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Tchaikovsky Original Titles for 1812 and Romeo and Juliet Overtures

Dear Forum

As a library cataloguer, I am required to use uniform titles for pieces of music based on ‘the composer’s original title in the language in which it was presented’ (Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd Edition). It is often difficult to determine this, even with a university library to refer to. I am puzzled in the case of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 and Romeo and Juliet Overtures as to whether his original titles were in Russian or in French. The Library of Congress, a great authority in these matters, uses French titles for both. New Grove gives one in Russian and the other in English in its list of the composer’s works. Your website, I note, uses Russian for both in its pages devoted to individual pieces.

I would be grateful if you could let me know what the composer himself called these works.

Yours sincerely

Richard Lamin
Brynmor Jones Library
University of Hull

Dear Richard,

Thank you for raising that interesting question. The autograph manuscripts of Romeo and Juliet don't include the title in Tchaikovsky's own hand, although in his correspondence he referred solely to it by the Russian title Romeo i Dzhul'etta. This was the only one of his compositions to be published by Bote and Bock in Germany, and the first edition they produced (1871) used the French title Ouverture à la tragédie de Shakespeare "Romeo et Juliette" pour l'orchestre.

The revised version was re-styled Ouverture-fantaisie, or in Russian: Uvertiura-fantaziia (which should really be rendered in English as "Overture-fantasia" rather than the less accurate "Fantasy-Overture"). In this case the Library of Congress has selected the title of the first edition for its standard heading, although the composer himself knew it as Romeo i Dzhul'etta.

Things are more clear-cut in the case of 1812. Tchaikovsky's title on the manuscript was 1812. Torzhestvennaia uvertuiura dlia bol'shogo orkestra. Sochinil po sliuchai osviashchennaia Khrama Spasitelia ("1812. Festival overture for large orchestra. Composed on the occasion of the consecration of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour"). This was reproduced exactly on the cover of the first edition (Jurgenson, 1882), in Russian alone.

In the composer's correspondence he usually referred to the piece as 1812 god (literally "The Year 1812"); this is more grammatically correct in Russian, and how it is usually referred to today. On this site we have also chosen to use the fuller title. However, in this case there seems to be little basis for the non-authentic French form 1812 année, as preferred by the Library of Congress.

Brett Langston

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This page was last updated on 05 November 2013