Sunday, July 10, 2011

Happy Independence Day, America, and God Save the Tsar!

So last night, Cunegonde and I and some friends went to Oronoco Park here in the lovely Democratic People's Republic of Alexandria, Virginia, to celebrate America's 235th birthday and DPRAV's 262nd, the celebration of both which is traditionally the Sunday after Independence Day. It was a lovely blankets-and-lawn-chairs-and-coolers kind of evening, a rockabilly band entertained us for about the first half-hour we were there, local dignitaries made speeches, DPRAV fed birthday cupcakes to the crowd, and about an hour before the 9:30 scheduled time for the fireworks display, the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra took the stage and treated us to a wide range of music, from Duke Ellington to Rogers and Hammerstein to Gustav Holst (Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, from The Planets), to music from Harry Potter.

At 9:30, it was dark enough for the fireworks to begin, and the orchestra played the last ten minutes or so of Independence Day fireworks' standard accompaniment, Tchaikovsky's famous 1812 Overture.

Am I really the only person in America who finds this a ridiculously insulting juxtaposition of fireworks and music? Here's what 1812 is about, according to Wikipedia:
The music can be interpreted as a fairly literal depiction of the campaign: in June 1812, the previously undefeated French Allied Army of over half a million battle-hardened soldiers and almost 1,200 state-of-the-art guns (cannons, artillery pieces) crossed the Niemen River into Lithuania on its way to Moscow... we hear the ominous notes of approaching conflict and preparation for battle with a hint of desperation but great enthusiasm, followed by the distant strains of La Marseillaise, the French National Anthem, as the French approach... The Tsar desperately appeals to the spirit of the Russian people in an eloquent plea to come forward and defend the Rodina (Motherland)... we hear traditional Russian folk music. La Marseillaise returns in force with great sounds of battle as the French approach Moscow... the great armies clash on the plains west of Moscow, and Moscow burns. Just at the moment that Moscow is occupied and all seems hopeless, the hymn which opens the piece is heard again as God intervenes, bringing an unprecedented deep freeze with which the French cannot contend (one can hear the winter winds blowing in the music). The French attempt to retreat, but their guns, stuck in the freezing ground, are captured by the Russians and turned against them. Finally, the guns are fired in celebration and church bells all across the land peal in grateful honor of their deliverance from their "treacherous and cruel enemies."

An overture full of Russian folk tunes, La Marseillaise, the French national anthem (which Napoleon had actually banned in 1805, but never mind), and Russian hymns God Save the Tsar!, and God Preserve Thy People. What all this has to do with America's or DPRAV's birthday escapes my poor understanding. This is the celebration of the defeat of one European autocrat's armies by the armies of another European autocrat (with a huge assist from the weather), neither of whom had any use for what happened here in 1776, and both of whom happily imprisoned or murdered any of their royal subjects who had any thought of trying to bring 1776 to Paris or Moscow.

But we have to have 1812 when we have fireworks, because, well, you know, cannons! Really? Is that the only justification for playing this musical affront to every American value on the anniversary celebration of the founding of our country? Where we not only believe that all men have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but consider it to be as obvious a fact as 2+2=4?

If there is no other music out there that would be suitable for the occasion, can't we find someone who can write uplifting, rousing, Independence-Day-fireworks-worthy music, to include cannons for people unwilling to give up the tradition, to replace this misbegotten celebration of dictators, death and destruction?

Is there anyone who thinks John Williams isn't up to the job?

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