September 2010

Slavonic March in B-flat Minor, Op. 31 ("Marche Slave")

by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

We talked about Tchaikovsky (pronounced "chie-KOFF-skee") in July 2009. Here is another of his great masterpieces. Tchaikovsky himself would refer to this pieces as his "Russo-Serbian March". It is formally known as Slavonic March in B-flat Minor, Op. 31, but it is most well known by its French title: Marche Slave (pronounced "marsh slahv").

Marche Slave was written in 1876. At this time, the expanding Ottoman Empire (mostly modern Turkey) was at war with Serbia. Russia supported Serbia, and the government requested a march dedicated to the Serbian effort.

The main theme of Marche Slave is from a Serbian folk song, whose title in English is "Come, my dearest, why so sad this morning?". This theme can be heard here:

When the melody builds to its highest peak, the trumpets blare the melody, almost as if as a cry for help:

Marche Slave is performed in B-flat minor. Remember that a minor key typically sounds sad or angry. Most of this piece may feel like a mixture of sad, angry, and desperate. In the middle, though, the flutes and piccolos bring in a major key section that sounds happy and victorious. This is to symbolize the Russians coming to the Serbians' aid:

In fact, shortly after the theme for the Russians, you'll hear another familiar tune. The Russian national anthem, God Save the Tsar, was also used by Tchaikovsky in the 1812 Overture. Here is an excerpt of that:

Jon's Introduction to This Piece:

If you go back to October 2009, you'll hear me talk about a vinyl record that was my absolute favorite. On the first side, it had two pieces: Marche Slave and Night on Bald Mountain. I wore this record into oblivion playing it over and over again. I can remember my brothers and sisters and I would jump and dance around the house listening to this album when I was as young as four years old. I'm pretty sure that by the time I was a teenager, that album was too scratched to be of any value. We played it alot.

This piece, and Night on Bald Mountain, were my first great loves in the world of Classical music.


And now, here is Marche Slave. This recording is 9 minutes 14 seconds long. It starts out very quietly, but it will eventually get very noisy and boisterous. If you feel the need to get up and dance, be my guest.

Slavonic March in B-flat Minor, Op. 31 "Marche Slave" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikvosky (9:14)

For those interested, this recording features Erich Kunzel conducting the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. This particular recording is a little faster than I usually like it. The beginning is marked to be played like a "funeral march".

Jon's Interpretation:

Again, this is a very early love of mine. There's something strangely harmonious about Middle Eastern and Slavic music. They use a variation of the harmonic minor scale for most of their music. It's mystical-sounding.

But on top of that, who doesn't enjoy a good march to get your feet moving? Some of my brothers and sisters and I had consistent choreographies for parts of this piece that were just plain silly. I can remember one that I did with my brother Rob in particular. We would do a kind of vaudeville-style stage-left shuffle (then stage-right) to this segment toward the end:

And for those who've seen The Wizard of Oz, it's remarkable how well "Ding, Dong, The Witch is Dead" fits into this segment:

Extra Credit:

For those who feel the urge to follow the music, I found the orchestral score:

Conductor's Score for Slavonic March in B-flat Minor, Op. 31 "Marche Slave" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky