1812 Overture (arr Laurendeau)

From Wind Repertory Project
Peter I. Tchaikovsky

Peter I. Tchaikovsky (arr. Louis-Philippe Laurendeau, ed. Loras John Schissel)

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The official title of this work is About the Year 1812: Festival Overture. It bears the designation Opus 49.

General Info

Year: 1880 / [1904] / 2010
Duration: c. 12:05
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Ludwig Music Publishing Co.
Cost: Score and Parts (print) - $175.00   |   Score Only (print) - $40.00


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Written in 1880, this overture is intended to be descriptive of the invasion of Russia in 1812, by the French under Napoleon, and their final defeat. After his victory of Borodino, the army of Napoleon marched into Moscow and took possession of the Kremlin. Thereupon the patriotic Russians set fire to their city, forcing the French to retreat.

The theme of the introduction is drawn from a Russian hymn, God, Preserve Thy People, and this is soon succeeded by the vividly picturesque "battle music." The fight begins, and the French at first have matters all their own way. High above the tumult are heard fragments of La Marseillaise, but soon a theme of obvious Russian extraction appears, a folk song from the government of Novgorod, the two motifs alternating as the fight gives advantage first on one side and then on the other. As time goes on, the Russian theme become more and more predominant, and La Marseillaise dies gradually away. Napoleon is beaten, and his army is in retreat. The victorious Russians give themselves up to rejoicing, the famous bells of Moscow peal forth gloriously in honor of Russian victory, and the fine rhythmic melody of the national hymn is heard triumphantly thundered out.

- Program Note by Richard Franko Goldman, in Program Notes for Band

The Year 1812, festival overture in E♭ major, Op. 49, popularly known as the 1812 Overture, is an overture written in 1880 by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to commemorate Russia's defense of its motherland against Napoleon's invading Grande Armée in 1812.

On 7 September 1812, at Borodino, 120 km (75 mi) west of Moscow, Napoleon's forces met those of General Mikhail Kutuzov in a concerted stand made by Russia against the seemingly invincible French Army. The Battle of Borodino saw casualties estimated as high as 100,000 and the French were masters of the field. It was, however, ultimately a pyrrhic victory for the French invasion.

With resources depleted and supply lines overextended, Napoleon's weakened forces moved into Moscow, which they occupied with little resistance. Expecting capitulation from the displaced Tsar Alexander I, the French instead found themselves in a barren and desolate city, parts of which the retreating Russian Army had burned to the ground.

Deprived of winter stores, Napoleon had to retreat. Beginning on October 19 and lasting well into December, the French Army faced several overwhelming obstacles on its long retreat: famine, typhus, frigid temperatures, harassing cossacks, and Russian forces barring the way out of the country. Abandoned by Napoleon in November, the Grande Armée was reduced to one-tenth of its original size by the time it reached Poland and relative safety.

Beginning with the plaintive Russian melody of the Eastern Orthodox Troparion of the Holy Cross (also known as O Lord, Save Thy People) played by four cellos and two violas, the piece moves through a mixture of pastoral and martial themes portraying the increasing distress of the Russian people at the hands of the invading French. This passage includes a Russian folk dance, At the Gate, at My Gate (U Vorot, Vorot). At the turning point of the invasion -- the Battle of Borodino -- the score calls for five Russian cannon shots to counter a fragment of La Marseillaise. A descending string passage represents the subsequent retreat of the French forces, followed by victory bells and a triumphant repetition of O Lord, Save Thy People as Moscow burns to deny winter quarters to the French. A musical chase scene appears, out of which emerges the anthem God Save the Tsar! thundering with eleven more precisely scored shots. The overture utilizes counterpoint to reinforce the appearance of the leitmotif that represents the Russian forces throughout the piece. A total of 16 cannon shots are written into the score of the Overture.

The 1812 Overture debuted in Moscow on 20 August 1882, conducted by Ippolit Al'tani under a tent near the then-unfinished Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which also memorialized the 1812 defense of Russia. The overture was conducted by Tchaikovsky himself in 1891 at the dedication of Carnegie Hall.

The overture is best known for its climactic volley of cannon fire, ringing chimes, and brass fanfare finale. It has also become a common accompaniment to fireworks displays. The 1812 Overture became Tchaikovsky's most popular work.

- Program Notes from Wikipedia

It's safe to say that almost everyone knows the flashier aspects of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture: cannons, church bells, brass bands. The solemn overture is undoubtedly one of the most surefire crowd pleasers to resound through the concert hall (although it was originally intended for outdoor performances).

Tchaikovsky was at the height of his career when he was commissioned in 1880 to compose a feature piece for performance at the All-Russian Exhibition of arts and Crafts in 1882. His first four symphonies, the First Piano Concerto and several celebrated orchestral showpieces had firmly established his international reputation as the current grand master of Russian composers. For the exhibition, he wrote a tribute to one of the most triumphal moments in Russian history, the defeat of Napoleon's invading army near the beginning of the century.

Most of Tchaikovsky's music is at least somewhat programmatic, but in no other piece is the program quite so transparent. The overture begins with a Novgorod peasant tune, played first by the strings, then augmented by woodwinds, representing the simple purity of Mother Russian. One can almost imagine the land itself as a slumbering giant, secure in its own strength. Suddenly, the serene atmosphere is broken by a stormy passage heralding the incipient war. It was as if a messenger burst through the doors into a church service announcing "We've been invaded."

A single snare drum signals the march of Napoleon's army onto the scene, announced by the horns. The Russian Imperial Army defends its territory in a fierce clash, by the invader prevails as bits of the French national anthem La Marseillaise periodically rises above the clamor. The Russians retreat.

In quiet retrospect, the people mourn the desecration of their homeland by invaders and prepare to rise against the French. Battle is resumed, but once again La Marseillaise is heard, as the French prevail, and once again the people mourn. Yet a third time the Russian troops attack, and this time the land itself – the sleeping giant – rises up to join with its people and throw off the invaders' yoke. (Coincidentally, this is historically accurate, for it was the Russian winter that actually defeated Napoleon's far superior military forces.)

The victorious third conflict leads to a celebration unprecedented in orchestral music: a salute of cannons, pealing of church bells, the Czarist national anthem, along with the solemn melody that opened the work. Tchaikovsky even throws in snatches of the march that originally heralded the arrival of the French, but La Marseillaise is nowhere to be heard. Mother Russian has prevailed, and joy is everywhere.

- Program Note by California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Wind Ensemble concert program, 6 December 2015


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  • 1812 Overture. Wikipedia. Accessed 29 June 2018
  • Smith, Norman E. (2002). Program Notes for Band. Chicago: GIA Publications. pp. 583.