The 1812 Overture: the hit that Tchaikovsky hated

Though he loathed it, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture won him fans the world over and made him a household name.

In 1962, a Don Draper-like advertising executive decided to market the oaty goodness of an up-and-coming brand of breakfast cereal by detonating bowls of it from a cannon in time to the finale of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

When Arthur Fielder led the Boston Pops through the same piece in 1974, during a televised 4 July concert, the 1812 Overture was elevated from advertising prop to full-on national anthem, one still performed today to mark American Independence Day.

Woody Allen co-opted it for the soundtrack of his 1971 screwball comedy, Bananas. It has been referenced in The Simpsonsand in 1967, British comedian Charlie Drake struck comedy gold when he ‘performed’ all Tchaikovsky’s instrumental parts and ended up in an exhausted, Norman Wisdom-like heap on the floor. Each re-imagining took us further away from the 1812 Overture as Tchaikovsky understood it.

Not, we hasten to add, “as he knew and loved it”… because Tchaikovsky hated the piece.

That infamous assessment of it as “very loud and noisy and completely without artistic merit, obviously written without warmth or love,” was penned by Tchaikovsky himself. The overture’s popularity was a source of deep frustration to this sensitive, serious-minded symphonist whose imaginative fantasy and whimsical, melodic turn of phrase had also managed to transform the art of composing ballet music to a high calling.

The success of the 1812 Overture told him that the world cared more about theatrical spectacle than the hard fought-for personal expression of his symphonies, concertos and chamber music. The more successful his overture, the more Tchaikovsky became convinced that the world fundamentally misunderstood his art.

The piece is drenched in proud nationalist sentiment; Russian folk songs are heard to chase the French national anthem, The Marseillaise, before obliterating it in sound. It has become fair game for ‘pop classics’ concerts to trade off its showbiz pizzazz.

Tchaikovsky’s climactic cannon shots are used to trigger indoor fireworks, acrobatic displays even. The populist ante is constantly upped. 1812 Overture On IceUnderwater 1812 Overture? Celebrity 1812 Overture On Ice, The Musical? It’s only a matter of time.


But what happened to the ‘real’ 1812 Overture, and how did Tchaikovsky come to write his Frankenstein monster? It is the 1812 Overture because it was conceived to commemorate the Battle of Borodino, fought in September 1812.

In the 1880s, Russian pride still glowed at the warm memory of Tsar Alexander I’s troops thrashing Napoleon’s army, although there was a certain level of rose-tinted hindsight going on here. Napoleon had retained the tactical upper hand throughout the battle itself, and was only forced into a long and arduous retreat when, during his subsequent occupation of Moscow, food supplies ran out as winter started to bite. Armies march on their stomachs, and Napoleon’s men marched out of Moscow to fill theirs.

Fast-forward to 1880…

… and a cunning plan from Tchaikovsky’s champion and mentor, Nikolai Rubinstein. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which had been commissioned to celebrate the Russian victory – never mind the nitty-gritty specifics of the battle itself – was nearing completion on the banks of the Moskva River in central Moscow. Rubinstein’s request to Tchaikovsky might have gone something like this:

“Compose a ‘go to’ commemorative composition and fill it with national themes. Make it a ‘useful’ occasional work to be performed to mark the opening of the cathedral. And the 25th anniversary of Alexander II’s coronation. And don’t forget about the 1882 All-Russian Arts and Industry Exhibition. They’ll want something too…”

Tchaikovsky cranked out the 1812 Overture in six weeks, cutting his imagination loose with every note and theme designed to tug at Russian heartstrings. And although the most celebrated section of the work is inevitably Tchaikovsky’s flamboyant, proto-cinematic finale, its opening passage is equally spectacular – albeit spectacularly understated.

Needing to ground the music in some fundamental truths about the Russian mind and spirit, Tchaikovsky opens by recalling a soulful Orthodox hymn, ‘Troparion of the Holy Cross’. A lesser composer might have sentimentalised the harmonies, but Tchaikovsky places this objet trouvé delicately on four violas and eight cellos, like an ethereal and wistful sound borrowed from the memory bank of history.

