Most Americans associate “1812 Overture”, written by famed composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, with Independence Day celebrations. Many believe this piece was written to commemorate the United States’ War of 1812. They also think that we have used this piece for many years as a staple on the American playlist.
Most Americans would be wrong.
For the past 30+ years, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture has been performed during countless United States’ Independence Day celebrations, due largely in part to an exhilarating performance by the Boston Pops in 1974, conducted by Arthur Fiedler. In an effort to increase ticket sales, Fiedler choreographed fireworks, cannons, and a steeple-bell choir to the overture, as Tchaikovsky himself called for the use of cannons in his score. Many American’s believe that Tchaikovsky’s overture represents the USA’s victory against the British Empire during the War of 1812, however, Tchaikovsky actually tells the story of Napoleon’s retreat from Russia in 1812. In fact, Tchaikovsky even references the French national anthem La Marsillaise and Russia’s God Save the Czar within the music. The USA was quick to adopt the piece, as it found itself lacking in the patriotic song department.
How ironic that on America’s Independence Day celebration one of the most recognized songs is by a Russian composer commemorating Napoleon’s retreat!