Symphony No. 6
(Симфония № 6)
Pathétique (Патетическая), Op. 74 (1893).
On 11/23 February 1893, Tchaikovsky wrote to Vladimir Davydov: "You know I destroyed a symphony I had been composing and just partly orchestrated in the autumn ... During my journey I had the idea for another symphony, this time with a programme, but with a programme that will be an enigma to all—let them guess; the symphony will be entitled A Programme Symphony (No. 6)... The programme itself will be suffused with subjectivity, and not infrequently during my travels, while composing it in my head, I wept a great deal. Upon my return I sat down to write the sketches, and the work went so furiously and quickly that in less than four days the first movement was completely ready, and the remaining movements already clearly outlined in my head. The third movement is already half-done. The form of this symphony will have much that is new, and by the way, the finale will not be a noisy allegro, but on the contrary, a long drawn-out adagio. You can't imagine what bliss I feel, being convinced that my time is not yet passed, and I can still work" .
At the end of the sketches for the first movement is the author’s note: "Begun on Thursday 4th Febr[uary]. Finished on Tuesday 9th Febr[uary 18]93" [O.S.].
"Now all my thoughts are full of my new composition (a symphony), and it is very difficult to tear myself away from this task. In my opinion this will be the best of all my compositions. The symphony must be finished as quickly as possible, because I have a lot of other work...", the composer wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky on 10/22 February .
Among the sketches for the third movement, at the start of the E major section of the exposition, the composer wrote: "Leaving today 11 Febr[uary]. On returning the first thing to compose is the ending, i.e. the march in G major on the theme:
... in a solemnly triumphant manner. Then there’s still the first statement of the march in C major, starting from this page, and also the reprise of the scherzo with changes and a pedal on D" .
It appears that Tchaikovsky worked on the third movement between 17 February/1 March and 24 February/8 March, after which he left again. It is difficult to establish how much work Tchaikovsky did after his return from Moscow, between 28 February/12 March and 3/15 March. It is known that during these days he was writing the quartet Night at the end of the manuscript of the quartet is the date: "Klin, 3 March 1893" [O.S.]. Afterwards, work was interrupted for some time, because of a concert tour by the composer in Kharkov. On 19/31 March, back at Klin, Tchaikovsky wrote to his brother Modest: "Yesterday evening I arrived home from Kharkov... Over the next few days I shall be busy finishing off the sketches of the finale and scherzo of the new symphony" .
It seems reasonable to suppose that when the author referred to the "scherzo" he meant the second movement, since Tchaikovsky had worked on the third movement for around 10 days in February and March. This is also borne out by notes in the copy-book containing the sketches. The following note was made after the sketches for the second movement: "Today 24 March [O.S.] finished the rough sketches completely!!!". The following day he wrote to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov: "I cannot believe how much I have done since the winter... albeit in fits and starts while I was at home. I don't know whether I wrote to you that I had prepared a symphony  and suddenly became disappointed and tore it up. Recently, in fits and starts, I managed to compose a new one, and this will certainly not be torn up" .
The notes in the sketches can be used to establish the sequence of composition of the Sixth Symphony: starting with the first movement, then the third movement, after them the finale and, finally, the second movement. The whole of the rough draft was written within three weeks.
Amongst the sketches for the fourth movement is another version of the finale, apparently based on its opening theme. This sketch comprises around 50 bars which differ significantly from the definitive version of the finale. Elsewhere are 16 bars from this same variant, but with a more varied accompaniment .
Tchaikovsky did not begin the instrumentation of the symphony until July. On 6/18 July, he told Anatoly Tchaikovsky: "I will stay here [at Ukolovo] for five days... and then travel to Klin. I must confess to wanting to be by myself, although it is not possible to go home, which I need to do in order to start the instrumentation of two new large works, i.e. the symphony (with which I am very pleased) and the piano concerto... now I must hurry so that all this will be ready for 1/13 September" .
From Klin on 19/31 July, Tchaikovsky wrote to Anna Merkling: "I have been idle for far too long and now I am thirsty for work. Tomorrow I shall immerse myself in the new symphony" . He also reported to Aleksandr Ziloti, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, Anatoly Tchaikovsky, Vladimir Davydov, Sergey Taneyev  and Praskovya Tchaikovskaya that the orchestration had been begun .
