Conducted by Xian Zhang, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra performs Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovski’s orchestral tone poem Marche slave in B-flat minor, Op. 31.
Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave
The Marche slave in B-flat minor, Op. 31, is an orchestral tone poem by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky published in 1876.
Very few people know that Marche slave originally had the title Serbian-Russian Marsh. This composition was inspired by the events of the Serbian-Turkish War of 1876. It was created at the request of a close friend of Tchaikovsky’s, Nikolai Rubinstein, director of Musical Society, to write a work that would be performed at a charity concert of the Red Cross for the Russians wounded in this war. Tchaikovsky agreed and wrote this work in five days.
At first, the composer intended to write a symphonic fantasy but nevertheless decided that the elements of three Serbian folk songs: “The bright sun, you do not shine equally, “This is the doorstep of Serbia” and “Powder dust” (the second part of the song “Gladly goes Serb in soldiers”), merged into one composition.
Tchaikovsky found the melodies in the collection of Cornelius Stankovic’s “Serbian Folk Melodies”, printed in Vienna in 1862, for which the Serbian composer was awarded the Russian Order of St. Stanislaus by royal decree. At the end of the composition, he used the melody of the Russian anthem “God, Guard the Tzar”.
The first part of Marche slave describes the suffering of Serbs under Turkish occupation and war crimes in the Balkans, in which Tchaikovsky used two Serbian folk songs (with characteristic Serbian scale with an augmented second). Then, followed by the second part describing the uprising of the Serbs and the gathering of Russian volunteers ready to come to the aid of their brothers.
General Mikhail Chernyayev came to Serbia with several thousand volunteers, where he received Serbian citizenship and became the commander-in-chief of the Serbian army on the Moravian Front. In the battles around Aleksinac, great sacrifice was shown by Serbian soldiers. Colonel Rajevski (the prototype of Vronsky in Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina) was killed in the battle near Adrovac. His body was buried in the gate of the monastery of St. Roman in Junis The third part causes the greatest emotions of the listener because it shows the death, withdrawal, and anguish of wounded Serbia. The last, most lively part is the march of Russian volunteers.
The premiere of the Serbian-Russian Marsh (Marche slave) was held on November 5th, 1876 at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, under the conductor Nikolai Rubinstein and caused a real sensation, which grew into a patriotic event. The conductor had to repeat the work as a whole.
Three days later, on November 8, 1876, Tchaikovsky wrote a letter to his sister A.I. Davidova (to which he was very attached): “Last Saturday, my Serbian-Russian March played here, which produced a storm of patriotic mood.” “All the audience got up, many jumped out of the chairs, and cheered bravely mixed with the screams.”
Until then, Tchaikovsky was considered a promising composer and not a very successful conductor (because of his shyness, he was visibly dull on the stage), but his Serbian-Russian march, as he always called him, definitely made him a celebrity.
After a fantastic success in Moscow, this work will undergo huge success under his conductor’s stick in Europe and be included in his regular repertoire. He also performed it at the opening of Carnegie Hall in New York.
In the first, original print, there is a title “Serbian-Russian March” and under that name, this work was performed from the very beginning, but on the next Jurgenson Edition (Peter Jurgenson) as the title of the composition it says “Slavonic Marsh” and under that name, Marsh became known all over the world.
- Marche slave on Wikipedia
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