Guest post: by Bogdan Baranovsky
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky is a name at the top the of lists of many Classical music fans as the single, greatest, Russian composer of all time. From his Symphonies and Piano Concertos, to the legendary ‘Nutcracker Suite’, this Artist’s talent has given us a melodic menagerie of some of the most famous pieces of Classical music
Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’ was written in 1880 as a commemorative memorial to the Russian people. It was inspired by and written for the purpose of paying tribute to the defense of Russia in 1812, against the invasion of French Dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte and the Grande Armee of France. Tchaikovsky’s writing was structured around the Battle of Borodino, which took place on September 7th, 1812. The opening musical salvos lead to more escalated fighting and the music and mood reflects this. As the struggle continues, you hear the ups-and-downs and highs and lows of the battle, culminating into a climactic victory, accompanied by the cacophony of celebratory cannon-fire, and church bells pealing. This was Tchaikovsky’s way of announcing to the people, that their ‘treacherous and cruel enemy’ had been vanquished and their land and it’s inhabitants were saved. You can definitely feel the elation course through the veins and the hair stand up on the back of your neck as the last bells and cannons fall silent and peace returns to the land and its people. Possibly the most powerful ending to a piece of music that you can find. Volume at eleven for full effect. Ka-Boom!
This recording from 1971, was performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of one of the finest conductor’s of all time, Eugene Ormandy. His approach, treatment and translation of this piece is perfect. He maintains just the right meter throughout the entire seventeen minutes, while keeping the dynamics in-check and maintaining a solid hold on the deep mood-changes and dynamics that are written into this musical masterpiece. Certain conductors are the perfect fit for specific writers and Ormandy wins the prize in the Tchaikovsky zone. No other conductor comes close. The Orchestra members under Ormandy’s direction represented some of the greatest talent at that time and the mastery of their instruments can be heard and felt throughout the entire length of this timeless Classic. There is a good reason why recordings and live performances by this particular orchestra were referenced as having that ‘Philadelphia Sound’, which was a testimonial to their incredible skill and passion.
The cover photo-art piece, depicts a Napoleonic battle scene, using the mixed-media of live models, posing in front of a painting/back-drop of that period. As a kid I would stare at this photo, mesmerized, with the music playing, sometimes for the whole side of the LP. These images were burned into my brain, which supplied my mind’s eye with visions of soldiers in battle. Two armies, dressed to ‘the nines’, locked in mortal combat. Men, machines and horses thrown into the carnage, chaos and horror that is war. This feeling has stayed with me to the present day. Every time I listen to this piece it hammers home the sadness and tragedy of war and the power of music and it’s ability to conjure up a sort of ‘virtual reality’ experience to the senses, via the magic of sound-waves.
Three things separate this recording from the others: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s opening with their haunting and ominous rendering of the ‘Eastern Orthodox Troparian of the Holy Cross’, a.k.a. ‘Oh Lord, Save Thy People’, the bellicose peal and drone of authentic Russian church bells and the perfectly-timed firing of some bad-ass cannons. The church bell and cannon sounds recorded here are stupendous and their placement in the mix demonstrates the incredible engineering skills and artistic talent of Edward Michalski and Raymond Moore.
The ‘1812 Overture’ is one of the most famous and brilliant compositions from Tchaikovsky’s vast catalog. His use of blending traditional Russian, folk-melodies adds a peaceful, happy, charm to the sections they are placed and gives the entire piece a perfect balance of pastoral peace, amid violent aggression. His injection of ‘La Marseillaise’ at two different points is another incredible addition and is one of the many things that makes the ‘1812 Overture’ one of the most accessible pieces of classical music available and an excellent departure point for experiencing some of the most beautiful and emotional music known to the human ear. A vast universe awaits. Explore.
Eugene Ormandy: Tchaikovsky – 1812 Overture
Photo credit (front page): Peter von Hess [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: (Tchaikovsky): Émile Reutlinger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: (Ormandy): By photographer-Adrian Siegel, for the Philadelphia Orchestra (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons