The Well-Tempered Ear

Should the 1812 Overture be played this Fourth of July? | May 2, 2022

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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear recently noticed that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has once again scheduled the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky (below) as part of the finale of its Fourth of July concert on the evening of July 6, 2022.

The performance is part of this summer’s FREE Concerts on the Square (COS) by the WCO that run on six consecutive Wednesday nights from June 29 through Aug. 3. Concerts start at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison, and will be conducted by Andrew Sewell.

For more information about the series and individual performers and programs, go to: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/concerts-on-the-square

An asterisk says programs are subject to change.

Which got The Ear to thinking: Should Tchaikovsky’s perennial favorite, the flashy and loud  1812 Overture, be played again this year?

It is a tradition that was started on Independence Day in 1974 by Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops, according to reputable sources. 

But this year might be a very different case because of a quandary that might cause organizers, including PBS’ “A Capitol Fourth,” to rethink the program. 

It is a choice that will confront many musical groups across the U.S., given the current unprovoked brutality and and war crimes being committed by Russia against Ukraine.

After all, many music groups, including the Metropolitan Opera, have already banned Russian performers who support Russian President Vladimir Putin and his unjustified war in Ukraine (below).

So here’s the question: Is it appropriate to play a favorite work celebrating a Russian military victory while Ukraine, the United States and Western allies, including NATO, are desperately trying to defeat Russian forces?

As you may recall, the overture was inspired by Russia’s victory over the invading forces of Napoleon who was attempting go conquer Russia. Like Hitler and the Nazis, Napoleon failed and the Russians prevailed. That is why, in the work, you hear the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” overcome by the chimes and cannons of the Russian victory hymn. (There was no Russian national anthem until 1815.)

Here is a link to more background in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1812_Overture

Will the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or other orchestras as well as radio and TV stations around the U.S. find a substitute piece? Perhaps it could be the Ukrainian national anthem that is performed (as in the BBC Proms concert in the YouTube video at the bottom and as many other orchestras around the world, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and John DeMain, have done).

What else could the WCO and other groups play — especially since Sousa marches are already usually featured on The Fourth?

Do you have a suggestion?

The Ear will be interested to see how the quandary is solved — with explanations and excuses, or with alternative music?

Meanwhile, as comedian Stephen Colbert likes to say: What do you think?

Should the “1812 Overture” be played on this Fourth of July?

Why?

Or why not?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Posted in Classical music
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9 Comments »

  1. Maybe it is time for a break from “tradition” for tradition’s sake. If I were in charge of the programming, I’d leave it off the program without saying a word about why. I’ll bet that most people won’t even miss it.

    Like

    Comment by Kathy O — May 3, 2022 @ 7:35 am

  2. The Ukrainian anthem would be better. I’ve always wondered why the 1812 Overture became so popular for the 4th of July. Celebrating the Russians defeating the French. I know it’s an exciting piece, with the cannons, etc., but the Marseillaise would be fine, to celebrate the French liberation from the Nazis – like the scene in Casablanca.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Genie Ogden — May 2, 2022 @ 5:51 pm

  3. It would be in good taste to play the Ukrainian national anthem. 1812 is not appropriate given the present war.
    I would also like to hear FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN. Copland.

    Like

    Comment by Polly kuelbs — May 2, 2022 @ 2:42 pm

  4. I love that Ukrainian National Anthem idea.

    Like

    Comment by Barbara Furstenberg — May 2, 2022 @ 2:22 pm

  5. Don’t play the 1812 Overture. But don’t play Sousa either. I happen to love William Billings’ Chester, and the William Schuman variation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyq4c4jdEPA
    Beyond that I’d suggest John Williams’ Liberty Fanfare.

    Like

    Comment by Ronnie Hess — May 2, 2022 @ 1:05 pm

  6. Should be played!!!! Why change our traditions, young as they are, because of the Russians? Don’t let the Russians win. Play the damn tune.

    Like

    Comment by Chuck Grapentine — May 2, 2022 @ 11:31 am

  7. I am generally not in favor of censoring Russian music, but given the military associations of this piece, I vote for playing the Ukrainian National Anthem this Independence Day.

    Like

    Comment by George Savage — May 2, 2022 @ 10:09 am

  8. I like this discussion, which reminds us of music’s wide and deep meanings. Skip 1812 is my vote.

    Like

    Comment by Harriet Statz — May 2, 2022 @ 9:36 am

  9. I would guess that a large percentage of Americans (including me) know little or nothing about the geopolitical background of the 1812 Overture. So the change to another march might mean little to them. Of course, it’s a chance to educate.

    My personal choice would be the Grand March from “Aida”.

    Ann Boyer ________________________________

    Like

    Comment by ANN C BOYER — May 2, 2022 @ 8:04 am


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