I was involved in a discussion earlier this week about a performance of that old warhorse (pardon the slight, very slight, pun) by Tchaikovsky: the 1812 Overture. Composed to commemorate the 1812 defeat of Napoleon. It has been used to celebrate everything under the sun including, as I recall from our time there, the 4th of July ever festivities in Chicago’s Grant Park. Though Tchaikovsky did not number it among his favourite compositions he conducted the piece at the dedication of New York’s Carnegie Hall on May 5, 1891.
The Wikipedia entry for the piece is lengthy and addresses the structure, musical anachronisms, and versions however I found this section on the original commission interesting:
In 1880, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, commissioned in 1812 by Tsar Alexander I to commemorate the Russian victory, was nearing completion in Moscow; the 25th anniversary of the coronation of Alexander II would be at hand in 1881; and the 1882 All-Russia Arts and Industry Exhibition at Moscow was in the planning stage. Tchaikovsky’s friend and mentor Nikolai Rubinstein suggested that he write a grand commemorative piece for use in related festivities. Tchaikovsky began work on the project on October 12, 1880, finishing it six weeks later.
Organizers planned to have the overture performed in the square before the cathedral, with a brass band to reinforce the orchestra, the bells of the cathedral, and all the others in downtown Moscow playing “zvons” (pealing bells) on cue—and cannons, fired from an electric switch panel to achieve the precision the musical score required. However, this performance did not take place, possibly due in part to the over-ambitious plan. Regardless, the assassination of Alexander II that March deflated much of the impetus for the project. In 1882, during the All-Russia Arts and Industry Exhibition, the Overture was performed in a tent next to the unfinished cathedral. The cathedral was completed on May 26, 1883.
Meanwhile, Tchaikovsky complained to his patron Nadezhda von Meck that he was “… not a conductor of festival pieces,” and that the Overture would be “… very loud and noisy, but [without] artistic merit, because I wrote it without warmth and without love.” He put it together in six weeks. It is this work that would make the Tchaikovsky estate exceptionally wealthy, as it is one of the most performed and recorded works from his catalog
And since that debut performance in 1882 it has indeed been oft performed and in many iterations though this piano reduction by the controversial Ukrainian-American pianist Valentina Lisitsa is surely amongst the more unusual. Though her forces may be small there is still room for effects and celebration.
And thank you my FB friend Richard who put me on to this fun, and I might add extremely virtuosic, performance.