Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian, 1840-1893), composed the romantic Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, Pathetique between February and August 1893. He conducted the premiere in Saint Petersburg on 28th October 1893, just nine days before he died. The Russian title that was later translated to Pathetique, meant passionate or emotional. Tchaikovsky himself was thinking about rather calling it Programme-Symphony but was hesitant because he did not want to reveal the program.
Interpretation of Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony
Ever since the first performance, the symphony has been subject of a number of theories of a hidden program. The specialty of this symphony is that it ends...with a slow movement as if referring to the end of life. Since Tchaikovsky said that the 6th is his most personal work, most interpretations suggest that the symphony possibly represents his own life. The first movement could represent his drive and confidence, the second love, the third frustration and the final his melancholy, giving up hope and his tragic death. He kept his homosexuality private and had a very unhappy marriage, and died most probably from cholera. The interpretation we like most is seeing it as a more detailed human life cycle and with less depressions but more content ending.
The first movement, Adagio-Allegro non troppo, starts with the very deep and low sounds of genesis of human being, like sounds of the inner core of the earth, then like a sprout starting to grow inside a womb. At about 3:30 or 4:30 minutes, we can here the labor, the child pushing his way into life, birth. This is followed by a protected, carefree and lovely childhood. With a thunderclap, that comes out of the blue, we then experience puberty, the revolting against standards, enormous energy as well as sudden depressions and closeness to death that we can hear like death rattle.
The second movement, Allegro con grazia, is devoted to love, experiencing the spring of life and all the tenderness, warmth and harmony. It is a graceful waltz dance in a very un-waltz-like meter of 5/4 instead of 3/4. This could be Tchaikovsky stating that his love is different to the standard of heterosexual love. On the other hand, the 5/4 meter in general was nothing special but rather common in Russian folk music.
In the third movement, Allegro molto vivace, the everyday life has replaced love-time. Work has a routine and keeps you going to earn the money for the children - or wife and mother-in-law - that we can hear in flutes like mice teasing or playing tricks on you. You show authority through the sporadic beat of cymbals to maintain some kind of control, but you can't avoid the daily work and rhythm pushing and dragging you through your days. There is restlessness, no time for reflection or breathing pause.
The Finale, Adagio lamentoso-Andante, could be like having time for yourself, reflecting about life, being content and very calm. Sudden energy revivals alternate with relaxation. The music is getting softer, deeper and calmer, like going back to the roots, reminding of the beginning of the first movement. This time however, death comes closer with a rattling scythe until he slowly takes away life. Finally, there is nothing but drawing breath in sights and the last heartbeats getting fainter and fainter until only silence remains.