Symphony No. 6 (Tchaikovsky)
|Symphony No. 6|
|by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky|
Portrait of Tchaikovsky by Nikolai Kuznetsov, 1893
|Other name||Pathétique Symphony|
|Dedication||Tchaikovsky's nephew, Vladimir Davydov|
|Duration||about 45 minutes|
|Date||16/28 October 1893|
|Conductor||Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky|
I. Adagio – Allegro non troppo (17:31)
II. Allegro con grazia (8:16)
III. Allegro molto vivace (9:53)
IV. Finale: Adagio lamentoso (10:19)
The Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, also known as the Pathétique Symphony, is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's final completed symphony, written between February and the end of August 1893. The composer entitled the work "The Passionate Symphony", employing a Russian word, Патетическая (Pateticheskaya), meaning "passionate" or "emotional", that was then (mis-)translated into French as pathétique, meaning "solemn" or "emotive".
The composer led the first performance in Saint Petersburg on 16/28 October of that year, nine days before his death. The second performance, conducted by Eduard Nápravník, took place 21 days later, at a memorial concert on 6/18 November. It included some minor corrections that Tchaikovsky had made after the premiere, and was thus the first performance of the work in the exact form in which it is known today. The first performance in Moscow was on 4/16 December, conducted by Vasily Safonov. It was the last of Tchaikovsky's compositions premiered in his lifetime; his last composition of all, the single-movement 3rd Piano Concerto, Op. 75, which was completed in October 1893, a short time before his death, received a posthumous premiere.
The Russian title of the symphony, Патетическая (Pateticheskaya), means "passionate" or "emotional," not "arousing pity," but it is a word reflective of a touch of concurrent suffering. Tchaikovsky considered calling it Программная (Programmnaya or "Program Symphony") but realized that would encourage curiosity about the program, which he did not want to reveal.
His brother Modest claims to have suggested the Патетическая title, which was used in early editions of the symphony; there are conflicting accounts about whether Tchaikovsky liked the title, but in any event his publisher chose to keep it and the title remained. Its French translation Pathétique is generally used in French, Spanish, English, German and other languages, Many English-speaking classical musicians had, by the early 20th century, adopted an English spelling and pronuciation for Tchaikovsky’s symphony, dubbing it “The Pathetic”, as shorthand to differentiate it from a popular 1798 Beethoven piano sonata also known as The Pathétique. Tchaikovsky’s symphony was first published in piano reduction by Jurgenson of Moscow in 1893, and by Robert Forberg of Leipzig in 1894.
After completing his 5th Symphony in 1888, Tchaikovsky did not start thinking about his next symphony until April 1891, on his way to the United States. The first drafts of a new symphony were started in the spring of 1891. However, some or all of the symphony was not pleasing to Tchaikovsky, who tore up the manuscript "in one of his frequent moods of depression and doubt over his alleged inability to create." In 1892, Tchaikovsky wrote the following to his nephew Vladimir "Bob" Davydov:
The symphony is only a work written by dint of sheer will on the part of the composer; it contains nothing that is interesting or sympathetic. It should be cast aside and forgotten. This determination on my part is admirable and irrevocable.
This work was the Symphony in E♭, the first movement of which Tchaikovsky later converted into the one-movement 3rd Piano Concerto (his final composition), and the latter two movements of which Sergei Taneyev reworked after Tchaikovsky's death as the Andante and Finale.
In 1893, Tchaikovsky mentions an entirely new symphonic work in a letter to his brother:
I am now wholly occupied with the new work ... and it is hard for me to tear myself away from it. I believe it comes into being as the best of my works. I must finish it as soon as possible, for I have to wind up a lot of affairs and I must soon go to London. I told you that I had completed a Symphony which suddenly displeased me, and I tore it up. Now I have composed a new symphony which I certainly shall not tear up.
