March Slave, Op. 31

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Marche Slave, Op. 31 (1876)

  • 1st and 2nd bassoon
  • m 193-204 (12 total measures)
  • Range (Middle D–High Bb)
  • Tenor clef (1st), bass clef (2nd)

Performance issues: Phrasing. Rhythm, Articulation, High register

About the music: Tchaikovsky was the most important Russian composer of the nineteenth century. He excelled in instrumental large forms, but also wrote opera, chamber music, and piano solo works. Nationalism was a strong force in his compositions and much of what he wrote can be termed program music. Most of Tchaikovsky’s works are memorable for their melodies and rhythmic vitality; the latter, no doubt, is partly responsible for his success in the area of ballet music.

Marche Slave may have been nationalistic in its original design, but it has achieved recognition and popularity far beyond Russian borders; the piece is dramatic, colorful, and melodic. Taken from near the end of the single movement work, this excerpt is in a style reminiscent of the Turkish march of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. (See excerpt.) This section begins in the clarinets and the bassoons enter four measures later to double on the harmonized melody. Both first and second parts are provided because it is satisfying duet material; the challenge of tenor clef and the different ranges for both parts suggest that the students should learn both parts when appropriate in the development process.

About performing the excerpt: Articulation is an issue in this passage because it is such a determinant of style. Both the detached eighth notes and the sixteenth-note slurs into the following beat are important stylistic features. In addition, slightly stressing the natural quadruple-meter stresses (primary on beat one, and secondary on beat three) will help reinforce the march quality of the piece. Tenor clef reading is a skill necessary to play the 1st part, but many of the stylistic issues can be learned on the second part for the less experienced player. The first part is also more challenging since it contains additional runs and grace notes. The latter should be played fast and before the beat.

This excerpt was taken and used with permission from Ann Pesavento’s doctoral dissertation: Orchestral excerpts as developmental studies for the intermediate bassoonist: a collection of selected passages. D.A. diss, University of Northern Colorado, 1989. Pp. 360. OCLC#: 21892445. UMI 9016608.