Saturday, December 10, 2005


Tchaikovsky: Sixth Symphony, B minor, Op.74

Tchaikovsky wrote his Sixth, and last, Symphony (Op.74 in B minor) in 1893, very shortly before his sudden death. He himself called it the Pathetic, and the impression became quite general that he had been laboring under the premonition of his approaching end. Nothing could be farther from the truth; moreover, only the brief final Movement is genuinely pathetic, and that but part of the time, this pathetic mood being brightened by contrasting episodes of decidedly hopeful and consoling quality. The first Movement is tragic rather than pathetic, yet here again frequent gleams of light and warmth fall across the background of passion---in this way, to be sure, accentuating the tragic pulses by their contrast.

The first Movement is in regular, but broad sonata-allegro form. A brief Introduction (Adagio) precedes the principal Theme, based entirely upon the opening motive; and two Codettas follow the subordinate Theme. This first Movement contains a number of stirring climaxes, carried out with that logical force and sureness of aim in which Tchaikovsky was adept.

There is no authentic slow Movement, or, more correctly stated, the slow Movement is shifted to the last place in the Symphony---as Finale. The second Movement has, however, the lyric tone due at this point; it is graceful, charmingly melodious song, or dance, in swaying 5/4 meter. Its complacent, happy countenance is slightly clouded with a veil of melancholy in the Trio.

The third Movement represents the Scherzo, though it carries no title. It is anything but "pathetic," and it has a unique structural plan: an apparently unimportant motive, in striking rhythmic form, creeps in (in the ninth measure) quite incidentally---later turns out to be the index of the subordinate Theme---and then advances steadily into overpowering prominence; its ultimate complete supremacy is recorded in crashing blasts of the brass instruments, in a climax that is almost without parallel in legitimate symphonic literature. The design is sonatine-allegro (there is no Development).

The Finale, contrary to all precedent, is a slow Movement, Adagio lamentoso, that is no doubt chiefly responsible for the designation of the Symphony as a whole. Its principal Theme is profoundly "pathetic;" but the subordinate Theme is a lyric melody (in Song-form) of rich, trustful quality, that breathes hope and solace: some music lovers may regret the return to deep sadness at the end.


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