And now, two things have become clear…

… that the 1812 Overture is better than Tchaikovsky realised and, despite the indignities and abuse it has suffered in the name of entertainment, his score is robustly constructed and has maintained its compositional integrity. Because the opening sets the scene so powerfully, Tchaikovsky has access-all-areas to go anywhere musically as he begins to portray the shattering impact of the French invasion on his country.

A Russian folk dance, ‘At The Door, At My Door’, trumpets national pride; pride that is rocked by the first appearance of The Marseillaise, characterised as mocking and provocative, which Tchaikovsky shoots down with five strategically aimed cannon shots.


In a late, great symphony like his Fifth or Pathétique No. 6, Tchaikovsky’s melodic invention rises to the surface as his themes are combined in counterpoint: polarised logics of the symphonic argument made to coexist or not, and
 Tchaikovsky’s genius for eloquent counterpoint is woven into the fabric of the 1812 Overture at a deep structural level too.

With the battle gathering force, another Russian theme emerges, God Save The Tsar!, which he manoeuvres into a contrapuntal skirmish with The Marseillaise: two nations fighting it out in music, the composer never
allowing the contour of one theme to nestle too cosily against its adversary. Enemy lines are kept tautly demarcated. A plunging, descending string line symbolises the Russian retreat; cannon shots and cathedral bells peel over a victorious roar of God Save The Tsar! from the orchestra.

Tchaikovsky ought to have been proud. He had written the ultimate showpiece, but his faith in the 1812 Overture quickly unravelled. His aspiration to see it performed in the cathedral square, with a brass band marching on stage to clinch the climax – only to top that with cathedral bells and cannon fire – proved impractical.

Tchaikovsky hadn’t reckoned on a basic logistical flaw: that the arithmetic of exploding cannon shots in time to the music proved trickier than splitting the atom. A time lag between releasing the barrel and the shot sounding made shot-to-score co-ordination impossible. Then in 1881, the Emperor of Russia, Alexander II, was assassinated and triumphalist music suddenly seemed inappropriate. The work had its first hearing – indoors – at the Arts and Industry Exhibition two years later; no brass band, no cannon shots, no cathedral bells.

So what are the lessons of the 1812 Overture, much loved by an eager public but often mocked by musicians who play it, and even by its own composer? Perhaps that the person who wrote a piece of music cannot be trusted to give a reasoned opinion on it. Tchaikovsky failed to realise that it is impossible to take a piece back, or impose a view upon it retrospectively, once it leaves the composer’s desk. The material with which you once shared an intimate one-to-one relationship is in the public domain. It’s gone.

But here’s an intriguing concluding idea.

Manfred Honeck, principal conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (and a Tchaikovsky obsessive) remarked that most conductors play the March section of the Pathétique Symphony too triumphantly, when Tchaikovsky meant it to sound ambiguous and questioning.

There’s nothing ambiguous about the 1812 Overture of course; could that be why Tchaikovsky couldn’t comprehend the forces he had unleashed? For the rest of us, the 1812 is to be enjoyed in all its noisy, vulgar splendour.

If he didn’t like his 1812, he’d have hated how it’s been used…

  • 1962 Used in a commercial for Quaker Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice – with the slogan, ‘This is the cereal that is shot from guns.’
  • 1967 Charlie Drake as orchestral musician, then conductor, tickles the nation’s funny bone by performing the 1812 Overture single-handedly, dressed in an ill-fitting tuxedo.
  • 1971 Woody Allen uses the 1812 Overture on the soundtrack to a love scene in his comedy Bananas.
  • 1974 The piece becomes part of American folklore after a televised Boston Pops performance captures the national mood.
  • 1976 In an episode of The Muppet Show, Gonzo grows a tomato plant to the accompaniment of the 1812 Overture.
  • 1990 In an episode of The Simpsons, Bart hums the 1812 Overture manically as he prepares an Evel Knievel-style death- defying stunt with his skateboard.
  • 1995 The Swingle Singers release an a cappella 1812 Overture, complete with air-raid sirens and machine gun fire.
  • 2005 The dystopian thriller V For Vendetta gives the 1812 Overture a sinister twist, referencing it alongside music by The Velvet Underground and The Rolling Stones to suggest a society out of balance.
  • 2009 An advert for Vodafone New Zealand recreates the1812 Overture using the ringtones of 1000 mobile phones. It sounded horrible.

The battle of Borodino, 7 September 1812

The Battle of Borodino, the event that Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture commemorates, was the key battle of the Napoleonic Wars, and also its bloodiest. Seventy thousand troops perished as Napoleon’s army attacked the Imperial Russian Army outside the village of Borodino, west of Moscow.

Over a 24-hour period, the French bombarded the Russian Army, capturing the strategic points on the battlefield, but failed to destroy their enemy. Napoleon occupied the battlefield after the fighting was over, exploiting his position to launch an attack on Moscow, where he waited for over a month for a Russian surrender that never came. Napoleon hadn’t reckoned on the awesome chill of a Russian winter, and with food running out he was forced to retreat, handing the Russians victory.

The recordings

In 1954, a studio recording was released that finally did the 1812 Overture justice. Hungarian conductor Antal Doráti and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra used the authentic French muzzleloading cannon that Tchaikovsky had asked for in his score. It was accompanied by a documentary about how the cannon and cathedral bell effects were achieved, and how the cannon shots were co-ordinated.

This was the clear benchmark until, in 2007, Antonio Pappano released an intriguingly rethought 1812, performed with electric verve by the Orchestra dell’ Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (EMI Classics 637 0065).

Pappano’s concept was a historically re-envisaged 1812 Overture in which the hymn-based opening and anthem God Save The Tsar! are sung, rather than played.

It’s not what Tchaikovsky wrote but the sung sections put the music into context: how rooted the work is in the Russian soul through its choral tradition. Pappano doesn’t hold back on the cannon shots and bells, either.

Discover the gruesome story of the Gesualdo murders

It is 16 October 1590 and as the sun sets over Naples, the composer Carlo Gesualdo sets in motion a gruesome plan. By the time the sun rises the next day, two people would be dead. But what happened that night? We investigate in the new episode of Case Notes

Subscribe and listen to Case Notes on iTunesAndroid or right here, on the player at the bottom of the page. And find out more about the first-ever true crime podcast about classical music here.

The truth is that Geusaldo’s music probably wouldn’t be known today were it not for the violent events of the 16 October, 1590.

Four years earlier, Gesualdo was a small-time count who needed to marry well – both for money and to make sure the family name survived.

Gesualdo’s castle was in the town of Gesualdo in Campania – and it’s still there today:

His family found a suitable wife: Donna Maria d’Avalos. She was Gesualdo’s cousin, aged 25 and Gesualdo would be her third husband.

She was an experienced woman and Gesualdo, by all accounts, was a bookish, awkward 20 year-old with no interest in anything outside music.

The marriage was a disaster from the start and Maria falls in love with a local nobleman, Don Fabrizio. The pair start an affair.

On the night of 16 October, Carlo Gesualdo plots to catch the pair together – and kill them in bed.

We’ve pieced together exactly what happened that night according to contemporary records. The accounts from the time are so detailed forensic psychiatrist Dr Ruth McAllister has been able to work out exactly which wounds were inflicted on Donna Maria and Don Fabrizio.

Here’s a diagram of the wounds:

Illustration created from sketches and research by Dr Ruth McAllister

Don Fabrizio and Donna Maria d'Avalos' wounds

Gesualdo fled the scene – to avoid reprisals from Donna Maria’s powerful family. And from there the story only gets stranger.

In the second episode of Case Notes we explore contemporary evidence to piece together what happened on that fateful night and the aftermath of this brutal murder.

There is some evidence that Geusaldo began to fear for his soul later in life. This picture hangs in his personal chapel. The figure in the bottom left is the composer, praying to the Virgin to intervene and beg for mercy on his soul.

Perdona di Carlo Gesualdo

Subscribe on iTunesAndroid or listen right here, in the player below.

Guests include forensic psychiatrist Dr Ruth McAllister, conductor Robert Hollingworth, soprano Clare Norburn and historian Professor Trevor Dean.

