Festival Overture on the Danish National Anthem

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky wrote his Festival Overture on the Danish National Anthem (Торжественная увертюра на Датский гимн) in D major, Op. 15 (TH 40 ; ČW 37) between September and November 1866 in Moscow. It was commissioned from Tchaikovsky by Nikolay Rubinstein for the forthcoming celebrations of the marriage of the heir to the Imperial Throne, Grand Duke Aleksandr Aleksandrovich, and the Danish Princess Dagmar (later Tsar Alexander III and Empress Mariya Fyodorovna) [1].


The Overture is scored for an orchestra comprising piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A, B-flat), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in D, E-flat), 3 trombones, tuba + 2 timpani, triangle, side drum, cymbals, bass drum + violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, double basses.


There is one movement: Andante non troppo—Allegro vivo (D major, 624 bars), lasting around 12 to 15 minutes in performance.


It is not possible to establish when composition of the Overture was begun, or when Tchaikovsky received the commission, but it would have been no earlier than September 1866. On 8/20 November that year, the composer informed his brother Anatoly: The overture for Dagmara is completely finished, but it seems that her visit to Moscow has been postponed until April, and therefore I didn't need to rush" [2]. At the end of the manuscript score is the date "12 November 1866. Moscow" [O.S.].

Tchaikovsky revised the Overture in April and May 1892, when the full score was due to be published [3].


The Overture was also arranged for piano duet (4 hands) by Tchaikovsky. Sending a manuscript copy of this arrangement to his publisher in 1877, Tchaikovsky wrote a note on the cover: "Pyotr Ivanovich! Don't you want to print this arrangement of the overture on the "Danish Anthem" for four hands that I once made? I found it yesterday by chance. I like this overture very much" [4]. The arrangement was not revised at the same time as the full score in 1892.


The wedding celebrations took place between 23 April/5 May and 30 April/12 May 1867. Whether the Overture was performed at that time has not been established. However, by this time it had already been performed in Moscow, in the Hall of the Nobles' Society on 29 January/10 February 1867, at a concert in aid of families of the victims of the war in Crete, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein. The Overture was not performed in any concerts of the Russian Musical Society that season. On 12/24 April 1867 in the newspaper The Voice (Голос), "Rostislav" in his article 'A brief look back at the concert season' wrote: "in the original programme an overture by Mr Tchaikovsky was advertised... It was decided that Mr Tchaikovsky's overture, which combines the themes of the Russian and Danish national anthem, should not be performed because the talented young composer, for some unknown reason, set our Russian national anthem in the minor key, which completely transforms the character of this well-known tune" [5].

The London premiere of the Overture took place at a concert in the Queen's Hall on 3/15 June 1898, conducted by Henry Wood. This was possibly the first performance to include the revisions Tchaikovsky made in 1892.


The full score of the Overture was published in September 1892 by Pyotr Jurgenson, who was then engaged in bringing a number of Tchaikovsky's unpublished works to press [6].

In connection with the publication of the full score of the Overture, Tchaikovsky wrote on 10/22 May 1892 to Pyotr Jurgenson:

Once again I apologise about the "Danish Overture". My excuse is that I didn't know you were going to engrave it. I took the manuscript in the winter, but, seeing that it would take a good while to put in order, for lack of time I abandoned the idea of publishing the score, and returned it to you without saying anything. And yet now, as I'm checking the proofs once more, I think it's something that will enter the repertoire, because it is, as I recall, very effective, and of far better quality than "1812" [7].

Tchaikovsky's arrangement for piano duet was published by Pyotr Jurgenson in April 1878, but it was not revised when the composer made changes to the full score in 1892.

The full score and piano duet arrangement of the Overture were published in volumes 22 (1960) and 50A (1965) respectively of the Complete Collected Works, edited by Irina Iordan. Both scores were edited to confine the Russian anthem 'God Save the Tsar' to footnotes and appendices, while the arrangement was revised to correspond to the 1892 version of the full score.


Tchaikovsky's autograph full score is now preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 69) [view]. The same museum has a manuscript copy of the composer's arrangement for piano duet (ф. 88, No. 70), although the whereabouts of the autograph score of this arrangement are unknown.


See: Discography


The Overture is dedicated to the Grand Duke Aleksandr Aleksandrovich, who in 1881 became Tsar Alexander III. Replying to a question from Jurgenson regarding the dedication of the work, Tchaikovsky wrote in 1892: "The "Danish Overture" was once dedicated to the heir to the throne, and I received some jewelled cufflinks, which I immediately sold for half a kopek to Dubuque. This was so long ago that I don't remember the how and why, but in any case you cannot seek permission to print the dedication, for reasons that I'll tell you about in person. And so it should be printed without any dedication" [8].

Related Works

The Danish national anthem 'Kong Kristian stod ved højen mast' is of uncertain origin. Its opening phrase is heard at various points throughout the Overture, and bars 528–574 contain a complete maestoso statement of the anthem.

The Russian anthem God Save the Tsar (Боже Цапя храни) by Aleksey Lvov (1833) is also heard (bars 74–81, 92–100, 361–374, 453–486), but set in the relative minor key.

External Links

Notes and References

  1. Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 260.
  2. Letter 96 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 8/20 November 1866.
  3. See Letter 4676, 28 April/10 May 1892, and Letter 4686, 10/22 May 1892, to Pyotr Jurgenson; the revisions involved a number of small changes to the orchestration, the rewriting of some passages (i.e. bars 273–277, 281–285, 301–304 and 526–528), and the substitution of a completely new coda (from bar 575).
  4. Letter 603 to Pyotr Jurgenson, written between 12/24 September and 24 September/6 October 1877.
  5. Article by "Rostislav" [F. M. Tolstoy], Краткий обзор минувшего концертного сезона (1867). Tchaikovsky set the Russian anthem in D minor.
  6. See Letter 4686 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 10/22 May 1892, and letter from Pyotr Jurgenson to Tchaikovsky, 12/24 May 1892 — Klin House-Museum Archive (а4, No. 6534).
  7. Letter 4686 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 10/22 May 1892. At the time of publication, Tchaikovsky made a number of amendments, and rewrote the coda.
  8. Letter 4687 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 12/24 May 1892.