On 22 July/3 August 1893, he wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: "I’m now up to my neck in the symphony. The further I get with the scoring, the more difficult it becomes. Twenty years ago I used to go full steam ahead, without thinking, and it came out well. Now I have become timid and unsure of myself. Today I spent the whole day sitting over two pages—and nothing came out as I wanted it to. But all the same, the work is progressing..." .
In a letter to Aleksandr Ziloti of 23 July/4 August, he reported: "I’m scoring the symphony and, it’s a funny thing, but I'm finding it terribly difficult, i.e. I'm unhappy with everything, I want to do everything better—but how? I don't know! But in any case, I think you will like the symphony" .
By early/mid August, the orchestration of the symphony was nearing its end: "Soon I will finish scoring the third movement of the symphony, then in two or three days more I shall set about the finale, which should not take me more than three days. Then I must make the piano duet arrangement" . A few days later he wrote to Ziloti: "I have decided to make the piano duet arrangement of the new symphony myself!!!" .
"My work is going very well, but I can't write as quickly as before; but not because I’m becoming feeble through old age, rather because I’m being much stricter with myself, and don't have my former self-confidence. I am very proud of my symphony, and think that it’s my best composition", the composer told Anatoly Tchaikovsky .
The symphony was still not completely finished, when Tchaikovsky offered it for performance in Saint Petersburg. In August he wrote to Pavel Peterssen: "... And so: abgemacht!!! On 10/22 October I will play the symphony, which, by the way, will be completely ready in a day or two" .
The symphony was completed on 12/24 August. Tchaikovsky wrote to Sergey Taneyev: "I have finished the symphony; only the markings and tempi remain to be inserted. With regard to the bowings, I intend to consult with Konyus, who is coming to see me about this in the next few days with his violin and younger brother Lev. The latter will be essential for playing through the arrangement, which I have also made myself" . He reported the same thing to Pyotr Jurgenson .
According to the date on the manuscript, the full score was finished in its entirety on 19/31 August.
Tchaikovsky regarded his new symphony with great affection: "I think it will be successful; it is rare for me to write anything with such love and enthrallment" . "I can honestly say that never in my life have I been so pleased with myself, so proud, or felt so fortunate to have created something as good as this" .
According to the memoirs of Konstantin Saradzhev , the symphony was first played through on 8/20 or 9/21 October by an orchestra of students from the Moscow Conservatory, from the classes of professors Jan Hřímalý, Alfred von Glenn, Nikolay Sokolovsky and others, conducted by Vasily Safonov. However, there no other documents have been found to corroborate this account. There is a surviving note by Sergey Taneyev concerning meetings with Tchaikovsky on 8/20 and 9/21 October 1893 . It contains references to the Piano Concerto No. 3 and the vocal quartet Night, performed by Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya's student class, but there is not a word about the Sixth Symphony.
The first public performance of the Sixth Symphony took place on 16/28 October 1893 in Saint Petersburg, at the first symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society. The author conducted.
After the performance, Tchaikovsky wrote to Pyotr Jurgenson: "Something odd happened with this symphony! It's not that it displeased, but it produced some bewilderment. As far as I myself am concerned—then I am more proud of it than any of my other works" .
By the time of the first performance, the symphony was already being published by Jurgenson. In November, the arrangement for piano duet was issued. In February 1894 the full score and orchestral parts were printed .
The symphony was given the name "Pathétique" by the author himself. On the title page of the full score the author wrote: 'To Vladimir Lvovich Davydov. Pathétique Symphony No. 6. Composed by P. Tchaikovsky, Op. ???" .
At the head of the title page of the full score there are two notes by the author. The first of them was made on the day the full score was finished: "I urge you to ensure when writing out the parts that all the markings in the parts correspond exactly to the full score. P. Tchaikovsky. 19 August 1893" [O.S.]. The second note was added, it seems, after the first performance of the symphony: "I made some corrections in the 2nd and 3rd movements, which need to go into the parts!!! Ask Mr. Kleinecke to attend to this".
The Sixth Symphony is dedicated to Vladimir Davydov.
Музыкальное наследие Чайковского (1958), pp. 249–255
This page was last updated on 14 February 2013