So Fourth of July is coming and we will all hear both the Capitol Fourth celebration and the Boston Pops play the final themes of the 1812 Overture on national television just prior to the fireworks.
Why the 1812?
Well it’s got cannon blasts - great for outdoors!
Playing this particular piece on the 4th of July just makes me wonder, given the current state of our educational system, how many of those celebrating realize that the Overture has nothing to do with the War of 1812. Yes we fought the Brits in 1812 but the Overture does not lionize Dolly Madison fleeing the White House with George Washington’s portrait.
The Overture written by Tchaikovsky is as thoroughly a Russian a piece of music as there is - written by a Russian, commemorating the Russian victory over Napoleon’s Grand Armee commencing at the Battle of Borodino in 1812, first performed in Moscow at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in August 1882, finishing up with the Tsarist anthem to the Romanovs, "God Save the Tsar", the national anthem of the Russian Empire until 1917.
It was also played and conducted by Tchaikovsky at the dedication of Carnegie Hall in New York in 1891.
Now don’t get me wrong. I like the 1812 and my comments concerning playing it as the centerpiece of our July 4 celebrations are not based on the fact that it was written by a Russian. We’re Americans here and we will happily steal anyone’s music.
The Overture however commemorates a Russian historical event and more importantly is a kiss-up to Tsarism - a fault I find decidedly undemocratic and unsuitable for July 4 celebrations. Tchaikovsky was a notorious kiss-up to the Tsar; its how he made his living.
So why do we play it on July 4th? Because it has cannons? Got me.
Next time you hear the cannons and see the fireworks go off and you hear that theme at the end you love so much don’t think about Independence Day - think of the Tsar: I'm sure he would be laughing his ass off to hear his "Hail to the Chief" at our July 4 celebration.
Don't mind me. I'm just a crank. Just ignore me.
Crack open an American beer and celebrate.