Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (7 May 1840 – 6 November 1893) was a Russian composer of the Romantic period. He was the first Russian composer whose music would make a lasting impression internationally. He wrote some of the most popular concert and theatrical music in the current classical repertoire, including the ballets Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, the 1812 Overture, his First Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto, the Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy, several symphonies, and the opera Eugene Onegin.
Although musically precocious, Tchaikovsky was educated for a career as a civil servant as there was little opportunity for a musical career in Russia at the time and no system of public music education. When an opportunity for such an education arose, he entered the nascent Saint Petersburg Conservatory, from which he graduated in 1865. The formal Western-oriented teaching that he received there set him apart from composers of the contemporary nationalist movement embodied by the Russian composers of The Five with whom his professional relationship was mixed.
Tchaikovsky’s training set him on a path to reconcile what he had learned with the native musical practices to which he had been exposed from childhood. From that reconciliation, he forged a personal but unmistakably Russian style. The principles that governed melody, harmony and other fundamentals of Russian music ran completely counter to those that governed Western European music, which seemed to defeat the potential for using Russian music in large-scale Western composition or for forming a composite style, and it caused personal antipathies that dented Tchaikovsky’s self-confidence. Russian culture exhibited a split personality, with its native and adopted elements having drifted apart increasingly since the time of Peter the Great. That resulted in uncertainty among the intelligentsia about the country’s national identity, an ambiguity mirrored in Tchaikovsky’s career.
Despite his many popular successes, Tchaikovsky’s life was punctuated by personal crises and depression. Contributory factors included his early separation from his mother for boarding school followed by his mother’s early death; the death of his close friend and colleague Nikolai Rubinstein; and the collapse of the one enduring relationship of his adult life, his 13-year association with the wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck, who was his patron even though they never met. His homosexuality, which he kept private, has traditionally also been considered a major factor though some musicologists now downplay its importance. Tchaikovsky’s sudden death at the age of 53 is generally ascribed to cholera, but there is an ongoing debate as to whether cholera was indeed the cause, and also whether the death was accidental or intentional.
While his music has remained popular among audiences, critical opinions were initially mixed. Some Russians did not feel it was sufficiently representative of native musical values and expressed suspicion that Europeans accepted the music for its Western elements. In an apparent reinforcement of the latter claim, some Europeans lauded Tchaikovsky for offering music more substantive than base exoticism and said he transcended stereotypes of Russian classical music. Others dismissed Tchaikovsky’s music as “lacking in elevated thought” and derided its formal workings as deficient because they did not stringently follow Western principles. (wikipedia)
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.
Tchaikovsky’s draft of the Sixth Symphony:
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 Saint 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.” (wikipedia)
Another masterpiece by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Ljubljana Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marko Munih
01. 1 Adagio – Allegro Non Troppo 17:47
2 Allegro Con Grazia 8:00
3 Allegro Molto Vivace 8:56
4 Finale: Adagio Lamentoso 9:08
Music composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky