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1893 Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6


1893 Peter Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 ‘Pathetique’
Instrumentation Strings, 2 flutes (plus piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani
Movements 1. Adagio – Allegro non troppo (b) – Andante (D – B) 2. Allegro con grazia (D – b – D) 3. Allegro molto vivace (G – E- G) 4. Finale: Adagio lamentoso (b) – Andante (D – b)
Key concepts Romantic, programme symphony
Overview Tchaikovsky was going to call this work ‘Programme Symphony’ but without specifying a programme; like many Romantic composers Tchaikovsky was nervous about being too specific about the narrative content of his symphonies. Due to the fact that the composer died not long its premier with subsequent gossip about his depression and his sexuality, this work has attracted much speculation about its meaning. What is for sure is that it swings between triumph and despair and ultimately settles on the latter.
A) Overall form One unusual feature of this symphony is the way in which the movements are organised. The second movement is the equivalent of a minuet (in this case a Waltz) and the third movement, which one might expect to be slow movement starts like a Scherzo but turns into a triumphant march. The last movement, on the other hand, is slower and ends in a very downbeat manner. Apparently during the Soviet era, conductors made this symphony less gloomy by switching the order of the last two movements.
C) 2nd mov (Minuet but in this case Waltz) The second movement is like a waltz but in a very unusual 5/4 time.
D) 3rd mov. The third movement begins like a Scherzo rather than the slow movement that might be expected after a dance-like second. A march-like idea quickly begins to emerge, however:
This soon works up into the sort of triumphant march that might end a symphony:

And the movement ends with considerable bombast:

E) 4th / Finale The finale starts with a heartfelt Adagio in B minor:
The subsequent Andante in D major gives the impression that it might work up to a triumphant finish:
But ultimately the Andante moves back to B minor and ends in quiet despair:
H) Drama / progr. The work is in the same mould as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in that it portrays a heroic character but this one is much more tragic. Tchaikovsky breaks the usual symphonic mould by ending slowly and in despair rather than with a faster and more positive finale.
J) Texture The texture of the beginning of the finale is very curious as the melody swaps note by note across the two violin parts.