How did Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture become part of American Independence Day celebrations

Watching the TV last week, I saw news reports of US July 4th celebrations and in many cases, I heard Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture being played. Not the first time and the one time I was in US during the 4th of July, heard it played as well.
Its stirring music I’ll grant you that, but its i) Russian!, ii) Composed to celebrate a Russian victory, iii) Not his best work, iv) Russian, v) Did I mention its Russian?

How did such a Russian piece become such a staple in the US? I mean Russia has not exactly been the US’s friend for most of the last 100 years.
Or did someone mistake the “1812” to stand for the American-Brit clash rather than the Patriotic War?

It’s the only classical piece that uses cannons…

For some reasons Americans really like Tchaikovsky. Look how made *the Nutcracker * their definitive Christmas music.


And it’s not like classical music is owned by any country. AIUI, both sides used Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in WWII as insprational music. The Germans because it’s “German” music and the Allies because the opening bar is V (for victory) in Morse Code. And just about every marching band in existence plays Sousa marches, including (I expect) the Stars and Stripes Forever.

Yeah, but the music dates to Russia with all the royalty, when it was all aristocratic and fancy. Americans have always eaten that shit up.

As noted in Duckster’s link, it started in the '70s as a spectacle put on by the Boston Pops and spread from there. Americans have always enjoyed a big spectacle, especially on the Fourth of July.

I like the 1812 Overture just fine (it’s the one classical piece in which album liner notes go into detail about the nature of the ordnance used).

But I haven’t had the experience the OP describes in finding it ubiquitous in 4th of July celebrations.

Anyway, the U.S. did not begin to have an adversarial relationship with Russia until well over a century after Tchaikovsky composed the work, and it’s a looong stretch to associate it with Vlad the Putin.

Well, he composed the work in 1880, so I don’t think it was as long as a century.

Also, the US did have a rather adversarial relationship with the USSR back when the Boston Pops first did an Independence Day performance of the piece.

I was at a public concert which included both 1812 and a song of Swiss patriotism that Americans have also co-opted (the William Tell Overture). Though they also did the Star-Spangled Banner, a couple of Sousas, and a Copland.

There’s also Beethoven’s Battle Symphony, which ought to be better known.

Yeah, what’s more American than a piece of music that goes BOOM?

My Country, Tis of Thee

Obligatory Calvin and Hobbes link.

But remember, the “1812” does refer in the title and by abstract musical means to a great victory in war, the National Anthem a) has words and b) more specifically, the actual words “bombs bursting,” which are critical to the whole imagery.

ETA: Now that I mention it, I can’t think of any songs at the moment where the lyrics deal with bombs bursting at all. There must be some from the the '60s protest movement…

Here’s another article that deals with the history of the tradition, which touches on many of the points raised above: it’s a piece that lends itself to spectacle; the Boston Pops conductor was a hell of a showman; Tchaikovsky had been a popular composer in the US both during his lifetime and after his death; and the “Russian-ness” of the piece has been largely erased in the popular imagination.

True, but that’s a song of Swiss patriotism extracted from an opera in French written by an Italian, who based it on a play written a German who had never been to Switzerland.

I suppose that diverse lineage makes it feel even more American, in a way…

FWIW, on the general topic raised by this thread, and arguably even on this particular comment of MikeS

The hasidic movement in Judaism has wordless ecstatic chants (nigunim) which are a distinguishing part of its practice. I don’t have the cite, but one of its grand rebbes ruled on a complaint about one of their tunes taken from some war-song or other (nationalistic and secular, obviously, both bad mojo) and ruled it is not only acceptable but an elevation and transformation of the actual spirit in the music.

One of my early musical memories is cranking up 1812 on our family’s big entertainment console. The LP was one of Mercury’s “Living Presence” recordings with real cannons and bells. I found the documentary track on youtube here: Story of achieving cannon and bells sounds for the recording (1955)