Marche Slave, Op. 31
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
If Tchaikovsky was not an avowed musical nationalist, he was still patriotic enough to rouse orchestral Russianness when the occasion demanded. The occasion for Marche Slave (Slavonic March) was a benefit concert held in 1876 to raise funds for soldiers wounded in the Turko-Serbian war, a war which, because of Czar Alexander II’s sympathy for the Serbs, developed into armed conflict between Turkey and Russia.
For this March, Tchaikovsky drew upon folk materials of the strongest Slavic character, beginning with the dirge-like main theme taken from a Serbian folk song. In the agitated, dynamic middle section, the composer quotes the Russian national anthem, “God Save the Czar,” a theme which also figures prominently in the 1812 Overture. Russians hearing the March in 1876 could hardly have failed to respond to Tchaikovsky’s fervent emotionalism as conveyed by his orchestral brilliance, and the piece was, of course, an immediate success. — Orrin Howard