Contemplazione Alfredo Catalani
Cannon at the ready - it's time to explore Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture! But far from the triumphant, romantic sound of the piece itself, Tchaikovsky's life was in turmoil...
In 1877, within just a few weeks of his wedding to his teenage student Antonia Milyukova, Tchaikovsky had fled the city and found solace in the Russian countryside, where he could reflect on life without the pressures he faced in St Petersburg and Moscow.
It was within this context of personal turmoil that Tchaikovsky composed his most famous and most triumphant of works: the 1812 Overture. Sadly, though, the process did little to help or heal the composer: he took a great dislike to the piece – which had, after all, been written not through artistic desire but to fulfil a commission.
Fire the cannon in 1812 Overture: the game
Given the heartache in Tchaikovsky’s life, it’s saddening to think that he never realised how his 1812 Overture would go on to become one of the most adored creations in all classical music. From the introductory Russian hymn to the bombastic cannonfire that concludes this unashamedly nationalistic concert piece, it’s one of the best examples of how Tchaikovsky was a master of orchestration. Next time you hear it performed in a muddy field or at the end of a classical pop concert, take a moment to consider the context in which it was composed. It certainly gives you a different appreciation of this most stunning work.
Illustration: Mark Millington