PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)
Symphony No. 6, Pathétique (1893)
The nickname “Pathétique” (meaning “emotional,” not “pathetic”) of Tchaikovsky’s searing final work has been seen as a farewell to the world. His death followed just nine days after the premiere. The composer wrote: “The program will be left as an enigma … [It] is so intensely personal that as I was mentally composing it, I frequently wept copiously.” The music begins in the depths of the bassoon register—dark, gloomy, and melancholy; much tumult and anguish follow, but also a waltz in an off-beat 5/4, rather than 3/4, meter. The boisterous, manic climax of the third movement often misleads audience members into thinking that it’s the end of the Sixth. But resist the impulse to applaud! The finale, Adagio lamentoso, is yet to come, with the real ending announced by a foreboding stroke of the tam-tam, and then sinking into gloomy silence—a shattering final utterance.