The Classical Music Minute

Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture: A Paradox in the Making

February 20, 2023 Steven Hobé, Composer & Host Season 1 Episode 103
The Classical Music Minute
Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture: A Paradox in the Making
Show Notes Transcript

Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is considered one of his greatest masterpieces. Why then, did he not appreciate the accolades that came with its success? Take a minute to get the scoop!

Fun Fact
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.

About Steven, Host
Steven is a Canadian composer & actor living in Toronto. Through his music, he creates a range of works, with an emphasis on the short-form genre—his muse being to offer the listener both the darker and more satiric shades of human existence. If you're interested, please check out his music website for more. Member of the Canadian League Of Composers.

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Tchaikovsky’s champion and mentor, Nikolai Rubinstein first suggested a piece for the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which had been commissioned to celebrate the Russian victory over Napoleon’s army. 

Tchaikovsky cranked out the 1812 Overture in only six weeks, focusing his energy on a piece that would tug at Russian heartstrings. And indeed, he wrote the ultimate showpiece much to the delight of his fans.

Despite the fact that it didn’t get showcased inside the cathedral due to the logistics of timing gun fire with the church bells, coupled with assassination of Alexander II deeming the piece a wee bit inappropriate, it did eventually still get performed.

But Tchaikovsky wasn’t happy. The success of the 1812 Overture told him that the world cared more about theatrical spectacle than the serious personal expression of his symphonies. The more successful his overture became, the more Tchaikovsky was convinced that the world fundamentally misunderstood his art. A paradox indeed!