The ceremonies surrounding Victory Day on the 9th of May are filled with patriotic music. Patriotic music in modern Russia can be roughly divided into two eras.
First of all, there is orchestral music from the 19th century, a golden age for Russian classical music dominated by Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, just to name a few.
Secondly, there is the Soviet era and in particular the music of the Alexandrov Choir whose music is often directly associated with victory in the Great Patriotic War (Second World War).
The great Russian orchestral tradition of the late Tsarist period continued into the 20th century as late Tsarist and Soviet composers continued to produce world-class music.
While every country’s patriotic music is special, Russia is unique in the sense that millions throughout the world recognise the following pieces both for their artistic merits and for their Russian spirit.
1. The Sacred War
Composed by Aleksandr Aleksandrov of the Alexdrov choir, this is the song that sent the young men off to the front in 1941 when Russia entered the most deadly war in human history. The powerful lyrics foretell the mighty Soviet resolve in the face of the fascist enemy. This song will be heard throughout Russia on the 9th of May. Don’t be surprised to see people of all ages crying when they hear this powerful piece.
2. Overture for The Year 1812–Tchaikovsky
Originally composed in 1882 to celebrate the consecration of the Cathedral of Christ The Saviour in Moscow, Thchikovsky’s epic overture incorporates many Orthodox and patriotic Russian themes including, ‘Lord Save They People’ and God Preserve The Tsar (the Tsarist national anthem).
The peace tells of Russia’s victory over Napoleonic France in 1812, but the overture is performed throughout Russia on many occasions as a reminder of a Russian triumph against great odds whether in 1812 or 1945.
*(notice the strong vibrato in the brass, a quintessential Russian sound lost in almost all western recordings of Russian music)
3. The Russian and Soviet National Anthem
The current Russian anthem was composed during the Great Patriotic War by Alexander Alexandrov. Although removed during the turbulent 1990s, President Putin restored this stirring melody with updated lyrics in the year 2000.
Here is an instruemtnal version of the song which is often called the world’s best national anthem.
4. Coronation March for Tsar Alexander III–Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky was commissioned to compose a march for the coronation of Tsar Alexander III in 1881. The piece has more recently been used during Vladimir Putin’s inauguration ceremony in 2012. It is a peace truly fit for an emperor…or a highly popular President.
Katyusha was originally composed in 1938 by Matvei Blanter, but gained immense popularity during the Great Patriotic War. The song tells a tale of a young girl called Katyusha pining for a soldier who is on the front defending the motherland. It became one of the most endearing songs of the war and remains popular to this day.
6. The Serbo-Russian March/Marche Slav–Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky composed his Slavonic March in 1876 during the Russo-Turkish War. The war saw the Serbian state fully liberated from centuries of Ottoman Turkish oppression. Current events in The Balkans have made this piece all the more important. Serbia, like Russia holds Victory Day celebrations on the 9th of May. Both countries remain fraternal after a long history of friendship.
7. Finale from Life For The Tsar–Glinka
Mikhail Glinka is generally seen as the founder of modern Russian classical music. His opera Life For the Tsar features a theme that has been used throughout Russian history during patriotic celebrations. During the Soviet period, this piece was inserted into the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Overture for The Year 1812 in place of Tchaikovsky’s arrangement of God Preserve The Tsar.
The piece was also used during much of the 1990s as the anthem of the Russian Federation.
8. Song of the Volga Boatmen
A traditional folk song arranged by Russian composer and music critic Mily Balakirev in 1866, this song too is a staple of the Alexandrov Choir and remains as popular today as ever.
9. V Put/Let’s Go!
Originally composed in 1954 on the eve of the 10 year anniversary of the first Victory Day by Vasily Solovyov-Sedoi, the instantly recognisable song is an enthusiastic call to arms for Russians remembering the bravery of their ancestors in past struggles.
10. Russky March/The Russian March
This is another war era favourite popularised by the Alexandrov Choir in the 20th century. It features traditional Russian dance rhythms set to patriotic marching lyrics.