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State University of New York at Geneseo

Exploitation of the The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E-flat Major, Op. 49 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
In Film and Television of Recent Decades

Paul Pedziwiatr G00-54-5594 MUSC 227 Dr. Anne-Marie Reynolds 2nd of May, 2012

Tchaikovskys The Year 1812 Festival Overture in in E-flat Major, Op. 49, has become well known since its completion in 1882. The nationalism of the piece that once was meant to strengthen Russia has, over time, been exploited, and in recent years has gained several nationalistic connotations with the United States. Television shows and movies of the recent two or three decades have in turn exploited its drama. Yet, not the whole overture has been exploited; the part most misused of the piece is the last three minutes or so, in the allegro vivace Finale section. To discover why the Overtures significance and usage have transformed, while the music has remained virtually the same, we must first observe its historical roots and understand Tchaikovskys original intent for the piece. Tchaikovsky wrote The Year 1812 in the fall of 1880 as a commission from Pyotr Jurgenson to honor Nikolai Rubinsteins appointment as head of the AllRussian Arts and Industry Exhibition. Although he strongly disliked commission work, Tchaikovsky agreed to write the Overture, and it was first premiered two years later at the same venue (Langston, The Year 1812: 1812 : Festival Overture, Op. 49 [1880]). This programmatic piece stirred the hearts of Russian audiences, as it tells the story of the victory the Russians had over the French in the Napoleonic Wars after Napoleons retreat from Moscow in 1812 (About, 1812 Overture). In the composition, Tchaikovsky placed several themes that would have been recognizable to his listeners. The first is heard as Theme I at the opening of the piece and is both an old Russian hymn, God, Save Thy People (Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, , ,

) and the Russian Imperial National Anthem, God Save the Tsar (Makarov, Vadim. Russian national anthem God Save the Tsar in Tchaikovskys music); they have the same tune. The second piece he used was a tune from his opera The Voyevoda as Theme II. Third, he used the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, interspersed with some well-known Russian folk music, such as the tune By the Gates (YouTube, , ), and the French dance, the Can-Can (Langston, The Year 1812: 1812 : Festival Overture, Op. 49 [1880]). To view these in the score, see the annotations in the Appendix, starting at page 11 (Tchaikovsky). The piece starts out with Russian themes, and then the French theme is heard, and there is an ongoing struggle between the French and Russian sounds. In the finale, Themes I and II, both dominantly Russian, come back very strong and overpower the French, which mimics the French and Russian struggles in the Napoleonic Wars of 1812 (Tchaikovsky). Cannon fire was used in performances to enhance this drama, as would the ringing of bells, to signify the church bells that would have been run after the victory. Thus, Tchaikovsky intended for the Overture to be programmatic and display the Russian victory. It also helped to remind Russians of their past greatness and to inspire nationalism and patriotism in the people of Imperial Russia (Langston, The Year 1812: 1812 : Festival Overture, Op. 49 [1880]). On July 4, 2003, the Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra and other around the country played the 1812 Overture to fireworks displays, to celebrate Americas Day of Independence (Druckenbrod. How a rousing Russian tune took over our July

4th). Yet, the piece was intended for Russian nationalism; somewhere the American people cast their own patriotism over the piece in place of the Russians. This first happened in 1974, when Arthur Fiedler, conducting the Boston Pops Orchestra, had the piece performed on July 4 with choreographed cannon fire, fireworks, and bells. This had been done before intermittently even before the 1970sthe Chicago Grant Park Orchestra performed it on July 4 in 1935but it was the Cold War that made the difference. In the Cold War, the good relationship that the United States once had with Russia prior to World War II deteriorated into a bitter rivalry (Gaddis, 28). Performing a Russian composition for an American holiday destroyed all the previous Russian meanings the work held and replaced them with patriotic American ones; this could be considered a small Cold War victory over the Soviets for Americans. Thus, orchestras across the country began to perform the 1812 Overture with Independence Day fireworks displays, imposing American nationalism over Tchaikovskys intended Russian ones, and these have survived in the United States to the present day (Druckenbrod. How a rousing Russian tune took over our July 4th). Because of the fiery nature of July 4, and the use of cannons in the original and subsequent performances of the Overture, the media and film industry have taken ahold of the piece and used it in many instances where a large amount of action, drama, or violent destruction is occurring. A podcast video released by the Discovery Channel shows several experiments from their show MythBusters set to the Overtures allegro vivace Finale. On each downbeat, an object either explodes, is set on fire, or both. The music gives the podcast a fun and lively effect, and makes

