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Alexis Lvov. Book illustration from the beginning of the 20th century  
  Peter Tchaikovsky. January 20, 1993, Odessa. Photo by V. Chekhovsky

Russian national anthem “God Save the Tsar” in Tchaikovsky’s music

Peter Tchaikovsky used the melody of anthem “God Save the Tsar” by Alexis Lvov in six of his works, as far as we know.

In the Soviet Union, all these Tchaikovsky’s works were usually performed in an edited form that either replaced the Tsarist anthem or omitted the fragments of music where it was used.

Comments in the table below tell how many times and in what places of each piece the anthem melody appears. To avoid accidentally spoiling the experience for those who want to listen to the recordings and find it out themselves, I’ve printed these comments in white color. You can easily read them by highlighting the text [[[ between the square brackets ]]] with your mouse, then it becomes visible.

Webmasters: please link to this page and not directly to the audio files (they change addresses from time to time).
Title Year of creation Listen
Original Soviet version
Festival Coronation March 1883
  • MP3 (10.9MB, 4:40, 320kbps) by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, conducted by Erich Kunzel (from CD “Pomp & Pizazz”, 1987)
  • MP3 (13.4MB, 5:43, 320kbps) by the Symphony Orchestra of St. Petersburg Philharmonic, conducted by Alexander Titov (from CD “P. Tchaikovsky. Manfred Symphony, Coronation March”, 1997; recorded in 1993)
  • MP3 (4.9MB, 5:14, 128kbps) by Dallas Symphony Orchestra (from CD “Marches: The Greatest Hits”, 1993; the places with the anthem sound a bit strange on this recording, as if some notes have been skipped)
  • MP3 (7.1MB, 4:47, vbr202kbps) by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, conducted by Erich Kunzel (from CD “Tchaikovsky: 1812”, 2001; recorded in 1999)
  • The anthem was omitted.
  • MP3 (5.2MB, 4:28, 160kbps) by the Tchaikovsky Large Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev (from CD “Tchaikovsky. Festival Coronation March, Overture in F major, Franceska da Rimini, Serenade for Strings”, 1996; recorded in 1991)
    The march was composed for the coronation of Tsar Alexander III.
    [[[ The anthem appears twice in the second half of the march. In the Soviet version both fragments of the music were cut from the score, which in my opinion changed the finale part of the march significantly.
    The Danish royal anthem1 is also present in the march, appearing on the second minute. 

    1812 Overture
    Op. 49
  • MP3 (6.6MB, 3:31, 256kbps) — finale, by Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Mariss Jansons (from CD set “Classical favourites”, CMC, 1999)
  • MP3 (21.6MB, 15:23, 192kbps) — choir begins with “God Save Thy People” prayer in Russian; by Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, and the Don Cossack Chorus conducted by Serge Jaroff (from MP3-CD “Herbert von Karajan”, 2003; recorded in 1967)
  • MP3 (15.9MB, 17:00, 128kbps) — choir begins with “God Save Thy People” prayer in English; by Valley Forge Military Academy Band, conducted by Col D. Keith Feltham, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
  • MP3 (21.9MB, 15:32, 192kbps) — fully instrumental; by Radio Symphony Orchestra Ljubljana, conducted by Anton Nanut
  • MP3 (25.8MB, 13:50, vbr254kbps) — Russian choir sings in the opening and in the finale; by the Tchaikovsky Large Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev (live concert recording from the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, ca.1995)
  • Modern version: MP3 (9.3MB, 6:37, 192kbps) by Bond Girls, arr. by Gareth Cousins & Julian Kershaw (from CD “Born”; recorded in 2000)
  • The anthem melody was replaced with choir “Glory”2 from Glinka’s opera “Ivan Susanin”.
  • MP3 (960KB, 0:41, 192kbps) — fragment of the finale, by the Great Symphony Orchestra of the All-Union Radio and Central TV, conducted by Nikolay Golovanov (1948)
  • MP3 (25.4MB, 15:29, 224kbps) — fully instrumental; by the USSR State Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov (from MP3-CD “Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky. Symphonies, orchestral works”, RMG Records, 2004; recorded in 1974)
    [[[ The anthem is introduced in the finale of the overture. For those of you who may have difficulty recognizing it (like me), it can be heard at 2:33, 14:32, 16:01 and 14:35 into the records which are available here; for the fifth record you don’t need the hint, for the chorus actually sings “God Save the Tsar” there. ]]] Among the other prominent themes in the overture is the French anthem La Marseillaise, some recordings of which you can find on the main page of the museum.
    The overture as originally composed by Tchaikovsky did not have vocal parts, playing all the song themes instrumentally. The chorus was first introduced into the score in the mid-1960s by Igor Buketoff.

