My father was born in Russia in 1903. He actually saw Tsar Nicolas II and his family once or twice. They would take the Trans-Siberian Railway to vacation in Kostroma province and step out onto the train platform in Galich, my dad’s home town, to greet the people. My father, usually a good judge of character, recalled that the Tsar “looked like a nice kind of guy.” Looks can be deceiving.
Whether the Tsar was a good guy or not, I find it fascinating to listen to music that was composed for the coronations of the Tsars, and for later events that honored them. This music serves as a time capsule. It lets us experience and relive the sounds that accompanied momentous events in the history of Russia and the world.
But before I get to the music, here’s an actual film of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II in 1896. Unbelievable, right? In light of events to follow, it makes for pretty spooky viewing.

Tsarist Tunes
The “Festival Coronation March” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was commissioned in 1893 by the city of Moscow, and later performed at the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II in 1896. It’s a rousing coronation march, don’t you agree? I wonder what was going on in Nicholas’s mind while he was listening to it.  

The Moscow Coronation Cantata, also by Tchaikovsky, was actually written earlier, for the 1881 coronation of Tsar Alexander III, the father of Nicholas II. It makes for pretty stodgy listening. But hey, it’s historic, right?

Coronation Cantata by Alexander Glazunov was written to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II. There are several recordings of this earnest work, including one from Chandos. Here’s a YouTube presentation of the audio only.

The Cantata on the Tenth Anniversary of the Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II by Anton Arensky was also written 10 years after the big event. Chandos released a recording  in 2003.
The Cantata for the Coronation of Tsar NicholasII by Jean Sibelius – that’s right, the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius – was composed in 1893 to honor the coronation. The text is in Finnish, and the work was not performed at the ceremony. Why Sibelius wrote it is unclear. Maybe he was hoping to get some commissions from the Russian imperial family? There are several recordings available, including one from Ondine.
Note that you can also hear most of the recordings above on Classical Archives, if you care to join.
But Wait, There’s More . . .
In a future post, I’ll be writing about music that accompanied coronations and other historical events in England, France, and elsewhere. Be sure to visit my blog again or subscribe to my RSS feed.