Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

(4th of July on the Charles, Boston, 2005)

If you have not experienced Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture live, played outdoors on some balmy summer evening, accompanied by real booming cannons at the the finale and followed by fireworks, you seriously need to add it to your Life To Do list.

Before we heard it tonight, performed by the Oregon Symphony Orchestra at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the amazing conductor gave us a little history lesson about why this little ditty is so popular in this country. When really, isn't it a little odd that this is always the finale at Fourth of July and other patriotic festivities, when it's by a Russian composer? As if we have a history of really loooooving the Russians. We were pleased to learn that it is in fact due to the Boston Pops (which of course made me feel even prouder of all those times I squeezed myself onto the Esplanade on the 4th of July with thousands and thousands of other sweaty bodies, with the Pops in the Hatch Shell somewhere far, far away, up yonder behind the trees). When ticket sales were down in the 50's for the Pops, some genius thought up a marketing scheme of: Hey, it would be super neat if we played this song and shot off live cannons at the same time the drums go boom at the end of it! This genius obviously understood Americans very well. We like loud things that go boom and make lots of smoke. It worked.

Even though it is obviously the very last section of the song that is most famous and most recognized 'round the world, I find the entire thing beautiful and mesmerizing from the very first notes. I have to admit that my knowledge of classical musical is close to zilch, although it is my dream to, one day when I'm rich and successful, be able to attend symphony concerts all the time wherever I'm living. (Although I'll be less snooty and wear brighter colors than my fellow frequent symphony goers.) I was a band geek throughout middle and high school and loved it to intensely nerdy degrees; I also have dreams of playing in a symphony band again (although this is perhaps even less plausible than my future-symphony-going). We played a Tchaikovsky song once in high school and although I can't remember what it was I remember it being one of my favorite things we did. That combined with the 1812 Overture pretty much makes Tchaikovsky my favorite composer. (Admitting that my knowledge is close to zilch allows me to name my favorite composer after knowing two songs--only one of which I know the name of--obviously.)

This entire song is all so dreamy and wonderful, all 20 minutes of it or however the heck long it is. I know whenever I hear it that most of the people around me are waiting for the cannons and the fireworks, which of course I love too--I am human, after all--but for me, the music could really go on forever. As Shakespeare says, "If music be the food of love, play on." I don't often quote Shakespeare--yeah, my knowledge of him is really close to zilch, too (add another item to my future dreams list)--but that's how I feel when I listen to the 1812 Overture. God Bless the USA! And, you know, Russia. And everybody else, too.


  1. Oh my goodness. The 1812 Overture over the Charles River Esplanade is BEAUTIFUL. Sigh...