The recordings feature in this episode were:

Gesualdo: Sesto Libro di Madrigali 1611
La Compagnia del Madrigale, Glossa

Gesualdo: Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday
The King’s Singers, Signum Records

Gesualdo: Sacrae Cantiones for five voices
The Marian Consort, Delphian Records

A guide to JS Bach’s incredible Passion music

The St John Passion and St Matthew Passion are two of Bach’s most famous pieces of sacred music, telling the Biblical story of Jesus’ crucifixion. But where do you start with these two mammoth works? Here’s an introduction to the best moments of these masterpieces of religious music.

What’s the story?

Jesus rises from the dead on Easter Sunday morning, but before this, there’s the gruelling tale of his Passion and death on the cross. Bach sets Chapters 26-27 of Mathew’s account, and 18-19 of John’s. If it’s possible to distill both accounts down, Jesus is taken to the Place of a Skull, and crucified with two thieves on the charge of claiming to be the King of the Jews. Soldiers divide his clothes into lots before he dies. In Matthew’s account, after being mocked by a jeering crowd, Jesus dies with the desolate cry of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”, but John’s account tells of Jesus’ resolute fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy: “It is finished.”

 JS Bach

(Johann Sebastian Bach, painted by Elias Gottlob Haussmann in the mid-1740s)

Joining in the chorus

Despite both Bach’s settings of the Passion lasting more than two hours, they were written to be used as part of a Lutheran church service – he wrote the St John Passion, for the Good Friday Vespers service of 1724, and the St Matthew Passion three years later. Rather than expecting the audience – or, rather, congregation – to sit back and take in the music, Bach included a number of hymn-like chorales within the solo sections, so everyone could participate in the worship. Listen to the simple ‘Erkenne mich, mein hüter’ from the St Matthew Passion: this tune is repeated throughout the oratorio, sometimes in a lower key to reflect a sadder mood.

Bach even uses the same hymn tunes in both Passion settings. Listen to ‘O grosse Lieb, o Liebe ohn’ alle Masse’ from the St John Passion, or, in fact, ‘Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen’ from the St Matthew – it’s the same tune, only with different words, making it easier for the congregation to sing.

Musical character

When the congregation weren’t singing, Bach made sure the overarching mood of the story was represented in the music – and he had a remarkable number of tricks up his sleeve, using different instruments and key signatures to highlight the different characters and emotions. In the St Matthew Passion, the strings play a long high chord whenever Jesus sings, setting his singing apart from the other singing like a musical ‘halo’. In the St John Passion, after Jesus dies, the soprano sings ‘Zerfliesse, mein Herz’, which Bach sets in the unusual key of B flat minor to highlight the singer’s grief. And listen out for the cello’s close relative, a viola da gamba, at the start of ‘Es ist Vollbracht’: Bach used this instrument to symbolise comfort for those who mourn.

All-important lyrics

It’s not just about the music, though. Worship, which used to be in Latin, was now in German – a language understood by the entire congregation. Now the Biblical text could be understood, Bach made sure it was brought to life by his music: in both settings, on words like ‘wept bitterly’, Bach emphasises the text by making the music sound like uncontrollable weeping – musically, of course. Other important words like ‘tears’, ‘death’, and ‘crucified’ are also highlighted so they stand out from the text. As the St Matthewrabble call for Barabbas to be freed condemning Jesus to death, listen out for the spine-tingling cluster chord – it sounds scary regardless, but those in the know might have recognised it as a specific musical device, known as the ‘devil in music’.

While the words speak for themselves, telling the all-important Easter story, Bach’s multiple layers of musical meaning in both the St John and St Matthew Passions mean it’s possible to enjoy the music on a number of levels. The text tells the story on its own, but it’s Bach’s (often hidden) techniques that bring the music to life.

Work of the week – Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Trumpet Concerto “Nobody knows de trouble I see”

On 20th March we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s birth. For this reason, many concerts featuring his compositions will be performed worldwide, including one of his most famous works, the Konzert “Nobody knows de trouble I see” für Trompete in C und Orchester. This week, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Fabien Gabel and with Håkan Hardenberger as soloist, will play it on 23 March, and on the following day it will be performed by Paul Hübner together with the WDR Sinfonieorchester, conducted by Brad Lubman in the Funkhaus in Cologne.

