Note: You can listen to the piece of music here. Thanks to Jason Holloway for test reading this first entry.
Beneath the war-cry there is an undercurrent – menacing, and almost imperceptible. We lose it in the busy preparations between the bugle calls. The pace quickens. In less than thirty seconds, we have reached a crescendo. The strings have become a battle charge; a variation of La Marseilles plays defiantly over the clamour. There are blasts of percussion , rising and falling action, burning debris hurtling through a dark sky. Slowing. Transforming into embers, caught in an updraft of bass. The first glorious foray is over, and a victor is emerging, magisterial against the wreckage of war.
But the chaos, the burning has not truly been vanquished. There is a struggle between the giddy rush of the violins and the measured triumph of the horns. In the background, there is an instrument I don’t recognise. The ringing echoes of artillery fire, or the prophetic phantom of an A-bomb, whistling towards its inevitable conclusion. It vanishes amidst the last weary throes of victory.
Then somebody throws a cream-pie, and hits General Kutuzov square in the face. Sullied by the trailers of a thousand tacky slapstick movies, the celebration of the returning heroes becomes a hymn to an altogether different form of chaos. People trip on errant roller-skates and bounce down staircases; a man hits his friend in the head with a large-plank of wood; atop the stairs, a pair of mismatched workmen smash a grand piano through the railing. It teeters on the brink and they fight to pull it back but it slips off the balcony. It is nanoseconds from smashing on the ground below when Tchaikovsky arrives to rip up the score and destroy this bedlam he has unwillingly created. With a safe hand back on the conductor’s baton, the piece builds to a more dignified conclusion, but the phantasmal atom bomb has returned. The orchestra plays louder, faster.
We don’t hear the bomb go off.