By Jacob Stockinger
Today is our national holiday: The Fourth of July — America’s annual Independence Day, which celebrates when the new nation’s Declaration of Independence (below) from Great Britain was issued in 1776.
Every summer, even as they are cheering and applauding the music and fireworks, a lot of Americans ask the same question: How did Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” – complete with ringing bells and booming cannons – become such an integral part of Fourth of July celebrations?
And an integral part of July 4 and Independence Day it certainly is, as you can hear in almost all celebrations and fireworks displays. nJust listen to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s second Concert of the Square tonight, starting at 7 p.m.
For more information the WCO’s “Star-Spangled Spectacular” concert tonight, visit:
This summer, where the dangerously dry weather doesn’t force officials to cancel fireworks, Fourth of July celebrations and fireworks shows will begin this weekend and go through the week, with some celebrations postponed until August or even September.
And chances are good that most or even all of these will feature the “1812 Overture.”
It was commissioned by the Czar and written by Tchaikovsky (below) to mark Russia’s victory over Napoleon’s invasion. So how did it become such a part of American lore? Even the people who love hearing the music can’t really answer that question. But the answer is easier and makes more sense and is more recent than you might think.
But recently musicologist Jan Swafford recently answered that question on NPR. It was the best and most comprehensive answer that The Ear has ever heard. It eve has a section-by-section analysis of the music with samples.
It is worth reading and especially listening to if you want to know, once and for all, how the famously loud overture was transplanted to the American celebration of Independence Day.
Here is a link complete with musical examples and analysis as well as the historical and artistic context both here and in Russia: