I chose a musical composition to represent my artistic response to war. Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture Finale represents Tchaikovsky’s view of a victory in a war. Most Americans have the misconception that the 1812 Overture is about the victory of the United States over the British in the War of 1812 but this is not true. Tchaikovsky, a Russian, was commissioned by a local conductor in Moscow to write a piece to open for an exhibition in 1881. Tchaikovsky did not know what to compose about so he chose to write an overture that features movements in a piece. He chose the retreat of Napoléon’s failed French invasion into Russia in 1812 as the theme of the overture. The symbolic gesture that Tchaikovsky uses is the cannon, which was prevalent in their war in 1812. In earlier movements, he uses themes from “La Marseillaise” to possibly represent a mockery of the French.
In the last movement, this features non-traditional orchestral methods to convey the message of the piece. Russian composers are traditionally very open about using themes as their foundation of work. They are also famous for using powerful brass fanfares that collectively make the work come alive. The brass fanfare in this overture was not used until the finale and there are several reasons why Tchaikovsky may have done this.
In the beginning of the finale, Tchaikovsky uses what it is called a call and response. He uses the theme from “La Marseillaise” twice in different variations, possibly because he wants to set the final act between the Russians and the French. He uses that as the call and violins as the response. We can hypothesize why Tchaikovsky chooses the French theme to start the finale. It may be because he wants to make a mockery of the French for retreating. Soon, we start to realize that Tchaikovsky carries the “La Marseillaise” theme as it grows and it gets to the point where it get mysterious to where he is trying to go with the piece.
At the 40-second mark, Tchaikovsky finally reaches the pinnacle to where you feel all sorts of emotions. Cannons are used as the “La Marseillaise” theme is slowed down with a powerful brass fanfare. Tchaikovsky may have requested the use of percussion instruments to resemble the “cannons.” We can hear the emotions of the orchestra and can picture a foundation of victory being instilled on the Russians. With the use of cannon sounds, Tchaikovsky may have wanted us to have that picture in our minds.
At the 1:30 mark of the finale, Tchaikovsky incorporates bell tones with a powerful fanfare that lasts well over a minute. Later versions of the score include lyrics but Tchaikovsky never used lyrics in the finale of 1812 overture.
At the 3:05 mark until the end, you feel a very patriotic ending to the finale with cannons and bell tones. Tchaikovsky ended the finale with a Russian element of victory and finally to declare victory over France in their own war of 1812.
Tchaikovsky certainly did fulfill in succeeding in making the finale a sense of pride over a victory of war. Cities all over the United States use the entire 1812 overture or the finale in their own fireworks parade to signify the victory of the Revolutionary War over the British. The cannons used in the latter part of the finale with the bell tones signifying the “declaration” of victory over France makes this piece one of the most patriotic works of all time. The war element in the finale is certainly present and Tchaikovsky did a tremendous job in delivering the theme of war to us. Certainly, music evokes all emotions of the human mind and no doubt this was the case.