The piece opens with the somber tones of a Russian Church chant, recalling the declaration of war announced at Church services in Russia, and is then immediately followed by a solemn chant for Russian success in the war. This announcement and public reaction was captured in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.
A theme of marching armies follows, carried out by the horns. The French national anthem La Marseillaise reflects the French victories in the war and the capture of Moscow in September 1812. The Russian folk dance theme commemorates the battle beating back Napoleon. The retreat from Moscow late in October 1812 is reflected by a diminuendo. The firing of cannons reflects the military advances toward the French borders. With the end of the conflict over, we return to the peal of bells and fireworks for the victory and the liberation of Russia from French occupation. Below the cannons and the horns, we hear the Russian national anthem: God Save the Tsar. The Russian anthem is a counterpoint to the French anthem that was heard earlier.