About this work
This wonderfully energetic piece was written in 1869 to celebrate the future opening of the Suez Canal, and was premiered in a summer concert by the composer's popular traveling orchestra in Pavlovsk, Russia, outside St. Petersburg, and then the location of Tsar Paul I's country residence. It was first played in Vienna in December of that year as a processional march for Anton Bittner's burlesque entitled Into Egypt.
The piece opens quietly with low drums and a distant wind section playing an exotic minorish "Egyptian" introductory melody, with the lower strings tripping along scalewise in response. On a sudden fast crescendo, three heavily accented minor chords begin the melody with the full orchestra featuring the brasses. The mood is that of an aggressive military band. The next section recasts the tune in the brighter parallel major scale with one "Arabic" alteration of the melody (a flattening of the sixth step). The mood changes to that of a spirited military parade on a sunny day. A chorus is then added singing wordlessly (on "la"s) and softly in a combination of the minor and major key melodies. The aggressive first theme then repeats with lower brass runs. This is followed by the introduction as the music slowly fades away into the distance with a repeated rhythmic figure.