    March for the Volunteer Fleet
    for piano in C major
  • MP3 (6.2MB, 4:22, 192kbps) by Viktoria Postnikova (from CD “Tchaikovsky: Complete Piano Works, Vol. II”, 1993)
  • MP3 (7.7MB, 4:08, 256kbps) by Dana Protopopescu (from CD “Tchaikovsky Complete Piano Works, Vol. 1 — Pieces without Opus”; recorded in 1996)
  • I have no information on performances of this march in the USSR.
    [[[ The march ends with the anthem theme. ]]]

    Marche Slave
    Op. 31
  • MP3 (13.4MB, 9:31, 192kbps) by Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Herbert von Karajan (from MP3-CD “Herbert von Karajan”, 2003; recorded in 1967)
  • MP3 (20.2MB, 10:47, 256kbps) by Montreal Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Charles Dutoit (from CD “1812. Orchestre symphonique de Montreal — Charles Dutoit”, 1999)
  • The anthem melody was replaced with choir “Glory”2 from Glinka’s opera “Ivan Susanin”.
  • MP3 (18.8MB, 10:00, 256kbps) by the State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR, conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov (from CD “The Famous Marches in the World”, Yedang, 2002; recorded in 1989; details of this track are not certain thanks to messed up listing on the CD cover)
    [[[ The anthem melody appears twice: in the middle of the march, and in its last third. ]]]

    Cantata for the Opening of the Polytechnic Exhibition in Moscow. In memory of Peter the Great’s 200th anniversary 1872 To my knowledge, all existing recordings of the cantata were made in the USSR, with new lyrics. Thus you can only hear the original finale, with the anthem, in MIDI format created from the score:
  • MIDI (160KB, 3:57) — finale, created by Brett Langston
  • The anthem was omitted.
    A new completely different text for the cantata was written at the Soviet time by Sergei Gorodetsky (the original text was by Yakov Polonsky). This recording has the new text:
  • MP3 (7.2MB, 3:50, 256kbps) — finale, by Lev Kuznetsov, Large Choir of Moscow Radio conducted by Klavdiy Ptitsa, and Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Kozhukhar (from CD “Peter Tchaikovsky. Cantatas: ‘Moscow’, ‘Nature & Love’, ‘In Memory of Peter the Great’”, 2004; recorded in 1982; I cut this finale from the longer track that contains the complete cantata, ca. 30 mins. long)
    The finale of the cantata contains the most complete statement of the anthem that Tchaikovsky ever used.

    Festival Overture on the Danish National Anthem
    Op. 15
    1866, rev.1892
  • MP3 (17.7MB, 13:39, vbr177kbps) by the Symphony Orchestra of Russia, conducted by Veronika Dudarova (from CD “Tchaikovsky: Overtures and Fantasies (disc 1)”, 1992)
  • MP3 (22.9MB, 12:12, 256kbps) by the USSR Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov (from CD “P. Tchaikovsky. ‘Manfred’, Symphony. Solemn Overture on Danish Anthem”, 2004; recorded in 1987)
  • Surprisingly, the Svetlanov 1987 recording with the USSR Symphony Orchestra (listed in the column to the left) does include the Tsarist anthem. I don’t know yet about other Soviet recordings, though.
    The overture was composed for the marriage of Tsarevich Alexander (who later became Tsar Alexander III) and Princess Dagmar of Denmark.
    Denmark has had two official national anthems of an equal status, the civil anthem “Der er et yndigt land” and the royal anthem “Kong Christian stod ved højen mast” (which one is performed, depends on the occasion and the presence of members of the Royal family). This Tchaikovsky’s piece only refers to the latter, the royal anthem1.
    Also the Russian national anthem is present, if much less prominently. [[[ I can hear the beginning of the Russian anthem tune five times through this piece, each time played by a different instrument. ]]]

    1   Danish royal anthem
    The song “King Christian stood by the lofty mast” is one of the oldest national anthems, adopted in 1780. Misic by Ditlev Ludvig Rogert, words by Johannes Ewald. Listen:
  • Instrumental: MP3 (1.1MB, 1:10, 128kbps) by the United States Navy Band (from the library of national anthems for official use by U.S. government, 2000)
  • 2   Choir Glory
    In the Soviet versions of two of Tchaikovsky’s works presented above, the Tsarist anthem was replaced with the choir Glory from the opera Ivan Susanin (the opera was titled A Life for the Tsar in the Tsarist Russia) by Mikhail Glinka. This choice of melody for replacement was not accidental: it had been one of the popular patriotic tunes in Russia, and had its place in the musical culture of the USSR, too. This is the final choir in the epilogue of the opera, with original words praising the Tsar (words were edited in the Soviet version of the opera, but the music remained uncensored). It is often performed as a separate piece. Listen:
  • Instrumental: MP3 (6.5MB, 3:28, 256kbps) by the Wind Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, conductor Vladimir Andropov (from CD “The Wind Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, Russia”, 1996)
  • Instrumental: MP3 (8.1MB, 3:27, 320kbps) by St. Petersburg Admiralty Navy Band conducted by Alexei Karabanov (from CD “Music of the Russian Glory”, 2005; recorded in 2005; arranged by B. Anisimov)
  • MP3 (7.3MB, 3:06, 320kbps) — with the original words by Baron Rosen; by Orchestre Lamoureux conducted by Igor Markevitch (1957)
  • MP3 (6.7MB, 7:06, 128kbps) — epilogue of the opera, with the original words by Baron Rosen
  • MP3 (12.6MB, 6:44, 256kbps) — epilogue of the opera, with words by Sergei Gorodetsky written at the Soviet time; by chorus and orchestra of Bolshoi Theatre, conducted by Vasili Nebolsin (1950)
  • A cappella: MP3 (2.8MB, 1:29, 256kbps) — words by Baron Rosen; by the Male choir of the “Valaam” Institute of Choral Arts (recorded in 1997) | MP3 (2.7MB, 1:25, 256kbps) (recorded in 1991)
  • Besides Tchaikovsky, a number of other composers have used the music of God Save the Tsar in their works. Also, there are several songs and hymns sung in English to this music, all used today. All these works (i.e., those I am aware of) are listed on the main page of the museum.

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