Tchaikovsky Hated His “1812 Overture”

Fran Hoepfner writes: ‘We think of the 1812 Overture as this very American piece and we play it on the Fourth of July for whatever reason, which is just nutso for so many reasons. Last year, I watched a very grown man cry to this piece of music and I was like, “Are you sure?” Do you even know what it’s about? Have you just been assuming the 1812 Overture is about the American War of 1812. Guess what? It’s not!! I distinctly recall reading about the history of the 1812 Overture at the end of last year when I was reading my gigantic Tchaikovsky book (the Anthony Holden biography), and making a mental note to ruin everyone’s Fourth of July so here we fucking go.

‘In 1881, Tchaikovsky was commissioned by his old friend and mentor Nikolay Rubenstein to write a piece for an occasion commemorating a new church known as the Cathedral of Christ the Savior that had been commissioned to be built in 1812. So, I guess that’s how long it took back then to make a big cathedral. In addition, the piece also had to commemorate the silver jubilee of the Tsar (that’s 25 years). So, it was one of those classic “happy about a big church” + “congrats to the Tsar,” kill-two-birds-with-one-festive-overture-types of situations. But Tchaikovsky, who does not care about the church and does not care about the Tsar, bitches and moans and groans but eventually commits to the piece which he writes in one week, nearly four months after first being asked.
‘Tchaikovsky hated this piece!! He hated it so much. That’s nuts. We (Americans) love it. He thought music written for and to commemorate occasions was “banal with a lot of noise.” Honestly that’s true! When he finally turned it in, Tchaikovsky wrote: “I don’t think the piece has any serious merits, and I shan’t be the slightest bit surprised or offended if you find it unsuitable for concert performance.’

Leave a Comment