The Evolving Sights and Sounds of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”
Fireworks, fanfares and cannons—oh my!
Reigning as one of Tchaikovsky’s most iconic orchestral works, the “1812 Overture” is recognizable for typically acting as an accompaniment for 4th of July fireworks or making musical cameos in video games, movies and TV shows. It’s even the first musical snippet heard in the entire film of 2016’s La La Land.
Despite Tchaikovsky’s noted lack of enthusiasm for the piece, how did the “1812 Overture” rise to prominence in today’s popular culture? We can pinpoint its rise to fame through its history: from original composition to worldwide expansion.
Originally, Tchaikovsky was tasked to compose a go-to celebratory piece for the opening of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow; in a matter of just 6 weeks, the work was brought to life, premiered under the baton of Russian conductor Ippolit Al’tani. The “1812 Overture” broke out from its European audience and expanded into America in 1891 with Tchaikovsky’s performance of the work to open Carnegie Hall in New York City. A century later, the piece accompanied 4th of July fireworks under the musical leadership of Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, and thus, the musical July 4th tradition of pairing Tchaikovsky’s music and pyrotechnics was born.
The “1812 Overture” refused to stop growing there—the cannons were just not enough! Musicians around the world adapted Tchaikovsky’s explosive work to test their creativity. For instance, one group of teachers worked with the Sydney Symphony to replace the cannon blasts with popping paper bags. In other cases, the Overture has been taken out of the traditional concert hall or summer amphitheater environment and thrown into a live, public flashmob!
So, while Tchaikovsky may have thought of the “1812 Overture” as a sort of disreputable, musical Frankenstein, the general population has found various ways to make the piece their own and treasure it with generations to come.
You, too, can be a part of the “1812 Overture” experience with Pacific Symphony when the Tchaikovsky Spectacular closes out our summer season with a bang on September 7 at 8 p.m. in Pacific Amphitheater. To learn more about the event or get tickets, please visit our website here!
This article was written by Alison Huh, one of Pacific Symphony’s Marketing & PR interns. Alison will be a sophomore at University of California, Berkeley, where she studies English. She was formerly a member of Pacific Symphony’s Youth Orchestra, playing flute.