Musical Monday: Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”

On this Monday morning, I was particularly in the mood for some Napoleonic sounding music, because I am planning a lesson for a program I am teaching on Saturday that includes the battle of Waterloo, among many other famous battles from the 1700’s and 1800’s. There is no other piece of music out there that emulates this period in history better than Petr Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, which was actually written to commemorate the Russians’ victory over Napoleon during his invasion that culminated with battles such as Borodino.

The version of this piece that you can hear below is slightly different than others you may have heard, because near the end, when the pace begins to pick up, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra used actual cannons instead of loud drums, which was what Tchaikovsky had originally written in when it was first performed in 1880. The technology employed on this version (which I actually own on CD and was happy to find the identical one on YouTube for your listening pleasure) is known as “Digital Cannons”, which was something groundbreaking in 1978 and actually caused peoples’ speakers to break due to their high volume. A description of this new technology reads as follows:

Telarc International made recording history in 1978 when they used digital audio technology to record the 1812 Overture. With its live cannons and phenomenal dynamic range, it quickly became a favorite demo disc in many audio stores, and the ultimate test for my new CD player and system. The advent of multi-channel discrete surround sound and high-definition audio recording systems such as 24/96 PCM and the DSD system, with its frequency response extending beyond 100 kHz and the availability of Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio, were enough to coax Telarc to create a new recording of the 1812. The new recording is even more taxing on your sound system than the original.

The cannons no-doubt give this music a more warlike and epic sound, and if you play it loud enough, your speakers may actually vibrate off the table. I have listened to this on the surround sound in my car, and it truly is amazing! So here it is folks, Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece and my own personal favorite, played as it was meant to be heard:


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