Originally, the NDR commissioned Zimmermann to compose a piano concerto. However, by referencing the existence of countless piano concertos, Zimmermann was able to convince the NDR to promote the trumpet, which was somewhat neglected as a solo instrument, thereby making repeat performances of the work more probable. He had already made drafts of a trumpet concerto years earlier and completed them after he was commissioned. It was premiered on 11 October 1955 in the Studio X in Hamburg with the Sinfonieorchester des Norddeutschen Rundfunks and the trumpeter Adolf Scherbaum under the direction of Ernest Bour. At the time of the world premiere, the work was titled “Darkey’s darkness”. After a few years, however, Zimmerman learned that the word “Darkey” was used to describe a person of color in a contemptuous way, so he changed the title of his work to “Nobody knows de trouble I see” in reference to the spiritual that is used in the composition as cantus firmus.

Bernd Alois Zimmermann – Trumpet concerto: Crossover to reconciliation

The spiritual is at the center of the concerto and its structure is similar to that of a chorale prelude. Apart from this modern kind of a cantus firmus, Zimmermann also uses jazz elements and a twelve-tone-row as the basis for the composition. This special row appears frequently in Zimmermann’s work: It is also used in his Concerto for oboe, his film music for “Methamorphose”, and in his ballet Alagoana. By fusing these three formal principles, Zimmermann hoped to demonstrate a kind of fraternal connection in the music in response to the political realities of his time. As a soldier in the NS-regime and during the composition of the piece, Zimmermann’s awareness of the struggle of people of color in the USA to achieve equality and overcome endemic racial discrimination was heightened. He honors this struggle in the spelling of the title: Instead of “the”, Zimmermann uses a spelling based on the sound of the word as it was passed on through oral tradition, “de”.

“By the way I have recently finished a trumpet concerto with the title “Darkey’s darkness”. The negro spiritual “Nobody knows de trouble I see” underlies the work and the musical characteristics of the spiritual inform and imbue the work with the struggles of the coloured people.” –Bernd Alois Zimmermann, 1954

After this week’s concerts, the concerto can even be heard again. On 6 April, it will be performed by the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester with Håkan Hardenberger as soloist under the conduction of John Storgårds. In addition, as part of a Zimmermann concert series, the SWR Sinfonieorchester conducted by Ingo Metzmacher will perform the trumpet concerto on 28 April with Håkan Hardenberger again as soloist.

The most recent edition of the Schott Journal is dedicated to Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Therein you can find all events about the anniversary and an insight into his most important works.


Classical Guitar Player and Composer – Laurent Meneret

Laurent meneret
Contact Laurent Meneret at Linkedin

Laurent Méneret, born in France, is a self-taught musician who began playing the guitar at the age of fifteen. Two years later he attended the École Nationale de Musique of La Rochelle where he received a gold medal .He finished his music studies with Michel Sadanowsky at the Université Musicale Internationale de Paris.

During his training he had the opportunity to work with famous guitarists such as Roberto Aussel, Arnaud Dumond, and Pierre Culaz for jazz music.

As a composer, he writes his own works through which he makes himself familiar with the music. Meanwhile he has created a remarkable repertoire of varied solo and ensemble pieces.
He has been a member of the SACEM.

Laurent Merenet
Listen to a sample of Suite Meridienne


In addition, he works as a teacher of classical guitar at music schools in the area of La Rochelle.

Laurent Meneret
See Laurent’s catalogue of compositions at Schott Music


FFM Azerbaijan Ambassador, Gulsen Ibadova – Traveler Sindibad – First Rock-Opera In Azerbaijan

Dear friends, our amazing project is coming soon. I’m very proud to play in this rock opera in the role of Sinbad’s beloved by the name of Zahra.

