Every Fourth of July, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture
is heard all over the United States, timed to the burst of fireworks. How did this Russian composition, celebrating the Russian victory over the French in that War of 1812
(not the war between England and the US
), become a staple of the United States' Independence Day celebrations? We can thank the Boston Pops.
After conductor Walter Damrosch convinced Andrew Carnegie
to build what would become the famed Music Hall (renamed Carnegie Hall in 1894), he needed a big name draw for the Hall's opening festivities. At the time, there were certainly very few names bigger than Tchaikovsky's
that "people in the United States know my work better than they do in Russia, in my own home."
The Russian composer's 1812 Overture debuted in 1882, and he conducted the composition for the debut of Carnegie's Music Hall in 1891. Even though Tchaikovsky intended for his "very noisy" composition to be played outdoors, with church bells, sixteen cannons, and even fireworks
(Google books preview), and the composition was performed in the early 20th century as part of Independence Day fireworks shows
, the pairing of the Overture with fireworks wasn't a Fourth of July tradition until the mid 1970s. It came about thanks to a quirky friendship between two men
: Arthur Fiedler
, the late, legendary, curmudgeonly conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, and David Mugar
, a millionaire Boston businessman who has sponsored all Boston's Fourth of July concerts since they took on this explosive form 40 years ago.
Given the duration of this paring, it might not be surprising that it's popularity is waning a bit. A few years ago, Macy's fireworks display over the Hudson Bay featured 50 songs voted on by people on Facebook
, where the 1812 Overture didn't get selected, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic's performance at the Hollywood Bowl also excluded the Overture.
If you want to relive some of the past excitement with the pairing of cannons and chrysanthemums
, or other prior Fourth of July shows, you may enjoy the Boston Pops bicentennial celebration
, with Arthur Fiedler conducting (television coverage), or the 2011 performance of the 1812 Overture
(decent audience recording), or enjoy the extended coverage of Macy's Fourth of July celebration
(televised, with various special guests).