Tchaikovsky’s score is an account of events that transpired during Napoleon’s invasion and the Battle of Borodino in 1812, which Russia lost to the French emperor.
Tchaikovsky employs a combination of pastoral and martial themes, with the French National Anthem being heard more prominently as French forces approach and it seems the French are invincible as their anthem begins to overwhelm the orchestra.
However, as Russia’s Tsar calls upon his people to venture out to defend their country, the Russian people begin to join their fellow soldiers and Russian folk melodies are increasingly voiced as the French and Russian themes go back and forth and five cannon shots ring out.
Despite emerging from the Battle of Borodino victorious, the French over-stretched themselves and could not find the supplies and resources they were anticipating when they finally reached and conquered the burnt and abandoned Moscow.
They were forced to retreat, represented by Tchaikovsky as a series of descending melodies, as the French army were further depleted by famine, disease and brutal low temperatures.
Despite winning because France’s supplies ran out, rather than their own superior combat abilities, Russia’s victory celebrations are represented by a grandiose reiteration of O Lord, Save Thy People with bells of all kinds ringing out and 11 more cannon blasts.
Tchaikovsky supposedly disliked the work, calling it “very loud and noisy and completely without artistic merit, obviously written without warmth or love”, but it remains one of his most played and recorded works.
Vicky Moran, 2nd Violin.