Slava! A Political Overture

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Leonard Bernstein in 1971, in a rehearsal for his Mass
Mstislav Rostropovich

Slava! A Political Overture for Orchestra is a short orchestral composition by Leonard Bernstein. It was written for the inaugural concerts of Mstislav Rostropovich's first season with the National Symphony Orchestra in 1977.[1] It premiered on October 11, 1977 with Rostropovich conducting.

Premiere and Influences[edit]

Rostropovich was known as Slava (from Mstislav) to his friends, thus the unusual name (and it is also Russian for "glory").[2] His dog "Pooks" is honored in the piece.[1] The name is shouted before the 7/8 section, at the spot where the woodblock solo is heard. Although this was not written in the score, it is common for a conductor to perform the piece with it.

Critics generally responded well to the Overture. Paul Hume wrote in The Washington Post:

Its razzmatazz opening led straight into the kind of rouse-'em-up march you might have heard at a rally for William Jennings Bryan. And suddenly, from a tape somewhere back in the orchestra, came a booming voice, saying:
"If I am elected to this high office . . . the people are sick and tired of . . . give you the next President of the U . . ."[3]


The overture's two main themes are based on "The Grand Old Party" and "Rehearse!" from the failed musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which ran for only seven performances on Broadway. Mid-way into the work, a pre-recorded tape of political speeches plays over an orchestral vamp. The pre-recorded tape features the voices of Bernstein, Michael Wager, Adolph Green, and Patrick O'Neal giving the political speeches.[4] Cheering crowd noises are also used. The piece has been transcribed for symphonic band by Clare Grundman. The band version eliminates the pre-recorded tape.

The first part of the overture is the fanfare, based on "Grand Old Party", which is mostly in the time signature of 2/4. The second theme, based on "Rehearse!", is in a brighter 7/8 time signature. The section with pre-recorded tape follows. The two themes are then presented in reverse order. Near the conclusion a brief quotation of the "Slava Chorus" from the "Coronation Scene" of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov is played against the "Rehearse!" vamp.


The original score calls for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, E-flat clarinet, soprano saxophone, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, tenor drum, bass drum, chimes, crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, glockenspiel, ratchet, slide whistle, steel pipe, tambourine, triangle, vibraphone, xylophone, marimba, whip, wood block, electric guitar, piano, pre-recorded tape, and strings.


  1. ^ a b "Slava! (A Political Overture)". The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Retrieved January 3, 2016.
  2. ^ Pease, Andy. "Slava! by Leonard Bernstein". Wind Band Literature. Retrieved January 3, 2016.
  3. ^ Humes, Paul (October 13, 1977). "NSO: All Hail 'Slava'". Washington Post. Retrieved January 3, 2016.
  4. ^ Gottlieb, Jack (2010). Working With Bernstein. Amadeus Press. pp. 292–3. ISBN 978-1-57467-186-5.