Storytelling doesn’t always involve words, bearing in mind that there are several techniques and methods of delivering a story, as well as different ways of receiving it, such as through emotions. In this regard, music has had a long history of sharing stories, and its distinctive impacts of making deep-rooted impressions on different listeners. Back in the Romantic Era, also known as Romanticism, compositions were progressively expressive and inventive, where operas, ballets and symphonies took inspiration from art and literature.

Parenthetically, Russia had one of the most famous composers of this era, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whose music remains popular to this day for its charm and depth, one of which is Swan Lake, the most melancholic, mesmerizing, and exquisite classic and iconic ballet.

A portrait showing the confrontation of the French and the Russian armies. Image courtesy of History Hit.

Tchaikovsky's music did not only adhere to Russian principles and concepts, it also adhered to a universal conceptual theme, showing his remarkable ability to merge numerous musical styles with melody, harmony and rhythm. As a proud Russian, and despite his Ukrainian roots, he felt the need to stand with his country using what he knew best, so he composed the 1812 Overture to express the peace after the French retreat of the Russian lands and to celebrate the justice of exiling Napoleon’s invading forces, which are two important elements that go by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development’s Goal, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

Each of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies had its own unique story, and each one evoked a profound emotional response. As an illustration, The Nutcracker, a two-act ballet adapted by a story of the German writer, Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, where a young girl named Clara is transported to a magical world at Christmas time where all her toys, including a nutcracker soldier, come to life.

A portrait of Tchaikovsky and his piano. Image courtesy of Pinterest.

Aside from ballets, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture was more of a concert overture, a symphony of a triumphal spirit, and a rousing prelude of victory commemoration. The purpose of its name is to commemorate Russia’s victory over the French invasion of 1812 in the Battle of Borodino, where over 130000 of Napoleon’s troops with artillery and cannons fought over 120000 Russians near the river Moskva. Napoleon intended to compel Tsar Alexander I of Russia to come to a halt and cease trading with Britain. At that point, the French artillery began to tip the scales, but these attacks weren’t strong enough to defeat the Russian resistance. In the end, the Russian army survived and drove Napoleon out of Russia.

Music sheet of the 1812 Overture. Image courtesy of To Play Along.

The musical structure of this outstanding piece transpired after Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion, symbolizing the increase of wartime tensions, where Tchaikovsky employed a combination of pastoral and martial themes, combined with Russian folk melodies. It also involved the themes of the French national anthem. To be more clear, the Russian folk melodies are heard to chase the French national anthem. 

Alongside flutes, piccolo, clarinets, strings, and other musical instruments, Tchaikovsky used two foreign instruments, cannons and cathedral bells. These are not considered to be musical instruments by any means, but the essential purpose was to commemorate the victory more practically, to amplify the sounds of battle, and to enhance the thrilling scenes.

Nevertheless, it is said that Tchaikovsky was contemptuous of this piece, saying that it was written without warmth or love, yet he could scarcely fail to notice that this piece, regardless of Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, or Pathetique Symphony, this piece acquired a special place within the audience’s hearts.

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