This question Why do the Japanese sing Ode to Joy during the Japanese New Year?

brings another similar one. I live in a small US Midwest town, and every year they celebrate the Independence day (4th of July) by open air performance of Tchaikovsky's Overture "1812". My question is "why"? What is the story behind this? Local residents whom I asked could not answer.

Some Americans might think that it has a relation to their last war with England (1812). But it has none. It was written to commemorate the Russian victory over Napoleon in the same year, has motives of the partiotic song "God save the Tsar", and it uses a unique "musical instrument" a real cannon salute in the end (performed by the local National Guard howitzer battery).

EDIT. Besides "God save the Tsar", there is an additional irony: Tchaikovsky celebrates the defeat of the French, who were American allies in the Independence war. La Marseillaise is also cited in this Overture, but "God save the Tsar" wins in the end, of course.


The association with the 4th of July is relatively recent, starting in 1974 when the Boston Pops played it for a televised celebration of American Independence.

The factor that cemented the work's association with Independence Day was its programming by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops for their televised July 4th concert in 1974, replete with cannons, expanded bell choir and fireworks. . .

"One factor is that it was written to be an outdoors piece so it works very well in that setting," says musicologist Howard Pollack, a professor at the University of Houston's Moores School of Music.

"Though it describes a different war, so much of the music could also suggest the American War of 1812 and the bombardment by British forces that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem, 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'

"Tchaikovsky's music in this piece seems to express the same sort of ideas, 'the rockets' red glare, bombs bursting in air.' "

Coincidentally, everything from the piece's name to its orchestration fits well with the way Americans celebrate the 4th of July. The Boston Pops being influential, the association has stuck.


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    Thanks for a complete answer. I disagree (not with you but with the author of the citation you give) that "it expresses the same ideas". "God save the Tsar" is something opposite to American independence ideas:-) – Alex May 10 '15 at 2:30
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    Ah, I see your point. I think the "ideas" the author is referring to is just loud explosions: rockets, bombs, and cannons. – two sheds May 10 '15 at 2:34
  • A large part of the reason is was "influential" was that it was televised, at a time when there were only 4 channels (counting PBS). So a sizable percentage of the country was watching (particularly those not on the East coast, as it would be on before it was dark enough to watch local fireworks). – T.E.D. May 10 '15 at 4:21

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