Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 "Pathétique"

Album: Symphony No. 6, In B Minor, Op. 74 ("Pathétique") (1893)
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Songfacts®:

  • Following an unsuccessful attempt at a sixth symphony in the autumn of 1892, Tchaikovsky made a fresh start the following February and within a matter of days had outlined some of the music. He told his nephew Vladimir ('Bob') Davidov that it was to be a programmatic symphony and one that would remain an enigma to all. "Let them guess!" he wrote.
  • The symphony was written in a small house in Klin, 50 miles northwest of Moscow, and completed by the end of August 1893. Writing to his nephew again Tchaikovsky said, "I consider the Symphony the best thing I've ever done."
  • Tchaikovsky's brother, Modest, had wanted to call the work "Magic" but the Russian composer more modestly prompted for "Pateticheskaya", a Russian word meaning "passionate" or "emotional." "Pateticheskaya" was mistranslated into French as "pathétique", meaning "evoking pity" but the mistranslation has since been retained in every country but the composer's homeland.
  • Tchaikovsky conducted the first performance of this symphony, which was dedicated to his nephew, in St. Petersburg, on October 8, 1893. It was not well received. The premiere was held just nine days before the Russian composer's sudden and unexpected death.
  • The second performance took place 21 days later, at a memorial concert. It included some minor corrections that Tchaikovsky had made after the premiere, and was thus the first performance of the work in the exact form in which it is known today.
  • Films that the symphony can be heard in include Now, Voyager, The Ruling Class, Minority Report, Sweet Bird of Youth and The Aviator.

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