Saturday, August 4, 2012

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture

I am a big fan of reading classical literature if no other reason than it assists in understanding references and small nuances in modern literature. For example I am reading Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” right now, and I am learning of many tie ins from British history and folklore to George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. The winner of the joust and melee at the tournament has the right to name the queen of love and beauty, before the Norman invasion England referred to itself as the seven kingdoms, servants to the lords wear chains around their neck, proving one’s innocence with trials by combat, the laws of hospitality, and lots of knights doing good deeds while incognito, also Robin Hood and Friar Tuck show up but are never named (well they are eventually). The last bit about Robin Hood has nothing to do with “A Game of Thrones,” I just thought it was neat, then again Robin Hood and his outlaws and their loyalty to King Richard Coeur D'Lion is similar to Lord Berric and his band of not so merry men and their loyalty to King Robert Baratheon.

The tie in here is that I can discover the same kind of references and nuances in classical music. If you remember way back to November 2010 when I talked about Johan Sebastian Bach I made a big deal about how his works would later inspire a seeming majority of European conductors and song writers, but perhaps a more modern example, and perhaps a more relevant example of profound influence on others can be see within the works of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Paul Duncan is based off Tchaikovsky.
When I began to read about Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s life one detail strongly stood out to me, and that was his lifelong depression stemming from being separated from his mother. Tchaikovsky was forced to leave   home in order to study music and evidently he missed his mother badly, and anxiety led to depression when   his mother passed away not long after his leaving, consequentially this haunted him for the rest of his life. This   detail of Tchaikovsky’s life reminded me a lot of fictional character Paul Duncan. Naoki Urasawa’s “Pluto” is a manga that completely retells the Astro Boy story arc “The Strongest Robot in the World,” as a murder mystery where the laws of Isaac Asimov robotics apply. “Pluto” is awesome, but it would take an entire essay just to explain how so and just how much. What is relevant here is that I now know that chapters 4-6 “North #2” parts 1-3 which involve the character Paul Duncan who is a depressed, brilliant, eastern European, musician whose agony revolves around the abandonment of his mother at an early age is likely inspired by the life of Tchaikovsky. Fortunately the powerful robot North #2 is there to help him out. 

Famous, rather infamous, works of Tchaikovsky include “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake,” and many people’s favorite the “1812 Overture.” A great many Christmas songs were inspired by and reworked from, “The Nutcracker,” and this includes multiple tracks from nearly every Trans Siberian Orchestra album. I hardly know anything about ballet, but I do know that “Swan Lake,” is considered one of the most important/best/something, and who could forget Darren Aronofsky’s film “Black Swan?” a film that basically gave someone an excuse to tamper with and perform Tchaikovsky’s work. Lastly the “1812 Overture;” so many songs are inspired by the “1812 Overture;” in fact any song with the word “Overture” in the title that is not actually the overture to a larger piece of music, you can pretty much guarantee is in some way, shape, or form, a tribute to Tchaikovsky.

Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” has been used in many movies and television shows (45 times according to IMDB,, but perhaps most memorably in the opening and closing scenes for “V for Vendetta” were explosions of government buildings are accompanied by the “1812 Overture,” which I think was outlawed in that movie for literally no reason.

The “1812 Overture” has something of an interesting lore surrounding it. Americans in their American ways began to believe that the Overture was written about their victory over the British in 1812, which all of us Canadians know is bullshit since we (British subjects that would eventually became Canadians) drove them back and burned down their white house in that war, quite the opposite of a victory if you ask me. Oh America, why so America? Meanwhile the “1812 Overture” in actuality is about the Russian victory over Napoleon in the same year. If you listen closely you can actually hear references to the French and Russian national anthems within the “1812 Overture;” “La Marsillaise,” and “God Save the Czar,” which is fascinating. What makes this even funnier is that the American national anthem is about their defeat by the British in 1812; their flag still being there after their capital building is destroyed is meant to be a declaration of American resolve and is admittedly bad ass.

There was a long period of time where people often said that the epoch of music had been obtained. More than one generation thoroughly believed that Tchaikovsky was the climax to all music, and that nothing would ever rival it. I suspect people said the same thing about Beethoven for a long period of time after his death, but Tchaikovsky passed away in 1893 and people are still referencing him as the last and greatest of the greats in my lifetime and that says a lot about the strength of his lasting power. They call is classic music for a reason, this kind of music has already stood the test of time and “1812 Overture” is a true masterpiece. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is immortal, his music will live forever, it changed us; it probably changed everything.

Until later this month keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly

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