Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, 'Pathetique'
The general plan of Tchaikovsky's symphonies include a very
'pessimistic' first movement, a sad, peaceful second, and allegro movement
(often in dance form) and a fourth movement full of vigor. His 6th symphony, the
Pathetique, however, is an exception. The themes are broad,
decorative, and striking, and the orchestration is rich - but without any
attempt at spectacular effects. The last movement is slow and mournful, and
recent research reveals the reason. The Pathetique was only
partly finished when news spread of a homosexual 'encounter' Tchaikovsky had
with a fellow student. He was tried by an illegal court and condemned to
die by his own hand. The composer finished the symphony as a farewell to life.
3 flutes (including piccolo) | 2 oboes | 2 clarinets | 2 bassoons
4 horns | 2 trumpets | 3 trombones | tuba
Timpani (plus two other percussionists)
FIRST MOVEMENT: Adagio - Allegro non troppo
FORM: Sonata form
KEY: E minor - B minor
Listen to this movement (RealAudio file)
LIVE PERFORMANCE: The Queensland Youth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Curro
The slow introduction to this symphony is unusual in that it begins in the subdominant key - E minor, solemnly introduced by the bassoons (Ex. 1):
It modulates into B minor, and the tempo increases for the principal subject, Ex. 2 (a theme derived from Ex. 1):
This theme is elaborated and developed, and a march-like motif forms a bridge passage leading to a climax. The strings then introduce the soaring and song-like second subject in D major (Ex. 3):
The flute and bassoon answer with rising scales in a triplet rhythm (Ex. 4), and are soon joined by other instruments:
Ex. 3 is restated a number of times and developed. The second subject group gradually dies away with fragments from Exs. 3 and 4.
The development section enters with a bang. The section brings no startling thematic growth or transformation, but is highly dramatic and effective nonetheless.
A huge recapitulatory climax utilizing the full brass section announces the return of Ex. 2. The second subject (Ex. 3) is also restated, but without the triplet scales and ends with another 'dying' coda.
A descending pizzicato bass provides a background for the brass, who bring the movement to a close.
SECOND MOVEMENT: Allegro con grazia
FORM: Ternary Form
KEY: D major
This movement begins like a typical Tchaikovsky waltz, except for the
unusual feature of a 5/4 time signature broken into 2+3 beats per measure.
The first theme (Ex. 5), in D major, is basically an upward scale with a triplet in
the middle, which descends in a similar fashion:
A new idea is introduced in the rhythm of Ex. 5 which is repeated before Tchaikovsky moves back to the first theme (Ex. 5).
The trio (Ex. 6) begins in the relative minor and is mainly just a downward scale
with different endings:
Tchaikovsky also includes various modulations, thus adding to the effect of the trio. The key of D major returns at the end of the trio, announcing the return of the first theme (Ex. 5).
The coda consists of the first theme in the bass, and fragments of the trio in
the upper parts.
THIRD MOVEMENT: Allegro molto vivace
FORM: Ternary Form
KEY: D major
This movement is basically a scherzo in ternary form. It opens in moto
perpetuo or continual movement (Ex. 1):
The trumpets then enter with a motive of descending fourths, and a march rhythm takes over the moto perpetuo.
This eventually leads on to a march in E major, introduced quietly by the
Following this is a disappearance of the main rhythm through a
syncopated chordal theme.
The first group of themes are restated, and the march returns triumphantly
following a fanfare of trumpets. The chords also return, but this time in
an upward scale.
The march is brought to a powerful conclusion in the coda.
FOURTH MOVEMENT: Finale: Adagio lamentoso - Andante
FORM: Rondo Form
KEY: B minor
This movement is quite unusual in that it lacks the complexity of the
first and is very slow and mournful - very uncharacteristic of a final movement.
The movement 's principal subject is a descending idea in B minor (Ex. 1), created by the criss-crossing
of various instruments:
Single notes are accentuated and move into a
counter-melody. The theme is repeated, but the accents are now played by
the darker wind instruments like the bassoon.
The second subject is a descending idea in D major (Ex. 10) which builds to a climax:
The now powerful rhythm stops suddenly as the theme
repeats and moves back to B minor.
The first theme is restated and repeated. It then builds to a climax and
dies into away into a coda.
The coda is very long, and consists of the second theme harmonized in a
similar way to the first, portraying despair and sorrow.
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