Slavonic March

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Tchaikovsky's Slavonic March (Славянский марш) in B-flat minor, Op. 31 (TH 45 ; ČW 42), sometimes known by the French title Marche slave, was composed and orchestrated in late September/early October 1876 in Moscow for a charity concert in aid of victims of the war between Serbia and Turkey.


The March is scored for an orchestra comprising 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in B-flat), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 cornets (in B-flat), 2 trumpets (in B-flat), 3 trombones, tuba + 3 timpani, military drum, cymbals, bass drum, tam tam + violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.


There is one movement: Moderato in modo di Marcia funebre (B-flat minor)—Più mosso. Allegro (B-flat major, 240 bars), lasting around 10 to 12 minutes in performance.


The March was commissioned by the director of the Russian Musical Society, Nikolay Rubinstein, for a concert in aid of victims of the conflict between Serbia and Turkey [1]. Tchaikovsky received the request around 20 September/2 October 1876, and the completed full score is dated 25 September/7 October.

During its composition and up to the time of publication, the composer himself referred to the March as the Serbo-Russian: the autograph inscription on the title page of the manuscript score reads: "Serbo-Russian March on Slavonic folk themes" [2].


Tchaikovsky arranged the March for solo piano simultaneously with the full score.


The first performance of the March took place on 5/17 November 1876 in Moscow, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein at the first symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society, in aid of the Slavonic Charitable Society. The March had great success and was repeated by popular demand. Tchaikovsky wrote about this concert on 8/20 November 1876 to Aleksandra Davydova: "Last Saturday my Serbo-Russian march was played here for the first time, which produced a whole storm of patriotic enthusiasm" [3].

Other notable early performances included:

  • Saint Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre, charity concert, 26 December 1876/7 January 1877, conducted by Eduard Nápravník
  • Moscow, Bolshoi Theatre concert, 13/25 February 1877, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Manchester, Hallé Orchestra concert, 19 February/3 March 1881, conducted by Charles Hallé
  • Boston, Music Hall, 23 February/7 March 1883, conducted by George Henschel
  • London, 5th London Symphony Concert, 1/13 December 1887, conducted by George Henschel
  • Paris, 23rd Colonne symphony concert, 24 March/5 April 1891, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Moscow, Aleksandr Ziloti's concert, 6/18 November 1891, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Saint Petersburg, Charity Concert, 1/13 December 1891, conducted by Tchaikovsky
  • Amsterdam, Concertgebouw, matinee concert, 18/30 July 1893, conducted by Jean Renard.


In October 1876, the March was printed by Pyotr Jurgenson in the author's arrangement for piano under the title Slavonic March. The same publisher also printed an arrangement for piano duet by Aleksandra Batalina in February 1879; the full score in February 1880; and the orchestral parts in December 1887.

In 1889, a new edition of the full score and parts was produced [4], and in May 1893 an arrangement for two pianos and eight hands by Eduard Langer was published.

The full score and Tchaikovsky's solo piano arrangement of the Slavonic March were published in volumes 24 (1961) and 50Б (1965) respectively of the composer's Complete Collected Works, edited by Irina Iordan. The statements of the anthem 'God Save the Tsar' were replaced with other music, with the original text confined to footnotes and appendices.


Tchaikovsky's manuscripts of the full score (ф. 88, No. 86) [view] and solo piano arrangement (ф. 88, No. 87) [view] are preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow.


See: Discography

Related Works

Tchaikovsky made use of authentic Serbian folksongs in his Slavonic March, which he marked on the manuscript of the piano arrangement:

  • Sunce jarko, ne sijaš jednako [The bright sun doesn't shine everywhere], from bar 5
  • Prag je ovo milog Srba [On the borders of our beloved Serbia], from bar 86
  • Jer puščani prah ne zadaje njemu strah [Because he does not fear their guns], the fourth section of the song Радо иде Србин у војнике [The Serb is happy to go to war], from bar 104.

The central section and coda (bars 123–134, 205–219) quote from the Russian anthem God Save the Tsar (Боже Цапя храни) by Aleksey Lvov (1833).

In 1880, Tchaikovsky was asked by Karl Davydov to write music for one of a series of tableaux, depicting the principal events of the Alexander II's reign, he was less than enthusiastic about the scene commissioned from him, described as "The moment at which news is received in Montenegro of Russia's declaration of war on Turkey (the Leader reading the manifesto to the Montenegrins)". "Montenegro? The reading of a manifest? I am discomfited by this, and so far my head is completely empty", he replied. "Would it be possible to slip my Serbo-Russian March into this performance? Perhaps this is a silly idea, but I still really do not understand what it is all about. If this question (regarding the march) could be settled by you in the affirmative, then, perhaps, you could even find it possible to have it illustrate the 7th scene" [5]. However, this idea was rejected, and Tchaikovsky was required to devise new music instead.

External Links

Notes and References

  1. See Letter 862 to Nadezhda von Meck, 24 June/6 August 1878.
  2. See also Letter 862 to Nadezhda von Meck, 24 June/6 August 1878.
  3. See Letter 1414 to Karl Davydov, 25 January/6 February 1880.
  4. See Letter 4361 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 30 March/11 April 1891.
  5. Letter 513 to Aleksandra Davydova, 8/20 November 1876.