The symphony was written in a small house in Klin and completed by August 1893. Tchaikovsky left Klin on 19 October for the first performance in St. Petersburg, arriving "in excellent spirits." However, the composer began to feel apprehension over his symphony, when, at rehearsals, the orchestra players did not exhibit any great admiration for the new work. Nevertheless, the premiere was met with great appreciation. Tchaikovsky's brother Modest wrote, "There was applause and the composer was recalled, but with more enthusiasm than on previous occasions. There was not the mighty, overpowering impression made by the work when it was conducted by Eduard Nápravník, on November 18, 1893, and later, wherever it was played."
The symphony is scored for an orchestra with the following instruments:
Although not called for in the score, a bass clarinet is commonly employed to replace the solo bassoon for the four notes immediately preceding the Allegro Vivo section of the first movement as it is practically impossible for a bassoonist to execute the passage at the indicated dynamic of pppppp.
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The symphony is in four movements:
I. Adagio – Allegro non troppo
The first movement, in sonata form, frequently alternates speed, mood, and key, with the main key being B minor. It opens quietly with a low bassoon melody in E minor. Violas appear with the first theme of the Allegro in B minor, a faster variant of the slow opening melody. This eventually leads to the lyrical secondary theme in D major.
The energetic development section begins abruptly, with an outburst from the orchestra. It runs seamlessly into the fortissimo recapitulation, whose atmosphere is completely different from its rather hesitant equivalent at the beginning of the exposition, though Tchaikovsky soon goes into something more nightmarish which culminates in a refrain supported by brass and timpani. The movement concludes shortly after the recapitulation of the second subject shown above, this time in the tonic major (B major) with a coda which is also in B major, finally ending very quietly.
II. Allegro con grazia
The second movement, a dance movement in ternary form, is in 5
4 time. It has been described as a "limping" waltz. The opening contrasts with the darker B section where the timpani sounds on every beat. A graceful coda leads to a quiet ending.
III. Allegro molto vivace
The third movement is in a compound meter (12
8 and 4
4) and in sonatina form. It begins with strings in a fast, exciting motif playing semiquavers against a woodwind 4
4 meter. It leads to the E major secondary theme in the exposition beginning with clarinet solo with string accompaniment. Between the exposition and the recapitulation there is no development section - only 2 bars of retransition. The opening theme reappears, now the first theme in the recapitulation, which later leads to the secondary theme but this time in G major and march-like. The movement ends with a coda triumphantly, almost as a deceptive finale.
IV. Finale: Adagio lamentoso
Back in B minor, the finale is a slow movement in ternary form. Beginning instantly the opening "A" theme, melody on the first and second violins appears frequently through the movement. The theme is a "composite melody"; neither the first nor second violins actually play the theme that is heard.
A calmer D-major segment (the "B" subject) builds into a full orchestral palette with brass and percussion, leading into the restatement of the opening theme (first subject, "A" theme).
Similar to the previous section, the turbulent climax lies here, again with timpani rolls and a descending sequence on the strings, followed by a more hyperactive restatement of the opening "composite melody", on an F♯ bass pedal. Next, a somber funeral–like chorale is heard with the trombones and the tuba. The following coda, based on the second subject, is rather melancholic and mournful, because this time the key is in B minor instead of D major.
The melody is then repeated with lower notes on cellos, basses, and bassoon and finally ending quietly again in B minor and in total tragedy, as if the fade out occurs. Among Tchaikovsky's symphonies, this is the only one that ends in a minor key. His first, second, fourth and fifth symphonies, plus the Manfred Symphony, are all minor-key symphonies that end in the tonic major, while the home key of his third symphony is D major (even though it begins in D minor) and that of his unfinished Symphony in E♭ (unofficially "No. 7") is E♭ major.