the explosions almost enjoyable to watch; the show seems very entertaining (Discovery, MythBusters Explosions). Watching the same video with the volume muted does not yield the same interest in the video. This active composition, which was intended to have exploding cannons accompanying it (Langston, The Year 1812: 1812 : Festival Overture, Op. 49 [1880]), has been exploited as advertising for a television show to make their dangerous activities seem quite enticing and exciting to an audience of potential viewers while keeping the bombastic nature of the piece alive. An even more explosive media approach was taken by the science fiction program the Farscape series, where the 1812 Overture takes a thematic role in the show. The main character, John Crichton, becomes lost in another galaxy and teaches the allegro vivace melody to a small snail-like robot he found as a companion, which then sings the tune back to him periodically. John paints the robot red, white, and blue (Jim Henson Company, Farscape: About). Thus, the Overture signifies Johns patriotism and his longing to return to the Unites States, and his home. When the Sci-Fi network canceled funding for the show, the Jim Henson Company launched a Save Farscape campaign, in which one of their videos featured a battle being fought to and spaceships exploding to the 1812 Overture. The robot above can be seen and heard bleeping the Overture tune at the end of the video (Jim Henson Company, Save Farscape 1812 Overture). The fact that the music ties in with the show, along with the action scenes edited to fit the music, makes the advertisement in the video to save the Farscape series effective. It was successful enough that letters from fans to Sci-Fi forced the station to produce 10

additional webisodes to conclude the series and post them online (Jim Henson Company, Farscape: About). The media also used the finale to the 1812 Overture to show or identify something of triumph, and/or make it seem thrilling. This can be seen in a commercial from 2001 from Fox 42, a substation of the Fox Network. This commercial celebrates the return of several canceled comedy series to the network as reruns, like Seinfeld. While the allegro vivace plays, scenes from different shows are shown, each changing on a new measure of the piece. As the finale concludes, the scenes changes increase their speed until they shift every triplet-beat. Then the commercial shows the titles for all the comedy shows they are going to air, and the network announces that they are Your station for comedy (Fox, 1812 Overture Comedy). The commercial would have been very effective to anyone who likes the shows they planned to air, thanks to Tchaikovskys Overture, as it would have excited them about the upcoming Fox seasons. The past three examples have demonstrated how the overture has been abused in recent American television. The Overture, and only the finale portion, has been exploited for its high activity level and ability to excite and animate. Yet, some recent sources in the media have used it artfully and effectively to give the piece new meaning. This can be seen very prominently in the 2006 film V for Vendetta. In a near-future totalitarian England, where a new political party has repressed all civil liberties, a man who goes only by the name of V (as in the letter) seeks to destroy the oppressive regime. When we first meet V, by some feat unknown to us, he has managed to link all of Londons loudspeakers to play the

Finale to the 1812 Overture. Musical expression has been revoked in this new state, so already this is a large act of defiance. Then, when the allegro vivace begins, V has timed it so that gunpowder and fireworks he planted in the Old Bailey explode destroying the landmark (V for Vendetta). While destroying the Bailey does not bring down the government, it is a symbol that sends a message to the people of England. With it, he hopes to start a revolution. By the end of the film, the people have begun to revolt, and Vs partner, named Evey, successfully causes the House of Parliament to explode, once again choreographed to the finale of the 1812 Overture (V for Vendetta). This time, the explosion, which undoubtedly kills most of the heads of the oppressive regime, is a symbol that the people have won. Looking at the two aforementioned cases, we see that England may have lost two important buildings, but in the end those mean much less than losing freedom; encouraging the people to regain their liberty is quite worth the cost. Therefore, the 1812 Overture gains new artful meaning and symbolism in the context of the film: the Overture represents V, his thoughts and ideas, which have permeated through the rest of the people and caused them to revolt. Music by itself can have this effect, such as when people first heard Stravinskys The Rite of Spring (Hoffman, Stravinskys Riotous Rite of Spring). V makes a speech before he dies where he says, Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an ideaand ideas are bulletproof (V for Vendetta). This statement encapsulates the theme of the movie and that which is imposed on the overture: an idea is more powerful than the physical. Using the 1812 Overture when destroying a physical

