battle of Borodino