Symphony No. 6 (Myaskovsky)

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The Symphony No. 6 in E-flat minor, Op. 23 by Nikolai Myaskovsky was composed between 1921 and 1923. It is the largest and most ambitious of his 27 symphonies, planned on a Mahlerian scale, and uses a chorus in the finale. It has been described as 'probably the most significant Russian symphony between Tchaikovsky's Pathétique and the Fourth Symphony of Shostakovich'.[1] (Myaskovsky in fact wrote part of the work in Klin, where Tchaikovsky wrote the Pathétique.) The premiere took place at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow on 4 May 1924, conducted by Nikolai Golovanov and was a notable success.

Soviet commentators used to describe the work as an attempt to portray the development and early struggles of the Soviet state, but it is now known that its roots were more personal. The harsh, emphatically descending chordal theme with which the symphony begins apparently arose in the composer's mind at a mass rally in which he heard the Soviet Procurator Nikolai Krylenko conclude his speech with the call "Death, death to the enemies of the revolution!" Myaskovsky had been affected by the deaths of his father, his close friend Alexander Revidzev and his aunt Yelikonida Konstantinovna Myaskovskaya,[2] and especially by seeing his aunt’s body in a bleak, empty Petrograd flat during the winter of 1920. In 1919 the painter Lopatinsky, who had been living in Paris, sang Myaskovsky some French Revolutionary songs which were still current among Parisian workers: these would find their way into the symphony's finale. He was also influenced by Les Aubes (The Dawns), a verse drama by the Belgian writer Emile Verhaeren, which enacted the death of a revolutionary hero and his funeral.[1]

Musical analysis[edit]

The symphony is scored for 3 flutes (3rd takes piccolo), 3 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contra-bassoon, 6 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, bass drum, side drum, celesta, harp, strings and mixed chorus. It has four movements:

  • I Poco largamente – Allegro feroce, a large and turbulent sonata-allegro
  • II Presto tenebroso, a scherzo apparently inspired by the winter winds blowing outside the house where the composer's aunt lay dead, with an Andante moderato trio that loosely references the simpleton's Lament in Mussorgsky's Boris Godonuv, Act IV, Scene II, ("Tears, bitter tears must fall, Our holy people must weep ... Woe, woe unto Russia! Weep, weep Russian folk, Hungry folk")
  • III Andante appassionato, a romantic slow movement
  • IV Allegro vivace – Più sostenuto – Andante molto espressivo, an episodic finale beginning with a bright E flat major fantasia on the French revolutionary songs Ah! ça ira and Carmagnole then turning to a dark C minor with the Dies Irae. A clarinet introduces the melody of a Russian Orthodox burial hymn, 'How the Soul Parted from the Body' (Shto mui vidyeli? – 'What did we see? A miraculous wonder, a dead body ...'). The chorus enters with wailing cries that punctuate a setting of the hymn.[3] In the coda the main theme of the third movement returns as the basis of a peaceful epilogue.

The full score was published by Universal Edition, Vienna in 1925.[4][5] Myaskovsky revised the work in 1947. In this later version the chorus is optional.


There have been several recordings of this symphony, conducted by, among others, Kirill Kondrashin (twice), Evgeny Svetlanov, Dmitry Liss, Neeme Järvi, Veronika Dudarova and Robert Stankovsky. Only Svetlanov – thus far the only conductor who recorded all 27 Myaskovsky symphonies – omitted the chorus in the finale.



  1. ^ a b Malcolm MacDonald, notes to Warner 2564 63431-2.
  2. ^ Prefatory note to Philharmonia Study Score No. 236, a reduction of the full score published by Universal Edition, Vienna in 1925.
  3. ^ MacDonald, who comments that 'it is remarkable that the Soviet authorities allowed this symphony, which culminates in frankly religious music, to continue in the repertoire'.
  4. ^ "Hofmeisters Monatsberichte". 1926. p. 65. Retrieved 22 March 2011. Music received/published this early in the year by the Monatsberichte can generally be assumed to have been published the preceding year.
  5. ^ OCLC 79151962 which further notes that the earlier version's score carries a copyright notice of 1925, clinching evidence.