Dear friends, our amazing project is coming soon. I’m very proud to play in this rock opera in the role of Sinbad’s beloved by the name of Zahra. The music is composed by the talented composer Ridvan Sadirkhanov. The first time in the east will be presented to you a rock opera. Written on the motives of the fairy tale “The Traveler Sinbad” from the book “1001 Nights”

Music-Liberetto – Ridvan Sadirkhanov
Music Producer – Эмиль Миняшев
Painter – М. Кузнецова
Text reads -Adalet Shukurov
Sinbad – Mick Rafiyev
Zara – Gulshan MG Ibadova
Solo-Guitar – И. Якубов
Other roles – Azer Rzazade Javid Samadov Ilham Nazarov Ш. Керимов Н. Ализаде Ю. Моторина М. Рзаева Р. Садырханов Э. Миняшев
Тексты к ариям – Лейла Алиева Rafael Huseyn А. Гаджиев Р. Садырханов Видади(пер. К. Симонов) А. Милани Ш.М. Каджар Н. Гумилёв Й.В. Сладек С.Т. Кольридж

Get your tickets here


Dear friends, I would like to present you my new Aria “The Miracle of Love which was written for my voice. Music and words of Aria belong to a Brilliant Italian composer and my Friend Maestro Pierpaolo Lucca
In the near future we will make a music video for this brilliant composition. I will wait for your likes,  comments and shares
Best wishes,


Gulsen Ibadova
Gulsen Ibadova


RETRO MUSIC MIX VIDEO – Look At Me Now – Song & Vocals By Adrian Novický

I am Adrian Novicky and I’m a new music producer with a focus on creating new musical styles. Some of You already know me and I hope you enjoy the music and join my fans.

More music from me that you can find on soundcloud. 

Adrian Novicky
Adrian Novicky

Introducing a prodigious young talent – Singer Songwriter, Kacey Hacquoil

By Roger Moisan

Many young girls dream of becoming singers and pop stars. They emulate their idols, singing along into the hairbrush handle with the mirror as an appreciative audience. I speak as a brother to two sisters and a father of two daughters!

Kacey Hacquoil
Kacey Hacquoil

However, very few young women have the courage and talent to go out, stand up and perform  in front of a real live audience. Kacey Hacquoil is one of those rare young women who not only writes her own songs but possess the confidence and personality, as a performer, to put it out there for the world to enjoy.

A little bit of Kelly Clarkson at the Horse and Hound this evening with Acoustic Jersey 😄

Posted by Kacey Hacquoil Music on Thursday, 1 February 2018

Equally at home on the big stage or an intimate pub gig, Kacey is a true performer who was born to be a musician.

Invited to perform an impromptu video shoot at the Opera House with Neil Collins of the Johnny Cash Roadshow. Thankyou ever so much.

Posted by Kacey Hacquoil Music on Thursday, 24 August 2017

It is in my humble opinion that Kacey Hacquoil is a future star and I know that my record label, FFM Records, would be more than happy to release a Kacey Hacquoil single whenever she is ready.

You can follow Kacey at

Kacey Hacquoil Music

Kacey Hacquoil Music
Kacey Hacquoil Music

Introducing Singer Songwriter – Anna

Anna Madara Pērkone (23) is a dreamy, electronic music producer and singer from Amsterdam. All of her songs are completely self produced and mixed in a little recording room located in the middle of the city. While growing up on a coast in Latvia, Madara started a classical piano education at the age of 7. In 2017, she and her band, MADARA, went on a tour to Colombia and performed all around the country. The band’s first EP will come out in April 2018. Madara has always made solo recordings and has recently decided to produce it all under the name ANNNA.


“Hehey guys, I’m a 23 year old musician from Amsterdam. I’m here to collaborate and share the feedback!

I’ve recorded all of my songs on my floating house studio, gone on a tour to Colombia and performed while standing on a boat with three other musicians. Now, finally my first EP is out and I’d appreciate any feedback and each listen.”


FFM’s Indonesian Ambassador, Dita Nurdian has released a new track – Soba Ni Itai Yo

Dita Nurdian
Dita Nurdian

Soba Ni Itai Yo (feat. Maniac Mac) – Single

Dita Nurdian
Click to hear on itunes
Also’ you can listen my music on Tidal, iHeartRadio, Google play Music and many more
And this is my social media link :

FFM Ambassador for Indonesia – Dita Nurdian