Work: Marche slave, Op. 31
About This Work
Marche slave (1876), one of Tchaikovsky's most popular concert works, was written for a concert to benefit soldiers wounded in the war between Serbia and Turkey. The conflict eventually escalated into all-out war between Russia and Turkey; to
capitalize on the prevailing spirit of Slavic solidarity, Tchaikovsky used appropriate folk songs as the main themes in his march, incorporating the Russian national anthem, "God Save the Tsar," at key points. Still, Tchaikovsky's intent seems not to have been wholly nationalistic; his orchestration of the national anthem in its various appearances is almost satirical, though this aspect of the work is often downplayed in performance. During the Soviet era, when performances of the old Tsarist hymn were forbidden, a melody by Glinka was inserted into the Marche slave at appropriate points as a substitute.
The march opens as a darkly scored trudge to which an air of mystery and exoticism is added by a sinuous, quasi-Eastern melody, which gives way to a related surging string theme over a brass tattoo. A second theme group revolves around a brightly martial, rather whimsical fife-and-drum tune, which quickly builds into a hearty two-step in the brass. The Tsarist hymn bursts in over nattering woodwinds, after which Tchaikovsky, in characteristic fashion, fills out the march's second half by putting his thematic material through its paces in the various sections of the orchestra, exploiting variations in timbre and register to maximum effect. The work ends with a stirring, swirling, decidedly unmarchable coda.
-- James Reel
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