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Friday, September 7, 2012

It's the 200th anniversary of the battle of Borodino, on which the 1812 Overture is based

Here's the finale of the 1812 Overture conducted by Leonard Bernstein:


Today is the 200th anniversary of the battle of Borodino on 7 September 1812, at which Napoleon's Grande Armée grappled bitterly with massed Russian forces defending Moscow under Marshal Mikhail Kutusov (1745-1813)* during Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Kutusov suffered significant losses, and the French occupied Moscow a week later, but in a month, Napoleon's disastrous retreat toward the west had begun. As Tolstoy noted in War and Peace,

"The cudgel of the people's war was lifted with all its menacing and majestic might, and caring nothing for good taste and procedure, with dull-witted simplicity but sound judgment, it rose and fell, making no distinctions."

Napoleon's own judgment has become more famous:

"Du sublime au ridicule il n'y a qu'un pas."

(From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.)

Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was commissioned to write that staple of summer pops concerts, the 1812 Overture (actually Ouverture Solennelle 1812, Op. 49), for an exhibition of arts and industries at Moscow in 1881. It was intended to commemorate the battle of Borodino and Napoleon's ultimate defeat.**)

* N.B. Earlier, at the battle of Smolensk, Kutusov had noted, "The battle has already been decided. It is like a river that runs downhill. I can only move it slightly to the right or left. But its outcome will not be changed by me."

** During the Soviet era, Russian performances of the 1812 Overture substituted an anonymous chorale-like tune for "God Preserve the Czar," the "Russian hymn" quoted by Tchaikovsky in the original.
 
A representation of the battle of Borodino:

Taken from Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email.  If you'd like to be added to his list, leave your email address in the comments.

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