Tchaikovsky’s Last Word

Forget everything you think you know about Tchaikovsky’s demise. Let’s look at his final work: Symphony #6 “Pathetique.”
The first movement begins much like the 5th, with a slow and contemplative low woodwind and bass theme. As it evolves through many wonderful melodies, it becomes sad and foreboding. He tries to put a happy face on it, but fails.
The second movement is prescribed and almost mechanical, by Tchaikovsky’s standards, as it puts the waltz in the #2 position, instead of #3. Juxtaposing movement traditions is a Tchaikovsky trademark (Manfred Symphony). This movement is curiously unremarkable, and seems to be almost rudimentary.
The third movement is a testament to Tchaikovsky’s long and nationalistic career, as a source of Russian music. He was clearly proud of what he had accomplished, and had good right to be. The long, and extended ending bears tribute to his accolades within his time.
The fourth, and final movement however, is a study in deterioration and decay. Instead of leading to a triumphant finish, with pomp and circumstance, Tchaikovsky leads us on a more realistic journey to disenchantment and debilitation. The latter years of life are rarely invigorating, but often weakening. It clearly ends with the final gasps of life, and a fade to silence.
You can draw your own conclusions as to whether he knew the end was near. But, whether he was preparing for retirement or death, the Pathetique is unlike any other symphony in structure and mood. Tchaikovsky was known for standing traditions on their heads, and the ending of Symphony #6 was no exception.Image

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