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.