building says to the audience of the film that, in the context of the movie, the piece represents how unstoppable an idea can become. Tchaikovskys The Year 1812 Festival Overture has transformed in meaning and context in the 130 years since its composition. Its new uses in Americanism, television commercials, and film have given it a slew of connotations that are largely different that the original. The finale is the part of the Overture most often associated with these pieces most likely because, in short, it is a section of the work that is cohesive and has a lot of energy with which to engage the listener. David Grayson, a musicology professor at the University of Minnesota, said, "a work doesn't end when the composer puts down the double barsthat's when it beginsfrom that moment on it takes on a life of its own" (Druckenbrod, How a rousing Russian tune took over our July 4th). Every time the 1812 Overture receives a new significance, its artistic development becomes even more a important part of our culture.


1812 Overture Comedy. Los Angeles: Fox Broadcasting Company, 2001. YouTube, 2007. Internet. 5/1/12. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMh6NIAK XrY> 1812 Overture. All Expert. About Inc, 2012. Internet. 4/29/12.

<http://www.associatepublisher.com/e/0/1812_overture.html> Druckenbrod, Andrew. How a rousing Russian tune took over our July 4th. PostGazette. Pittsburgh: PG Publishing Co Inc, 4 July 2003. Internet. 4/28/12. <http://old.post-gazette.com/ae/20030704overtureae3.asp> Farscape: About. Los Angeles: The Jim Henson Company, 2012. Internet. 5/1/12. <http://www.henson.com/fantasy_scifi.php?content=farscape> Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: A New History First Ed. London: Penguin Press HC, 2005. PP 26-34. Hoffman, Miles and Renee Montagne. Stravinskys Riotous Rite of Spring. NPR Music. NPR, 2012. Internet. 5/1/12. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/ story.php?storyId=88490677> Langston, Brett. The Year 1812: 1812 : Festival overture, Op. 49 (1880). Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky Research, 2006. Internet. 4/29/12.

<http://www.tchaikovsky-research.org/en/Works/Orchestral/TH049/inde x.html> Original Russian text from: Davydova, Kseniia Iur'evna, et al.

Muzykal'noe nasledie Chakovskogo: Iz istorii ego proizvedeni ( ). Moscow: Akademi Nauk SSSR ( ), 1958. PP 295297. Makarov, Vadim. Russian national anthem God Save the Tsar in Tchaikovskys music. Russian Anthems Museum. Hymn.ru, 2012. Internet. 4/29.12. <http://www.hymn.ru/god-save-in-tchaikovsky/index-en.html> McTeigue, James. V for Vendetta. Los Angeles: Warner Brother Pictures, 2006. MythBusters Explosions. Discovery Channel. YouTube, 2008. Internet. 4/29/12. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3tt9hE9sc4> PM The New Classical Consortium. 1812 Overture - Tchaikovsky. Classical Moods: By The River. Fairchild: Promotion Music Specialties courtesy of Solea Group, 2011. YouTube, 2011. Internet. 4/28/12. <http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=VbxgYlcNxE8&feature=related> Save Farscape 1812 Overture. Los Angeles: The Jim Henson Company, 2004. YouTube, 2006. Internet. 4/30/12. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I nBZmWFgeeI> Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich. The Year 1812 Festival Overture in E-Flat Major, Op. 49 Moscow: P. Jurgenson, 1882. Petrucci Music Library: IMSLP, 2008. Internet. 4/27/12. <http://conquest.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/a/ae/IMSLP237 44-PMLP0358 -Tchaikovsky_-_1812_Overture__orch._score_.pdf> , , (God, Save Thy People).

McKeesport: Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church, 2011. YouTube, 2011. Internet. 4/30/12. <http://www.youtube. com/watch?v =hcdLmInKfq4> , (By the Gates). YouTube, 2011. Internet. 4/30/12. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5J1jH5yOsUA>



The Score of

The Year 1812 Festival Overture in E-Flat Major, Op. 49

By Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, from the Petrucci Music Library at IMSLP.org


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