Gun Song – Tchaikovsky – 1812 Overture (with cannons)

No “gun” in the title, but anything that is actually performed with real cannons certainly qualifies as a gun song. The exciting part is near the end, for those not familiar with it. It’s a famously rousing piece, at least the ending. The rest has a narrower appeal.


Tchaikovsky is one of the big names in classical music. He was Russian, born in 1840. If you like classical music, you likely know about him, or at least OF him, and if you don’t, nothing I say will change your mind, most likely. But an interesting factoid was that he made an appearance at the inauguration of  Carnegie Hall.

10 thoughts on “Gun Song – Tchaikovsky – 1812 Overture (with cannons)

  1. Best live version I ever saw was a division review back in my Army days (late 80s). The division band did the music, division artillery did the cannons with their 105mms.

    Great fun, except for that “standing at attention for 3-4 hours” thing.

  2. I thought a “canon” was a musical composition, although Tchaikovsky’s piece was an overture, not a canon.

    Perhaps you’re thinking about “cannons”?

    • You got there before me. “Cannons” go BOOM. “Canon” is a musical term referring to a piece in which the melody is repeated several times, usually with increasingly complex embellishments (see “Pachelbel’s Canon”).

      It’s a common mistake, right up there with “desert” vs “dessert.”

      • D’oh!
        You’d think that’s a mistake I’d catch. Oh, well – fixed, now.
        So, if it was re-written to have more repetition repetition, then it’d be a canon with cannons, right? And if done at the Pope’s behest, a canon with cannons for canon law?

  3. I have a CD version where in they recorded *actual* cannons firing. It had a warning on it to NOT play it very loud the the first time through. As I was to find out, some sound systems do *not* handle it very well. The first system I played it on was rather anemic and did not have exactly “great” speakers; everything sounded fine right up to the cannons. I thought I had just broke my sister’s system — it sounded *terrible* if the volume was up much at all.

    I’ve subsequently played it on “good” systems and it is rather impressive. One system had power output meters — playing along in the 2 to 4 watt range it would peak at close to 200 watts for a cannon blast. Another system had large Klipsch corner horn speakers sitting on a concrete floor; when the cannons blasted, the floor above would shake.

    • Okay, having listened to the above, I note two things: 1) they used “live” cannons and 2) youtube through headphones does *no* justice to the cannons — they sound terrible.

  4. Another one in the same vein is by Beethoven: Wellington’s Victory, Op. 91 celebrating Wellington’s victory at the battle of Vittoria in Spain.

    It requires multiple cannon as well as muskets. Something like 193 shots through the piece (don’t hold me to that figure). At least some performances have competing orchestras, with the British and allies on one side of the stage and French on the other. I should dig out my vinyl and see how it sounds these days.

    • Mike, you beat me to it. I have the Telarc recording of Erich Kunzel conducting the Cincinnati Symphony, with real cannon and musket fire. The title of the CD is “Battle Music of Beethoven and Liszt”. Played through a Velodyne subwoofer, it’s incredible. My old stereo setup, featuring 15″ 2-way Peavey PA speakers driven by a Hafler amp, did it well too.

  5. My wife’s HS band did an arrangement of that piece by Dan Bukvich, composer at the U of Idaho. He built two exTREMEly large, long drums, using PVC drainpipe, to simulate the cannon fire. We used microphones and a large, KW range amplifier with subwoofers to reinforce the drums. It came off pretty well, considering that most schools use a freaking gymnasium for musical performances, which is about the worst possible sound space short of a purpose-built reverberation chamber.

  6. Anybody who has watched the Boston Pops 4th of July concert should be very familiar with this piece. They coordinate with one of the local USAA Artlillery Reserve units to fire their 105 howitzers during the performance. Then the Pops follows up with the “Stars and Stripes Forever”. Very arousing and moving music for the the Glorious 4th!

    Too bad the Massholes have turned their state into such a simpering liberal hellhole.

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