Relayed from the National Museum of Wales
National Orchestra of Wales
(Cerddorfa Genedlaethol Cymru)
Tchaikovsky began a sixth Symphony in mid-Atlantic-so his diary tells us-on his
voyage from the States in the early summer of 1891. But the work did not please him, and he destroyed it, beginning immediately afterwards the new sixth Symphony, with such enthusiasm and energy that the whole thing was clearly outlined in his mind in less than four days. He wrote of it as a Symphony with a programme, 'but a programme of a kind which remains an enigma to all-let them guess it who can,' and his intention was to call it 'A Programme Symphony.' The work was completed by August of that year, and Tchaikovsky had no doubt himself that it was the finest music he had ever composed or would compose, a conviction which many of his admirers share.
The name 'Pathetique' was suggested by his brother, and though Tchaikovsky agreed, he changed his mind and wrote afterwards to the publisher asking him simply to call it Symphony No. 6.
The first movement begins with a sombre slow section, the bassoon giving out shadowy hints of the first main tune. The principal part of the movement, in quick time, begins with the chief tune on the violas, the flutes following with a counter-tune. This is elaborated at some length to reach a groat climax and the music dies away solemnly, to introduce a slower second tune. It is repeated and finally fades to silence. The working out, by no means orthodox in pattern, introduces further tunes, and when the first main tune returns, it does so with impressive effect- The very end of the movement, with the splendid tone of the brasses above solemn descending scales on the strings, has always been regarded as one of the finest parts of the work.
The second movement is a very happy, reaction from the tragedy of the first; in purport it is a Scherzo and Trio, although not in the usual form. The tune, flowing along very naturally in 5-4 rhythm, is a really happy one, contrasting with the wistful tune of the Trio with its solemn drum accompaniment.
The third movement begins with a triplet figure which persists throughout the movement until a great March tune sweeps everything else aside.
The last movement is a profoundly solemn slow one, instead of the quick movement with which a Symphony is accustomed to end. There are two main tunes, both of them inspired by a real sense of tragedy.