The 1812 Overture, which you will hear on the Fourth of July, was written by a Russian composer, Tchaikovsky, to celebrate Russia's defeat of Napoleon at Moscow. The Overture begins with a Russian Orthodox hymn and includes the Russian national anthem, God Save the Czar; the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, is very clearly blown to smithereens. The Overture entered the American patriotic songbook in 1974 as a brilliant publicity stunt by Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler.
History. (from Wikipedia)
In 1880, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, commissioned by Tsar Alexander II to commemorate the Russian victory, was nearing completion in Moscow; the 25th anniversary of the coronation of Alexander II would be at hand in 1881; and the 1882 Moscow Arts and Industry Exhibition was in the planning stage. Tchaikovsky's friend and mentor Nikolai Rubinstein suggested that he write a grand commemorative piece for use in related festivities. Tchaikovsky began work on the project on October 12, 1880, finishing it six weeks later.
The piece was planned to be performed in the square before the cathedral, with a brass band to reinforce the orchestra, the bells of the cathedral and all the others in downtown Moscow playing "zvons" (pealing bells) on cue, and live cannon fire in accompaniment, fired from an electric switch panel in order to achieve the precision demanded by the musical score in which each shot was specifically written. However, this performance did not take place, possibly partly due to the over-ambitious plan. Regardless, the assassination of Alexander II that March deflated much of the impetus for the project. In 1882, at the Arts and Industry Exhibition, the Overture was performed indoors with conventional orchestration. The cathedral was completed on May 26, 1883.
Meanwhile, Tchaikovsky complained to his patron Nadezhda von Meck that he was "not a conductor of festival pieces," and that the Overture would be "very loud and noisy, but [without] artistic merit, because I wrote it without warmth and without love," adding himself to the legion of artists who from time to time have castigated their own work. It is this work that would make the Tchaikovsky estate exceptionally wealthy, as it is one of the most performed and recorded works from his catalog.
Beginning with the plaintive Slavic Orthodox Troparion of the Holy Cross played by four cellos and two violas, the piece moves through a mixture of pastoral and martial themes portraying the increasing distress of the Russian people at the hands of the invading French. This passage includes a Russian folk dance, At the Gate, at my Gate (U Vorot, Vorot"). At the turning point of the invasion—the Battle of Borodino—the score calls for five Russian cannon shots confronting a boastfully repetitive fragment of La Marseillaise. A descending string passage represents the subsequent retreat of the French forces, followed by victory bells and a triumphant repetition of God Preserve Thy People as Moscow burns to deny winter quarters to the French. A musical chase scene appears, out of which emerges the anthem God Save the Tsar! thundering with eleven more precisely scored shots. The overture utilizes counterpoint to reinforce the appearance of the leitmotif that represents the Russian forces throughout the piece. A total of sixteen cannon shots are written into the score of the Overture.