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.
Brynmor Jones Library
University of Hull
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.