Waiting For the Fireworks to Begin!
There’s been so much happening in the world today—the terrorist attacks on Turkey and Iraq, the death of Nobel-winning author Elie Wiesel—but hey, it’s Independence Day! And I want to write about good stuff today. So this week I’m writing about fireworks shows—or the music you’re likely to hear at these shows.
Almost every fireworks show I’ve been to, they play either John Phillips Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”, or Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” I’m sure you’ve heard both, even if you don’t recognize the names. You can listen to “Stars and Stripes” here, and the “1812 Overture” here. Both have fascinating stories behind them.
If you’re composing a short list of America’s most influential artists of any kind, John Phillips Sousa has to be near the top. He was the greatest leader the U.S. Marine Corps Band had ever had, and a prolific composer, creating over 400 musical works of various types, including seven operettas (short operas). Most people, though, know him for his marching music—137 of his works were marches, two becoming the official songs of the Army (adapted from “U.S. Field Artillery”) and the Marine Corps–“Semper Fidelis.”
Ever watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus? Remember the theme music? That’s Sousa’s “Liberty Bell.”
In 1987—55 years after Sousa’s death—Congress passed a law making Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” the Official March of the United States.
The thing about the Overture? It wasn’t composed by an American. It wasn’t inspired by any event in American history, let alone the War of 1812. It wasn’t even composed in 1812. It had nothing to do with America or American history—and America fell in love with it anyway.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a contemporary of Sousa, but that’s about all they had in common. Tchaikovsky composed the 1812 Overture in 1880 to celebrate his own nation’s—Russia’s—fight against the French Grande Armee as Napoleon tried to conquer Russia. More specifically, it was inspired by the Battle of Borodino; a heroic last stand against Napoleon’s forces—which the Russians lost!
But while Napoleon won this battle, he would lose the war. The French took massive casualties that day—too massive. The French had used up most of their supplies and had stretched their supply lines beyond their limit. The retreating Russians made sure to leave nothing behind the French could use, even burning down parts of Moscow. And winter was coming. It is not for nothing Russians credit so many military victories to “General Mud” and “Field Marshall Winter.”
In the end Napoleon was forced to retreat—in winter, ravaged by typhus, and harrassed all the way by Cossacks. By the time they got back to Poland, Napoleon’s Grande Armee had been reduced to a tenth of its pre-Invasion numbers. This was the beginning of the end for Napoleon; though they lost battle after battle, the Russians proved Napoleon was not invincible. In time, Napoleon’s “allies” would turn on him, and destroy his empire.
OK, enough of the history lesson. I love a good fireworks show, and the best are those set up by professionals—with good food, and great music! Here’s a list of fireworks shows this weekend by date! Hope to see you there!