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”, which was then (mis-)translated into French as pathétique, meaning “solemn” or “emotive”.
The composer led the first performance in Saint Petersburg on 28 October [O.S. 16 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 18 November [O.S. 6 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 16 December [O.S. 4 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 pronunciation 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.” (by wikipedia)
And here we can hear this masterpice of classic music in a live performance with the The NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini:
Arturo Toscanini (March 25, 1867 – January 16, 1957) was an Italian conductor. He was one of the most acclaimed musicians of the late 19th and of the 20th century, renowned for his intensity, his perfectionism, his ear for orchestral detail and sonority, and his eidetic memory. He was at various times the music director of La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and the New York Philharmonic.
Later in his career he was appointed the first music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra (1937–54), and this led to his becoming a household name (especially in the United States) through his radio and television broadcasts and many recordings of the operatic and symphonic repertoire. (by wikipedia)
The NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini
The German frontcover:
01. Adagio 15.48
02. Allegro con grazia 7.23
04. Allegro molto vivace 8.52
05. Adagio lamentosa 9.14
Music composed by Pjotr Tchaikowski