Top Five Most Triumphal Classical Works – Ever
Thursday, July 10, 2014
This Sunday, Germany and Argentina, two countries boasting as strong traditions in classical music and opera as soccer, face off in the World Cup final. As they prepare for the championship match, we’ve collected five works that would adequately celebrate the new victors.
1. Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture
Tchaikovsky believed that his 1812 Overture, which commemorates the Russian victory over Napoleon’s forces at the Battle of Borodino, had “only local and patriotic significance” when he wrote the piece nearly 70 years after the victory. Tchaikovsky’s prediction has been anything but the case as the rousing work is a favorite accompaniment for fireworks celebrations worldwide; many Americans even mistake it as an ode to the U.S. victory over the British in the War of 1812 (that both "La Marseillaise" and the Russian anthem engage in a musical battle within the work provides a strong hint to its true reference).
2. John Williams: Theme from Star Wars
Few pieces of music are invoked as frequently in sports arenas as John Williams's score for the movie Star Wars. Visiting teams are often greeted with the nefarious “Imperial March,” and the winning side is often honored with this final theme from the end of the first Star Wars movie, when Luke Skywaker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca are honored for blowing up the Empire’s Death Star. Williams’s regal tune, referencing Wagner, Strauss, Holst and other Romantic composers, has accompanied many other champions as they collect their prizes.
3. Berlioz: Grande Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale
Ten years after the France’s July Revolution, which overthrew the Bourbon king, the country looked to commemorate the heroes of this uprising by erecting a column for them at Place de la Bastille. The government also commissioned Hector Berlioz, and offered him a generous sum of 10,000 francs, to memorialize the event in music. The result was Grande Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale. “What I had in mind was a fanfare played by archangels, simple but noble, full of panache and martial in character, an immense and radiant call," wrote Berlioz of the third and final movement, a stirring anthem that would eventually call for a chorus to sing of both glory and triumph.
4. Beethoven: Wellington's Victory
Another musical commemoration of a Napoleonic defeat, Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory was written after British army commander Arthur Wesley subdued the French forces at Vittoria, Spain in 1813, during the Peninsular War. For his efforts in driving the French out of Spain and Portugal, he was named the Duke of Wellington and stimulated Beethoven to write 15-minute orchestral piece. Premiering on the same program as the composer’s Seventh Symphony, the work was notable for an unusual percussion section that includes muskets and other artillery sounds, making it one of the first pieces of classical music to accurately mimic the din of battle.
5. Verdi: Triumphal March from Aida
Though the end of Verdi’s Aida is grim, the second-act triumphal scene is one of the most glorious in all of opera. In it the victorious Egyptians parade onto the stage after their defeat over Ethiopia to one of the most famous fanfares in Western music, “Gloria all’Egitto.” After the premiere of Aida, held in 1869 in Cairo, this march proved so popular it’s said to have been an inspiration for Egypt’s national anthem, composed by Verdi’s countryman Giuseppe Pugioli.
What piece best signifies triumph to you? Please share your suggestions in the comments box below.