From the Archives: God, These Cannon Shots in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture Are So Obscene and Obnoxious! What Has Become of Pop Music?
August 20, 1882. MOSCOW.
I am appalled.
Today, the music died. …As did my eardrums.
Now, I’m as big a fan as anyone when it comes to the indomitable Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. He is — or at least, he was, in my mind — a genre-defining icon. I’ve purchased all of his sheet music, hummed at the top of my lungs at all his concert, and even named my firstborn son after him.
He’d drop bangers after bangers after bangers, you know? Ever heard of — oh, I don’t know — Swan Lake?! That inescapable earworm of serene soliloquy got me through my years at University. And now, ten years later, fueled by Tchaikovsky’s killer tunes, I’ve fulfilled my dreams of becoming a full-time music critic.
So when tickets for Tchaikovsky’s new musical experience, the “1812 Overture,” went on presale, I snatched mine up in a heartbeat. I got two, in fact: one for me and one for my little Pyotr. I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to introduce the little tyke to his namesake, and open his eyes to the maestro’s masterful melody.
I should have known something was wrong when the premiere wasn’t even in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour — our tickets lied to us. I mean — come on — how long does it take to set up a venue?! They’ve been building the thing since 1812, for Christ’s sake!
So they put us in a tent instead. Next to the unfinished church. Which was fine, I guess. It was hot, sure, but it’s not like they could have conditioned the air or anything. And — boy, all the biggest names in music were there! My little Pyotr’s eyes widened, gleaming in the light that radiated from Tchaikovsky himself: he stood at the helm of his orchestra like a captain about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.
The lights dimmed. Tchaikovsky passed his genius onto his conductor, Ippolit Al’tani, and joined the crowd.
And the song began.
It was a masterpiece indescribable in words. Until the piece reached its climax — whereupon sixteen cannons rolled into the tent. And no — it wasn’t a military ambush, but a musical one.
One by one, an earth-shattering cavalcade of cannonfire blasted through the tent, abhorrently festooning the orchestra’s strongest downbeats. What could ever warrant such an obnoxious, repetitive beat?
My son’s amazement was demolished. My heart was broken into smithereens.
But as soon as took my son’s hand and stood to storm out of the tent in fury, the song ended. I was caught looking as if I intended to give Tchaikovsky a standing ovation… and the crowd caught on. Following my unintentional lead, they all stood, hooted, hollered, and cheered in raucous applause. I was mortified.
It brings me great pain to say this… but there is now a distinction between an old and new Tchaikovsky — and the old Tchaikovsky is dead.
But now, with pen to paper, mulling over recent events, something has changed. I feel something bubbling inside me. I feel… I feel the power of heavy beats… the absolute verve of mechanical sidechains. I feel a new musical era pulsing through my veins. I feel compelled — compelled to — to — to —
I miss the old Tchaikovsky. The calm and bold Tchaikovsky.
Breaking the mold Tchaikovsky! Warming the cold Tchaikovsky.
Used to admire Tchaikovsky, but man, they should fire Tchaikovsky.
This is a liar Tchaikovsky: this cannon-fire Tchaikovsky.
I miss the beats, Tchaikovsky! We’d clap on our feet, Tchaikovsky!
I took my son to meet Tchaikovsky — he’s named after the Tchaikovsky!
But now I look and look around and can’t see Tchaikovsky.
I used to love Tchaikovsky, I tried to be Tchaikovsky.
There’s no such thing as Pete Tchaikovsky.