Tchaikovsky critic Richard Taruskin writes:
Suicide theories were much stimulated by the Sixth Symphony, which was first performed under the composer's baton only nine days before his demise, with its lugubrious finale (ending morendo, 'dying away'), its brief but conspicuous allusion to the Orthodox requiem liturgy in the first movement and above all its easily misread subtitle. ... When the symphony was done again a couple of weeks later, in memoriam and with subtitle in place, everyone listened hard for portents, and that is how the symphony became a transparent suicide note. Depression was the first diagnosis. 'Homosexual tragedy' came later.
Yet critic David Brown describes the idea of the Sixth Symphony as some sort of suicide note as "patent nonsense". Says critic Alexander Poznansky, "Since the arrival of the 'court of honour' theory in the West, performances of Tchaikovsky's last symphony are almost invariably accompanied by annotations treating it as a testimony of homosexual martyrdom." Other scholars, including Michael Paul Smith, believe that with or without the supposed 'court of honour' sentence, there is no way that Tchaikovsky could have known the time of his own death while composing his last masterpiece.
It has been claimed that Soviet orchestras, faced with the problem of an enormously popular yet profoundly pessimistic piece, switched the order of the last two movements in order to bring the work to a triumphant conclusion in line with the principles of Socialist realism.
Dedication and suggested programs
The Pathétique has been the subject of a number of theories as to a hidden program. This goes back to the first performance of the work, when fellow composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov asked Tchaikovsky whether there was a program to the new symphony, and Tchaikovsky asserted that there was, but would not divulge it.
A suggested program has been what Taruskin disparagingly termed "symphony as suicide note." This idea began to assert itself as early as the second performance of the symphony in Saint Petersburg, not long after the composer had died. People at that performance "listened hard for portents. As always, they found what they were looking for: a brief but conspicuous quotation from the Russian Orthodox requiem at the stormy climax of the first movement, and of course the unconventional Adagio finale with its tense harmonies at the onset and its touching depiction of the dying of the light in conclusion". Countering this is Tchaikovsky's statement on 26 September/8 October 1893 that he was in no mood to write any sort of requiem. This was in reply to a suggestion from his close friend Grand Duke Konstantin that he write a requiem for their mutual friend the writer Aleksey Apukhtin, who had died in late August, just as Tchaikovsky was completing the Pathétique.
Tchaikovsky specialist David Brown suggests that the symphony deals with the power of Fate in life and death. This program would not only be similar to those suggested for the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, but also parallels a program suggested by Tchaikovsky for his unfinished Symphony in E♭. That program reads, "The ultimate essence ... of the symphony is Life. First part – all impulse, passion, confidence, thirst for activity. Must be short (the finale death – result of collapse). Second part love: third disappointments; fourth ends dying away (also short)."
In popular culture
The second theme of the first movement formed the basis of a popular song in the 1940s, "(This is) The Story of a Starry Night" (by Mann Curtis, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston) which was popularized by Glenn Miller. This same theme is the music behind "Where", a 1959 hit for Tony Williams and the Platters as well as "In Time", by Steve Lawrence in 1961, and "John O'Dreams" by Bill Caddick. All four songs have completely different lyrics. It was also used to great effect in one of the early Cinerama movies in the mid-50s.
Excerpts from Tchaikovsky's Sixth can be heard in a number of films, including Now, Voyager, the 1997 version of Anna Karenina, The Ruling Class, Minority Report, Sweet Bird of Youth, Soylent Green, The Aviator, and The Death of Stalin. It has also accompanied the cartoon The Ren & Stimpy Show, specifically the episode 'Son of Stimpy' where the eponymous cat walks out into a blizzard.
Tchaikovsky's Sixth is featured in the sci-fi video game Destiny, during several missions in which the player must interact with a Russian supercomputer, Rasputin, who serves as a planetary defense system.
A slower, synthesised version was utilised in the 2011 video game Pandora's Tower.
- Dates written with a "/" mean that the date before the "/" is the Julian calendar date and the date after the "/" is the Gregorian calendar date. See "Adoption of the Gregorian calendar#Adoption in Eastern Europe".
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