music

Music Notes: Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave

Music Notes is an idea I’ve had for a while where I will take a relatively famous classical music piece and quickly run through the history of it. These articles should be short and to the point so, I hope, you will be able to get through them quickly. And, perhaps, discover something new!

One of the first ones that I have been meaning to do is Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave.

The Marche Slave (B-flat minor, op. 31) is a symphonic poem written in 1876. A symphonic poem is a short, one movement orchestral piece that is written to evoke the feeling of, well, a poem. Just using music instead of words. A common accessory to Tchikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Marche Slave is something many people could recognize but few could name upon hearing.

The piece was written just at the beginning of the Serbo-Turkish War. The Russians, as was their habit, supported the Serbians in their cause (due to shared ethnic background an religion). The Russian populace was so supportive of the Serbian cause that many Russians ran to go join the war to aid the Serbs. As an aside, this phenomenon is mentioned in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina when several characters go off to join the war.

The concert was actually commissioned for the war itself (well, the Red Cross Society), it was not written out of a fit of patriotic glee; glee such as that which drew Russia’s young men into a foreign war.

The piece itself draws heavily from Serbian folk songs and the Russian national anthem of the time (God Save the Tsar). Giving it strong patriotic and nationalist tones that would have been instantly recognizable to Russians and Serbians of the time.

The piece opened in Moscow in 1876 and was conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein.

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Paris

Heritage and Height Limits: A Parisian Problem

A city of tradition, revolution, and reaction, Paris has managed to be both charmingly old world while simultaneously extremely progressive and forward thinking. Paris proper, the twenty arrondissements encircled by the périphérique hasn’t undergone a major change since Hausmann and Napolean III set to work making the city what it is today. They widened boulevards and streets and redid architecture down to minute details like the newstands. Since then the city has been loathe to change.

When the era of skyscrapers can and massively changed cities like New York City and London, Paris relegated them to a suburb, La Défense. The business district of Paris actually exists outside the city itself. The center retained extremely strict height limits and historically important buildings were more or mess untouchable. The Eiffel Tower being a very rare exception that was built to celebrate 200 years of revolution. However, several buildings and structures have gotten through these limits. And they are almost amways greeted with hatred.

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Tour Montparnasse

The most notable is the uniformly detested Tour Montparnasse. Easily the second most prominent building in the skyline of Paris (after the Eiffel Tower). This uninspired black mark on the city inspired even stricter restrictions after it’s construction. Other monstrosities have made it through, with slightly less opprobrium than Tour Montparnasse: Centre Pompidou and the Louvre Pyramid.

After Tour Montparnasse the city had a kind of ‘never again’ moment and imposed even stricter height limits on the city. However, this is changing again under mayor Anne Hidalgo. Since views of the city are so expensive and sought after (the city alone contains 30% of the real estate value in France), developers really want to build things that are over the old height restrictions so that owners can have beautiful views of the city (before it fills with other buildings full of people seeking similar views… then suddenly the city is as ugly as London). Mayor Hidalgo recently got the City Council to lift height limits to over 500 feet and to approve a building called Tour Triangle. Described as ‘having a dialog with the city,’ a polite way of saying ‘it is glaring different and will not fit in at all.’

Paris is not the most visited city in the world because people want to see garish modern architecture. They could see that in any major city. People come to Paris to see what major cities of Europe used to be like before the World Wars destroyed most of them (Paris was spared by being declared an open city).

There has been quite an outcry against this move and the building has yet to be built. But does the city really need another Tour Montparnasse to know that it should be more careful and selective?

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