The 1812 Overture and its enduring appeal

Martin CullingfordMon 9th July 2012

Gramophone's editor introduces the latest issue of the magazine

Bombastic, grandiose, excessive…fun, thrilling and extraordinarily popular. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture justifies all these terms and, in doing so, has earned its place as one of the most performed and best-known works in the classical cannon. Sorry, canon. Use of heavy armaments are another part of the work’s appeal, as well as one of its more formidable challenges. As Geoffrey Norris dryly notes in his exploration of the work’s origins, and its subsequent performance and recorded history, ‘early recordings of the 1812 found that the 16 cannon shots near the end presented an acoustical and logistical snag’. Though composed in 1880, the 200th anniversary of its title date seems as good an excuse as any to devote our cover to it. And as those shots sound and bells ring out across an outside spectacular classical event sometime this summer (if, at least in Britain, the weather ever allows), fireworks soaring skywards, it’s clear that its appeal is as great as ever, more than justifying learning about how different societies and musicians have responded to and embraced this most memorable of works.

It’s certainly one of those works that engages audiences less familiar with classical music, an aim which is always to be applauded, for who knows where that may lead? Followers of our news pages 
will have noticed an ever-increasing trend in initiatives aimed at ‘de-formalising’ the concert experience, including Limelight in London’s basement-bar 100 Club, DG’s Yellow Lounge, late nights at Wigmore Hall, or the OAE’s Night Shift. Post-show DJs seem obligatory at many such events. I hope it all attracts people to hear high-quality classical music who might not otherwise have considered it. But a visit to an exhibition at London’s Foundling Museum about Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens reminded me that such laudable initiatives have old roots. There, in Georgian London, 100,000 visitors a year could enjoy back-to-back Handel in a setting far removed from the formality of the concert hall, free to stand or stroll at will. Perhaps it is to there, south of the Thames, several centuries ago, that we can trace the origins of innovative audience development.

For more information about the latest issue click here

Martin Cullingford

Martin Cullingford is Editor and Publisher of Gramophone - brought up in Britten country on the Suffolk coast, when not practising the guitar he can often be found enjoying Evensong.

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