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Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Nationalist Era > Symphony No. 6, in E Minor (Pathetic). Op. 74 (Tchaikovsky)

Symphony No. 6, in E Minor (Pathetic). Op. 74

Pytor Il'yich Tchaikovsky

1. Adagio. Allegro non troppo.
2. Allegro con grazia.
3. Allegro molto vivace.
4. Finale. Adagio lamentoso.

The Sixth Symphony, which the composer named the "Pathetic" after its first performance, was written in 1893. He left no program, for it. Indeed, he wrote to a friend that the program must remain a riddle to every one, and to the same friend: "I love it as I have never loved any other of my musical creations."

The first movement opens with an introduction in which one of the figures of the first theme is given out by the bassoons against a droning bass and most ingeniously worked up. The second theme is a melody which is developed quietly and slowly. As it ceases the powerful first theme returns and is developed with furious energy. As the storm dies away, the beautiful second theme returns and the movement closes in the quietest of pianissimos.

The second movement is in striking contrast with the first. It has little of the conventional Scherzo character, as it is set to the dance rhythm, the principal theme being given out by the cellos with pizzicato accompaniment in the strings and alternating chords in the windwinds and horns. The second theme is of a plaintive sort, but it is soon replaced by the sparkling first, and the movement ends placidly and cheerfully.

The third movement opens with a truly vivacious theme alternately taken in the strings and windwinds. The strings finally usurp the theme and the windwinds develop a counter theme. The contest between these two at last ends in a grand march movement, introduced in the brasses and gradually taken up in the whole orchestra with magnificent power and almost barbaric effect.

The last movement, Adagio lamentoso, is well named. It is the apotheosis of sorrow and despair. Few composers would have the courage to end a symphony with an Adagio, still fewer with an Adagio so gloomy that it has been called "suicide music." It has no regular form and well-nigh defies analysis. It is a succession of mournful outcries, despairing laments, and wretched hopelessness, and yet is worked up with great dramatic power. Its intensity is tragic. It is a relief when its last measures die away pianissimo.

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See also:
Middle Ages Music
Renaissance Music
Baroque Era Music
Classical Era Music
Romantic Era Music
Nationalist Era Music
Turn of Century Music

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