You learn the most fascinating things when you're on vacation. For example, I was in Boston over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, which was pretty awesome, since I got to hear the live broadcast of the Boston Pops' concert on the Esplanade, and the commentary that came along with it was at times banal but occasionally educational, as well. So when the Pops started playing Tchaikovsky's 1812, complete with Howitzer fire, I was surprised to learn that the 1812 is not, in fact, about the War of 1812. Rather, it is about Napoleon's invasion of Russia in that same year (which, of course, makes much more sense, seeing as how Tchaikovsky was Russian).
In spite of this, the 1812 remains a central feature of many a Fourth of July celebration, and ultimately, I think that it is with good reason. After all, it is an exciting piece of music, especially when the performance is punctuated by cannons. And it is quite beautiful, even with all of its hard edges. Perhaps I'm biased--I absolutely adore certain of Tchaikovsky's works. But I think that most listeners can find something to love in the 1812.
If you aren't familiar with Tchaikovsky's work, I recommend using the 1812 as a starting point, since it combines many of Tchaikovsky's hallmark sounds. Happy listening!
Photo via Wikipedia.