Conducted by Alan Gilbert, the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra plays Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, commonly known as the Pathétique Symphony. This performance was recorded on November 4, 2022, at the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg.

Conducted by Alan Gilbert, the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra plays Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, commonly known as the Pathétique Symphony. This performance was recorded on November 4, 2022, at the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 “Pathétique”

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, known as the “Pathétique,” is a deeply emotional and profoundly innovative work that stands as one of the pinnacles of symphonic literature.

It is the final completed symphony of the Russian composer. Tchaikovsky dedicated the Pathétique to his nephew, Vladimir “Bob” Davydov, whom he greatly admired. Completed in 1893, just nine days before the composer’s death, the symphony premiered in Saint Petersburg under Tchaikovsky’s baton. The “Pathétique” is often seen as Tchaikovsky’s farewell to the world, a reflection of his tumultuous inner life, though this interpretation is speculative and adds to the work’s mystique.

The symphony’s title, “Pathétique,” suggests a work of great emotional depth and vulnerability. The name, suggested by Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest, conveys the music’s profound sense of melancholy and passion. Tchaikovsky himself embraced this title, which accurately reflects the symphony’s introspective and expressive nature.

Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony is notable for its original structure and emotional scope, deviating from traditional symphonic forms to convey a more personal and dramatic narrative. The work is characterized by its rich orchestration, intricate melodies, and innovative use of harmony, which together create a deeply affecting musical experience. Tchaikovsky’s mastery of orchestral color is evident throughout the symphony, as he employs a wide range of instruments to produce a lush, emotive sound palette.

One of the most distinctive features of the “Pathétique” is its exploration of contrast and mood. Tchaikovsky moves between moments of serene beauty and turbulent despair, reflecting the complexity of human emotions. The symphony’s dramatic progression, from its somber opening to its haunting conclusion, leaves a lasting impression on the listener, inviting varied interpretations of its underlying message.

The reception of the “Pathétique” Symphony at its premiere was mixed, with some listeners puzzled by its unconventional finale and overall melancholic tone. However, it quickly gained acclaim following Tchaikovsky’s death, becoming one of his most celebrated and frequently performed works. The “Pathétique” has since been regarded as a masterpiece of emotional expression, capturing the essence of Tchaikovsky’s creative genius and his ability to communicate deep, universal truths through music.

Beyond its technical achievements, the “Pathétique” Symphony holds a special place in the hearts of many for its emotional resonance and the tragic circumstances surrounding its composition. The work remains a powerful testament to Tchaikovsky’s enduring legacy as one of the greatest composers in the history of classical music, offering listeners a profound and moving experience that transcends time and place.


With the start times in the video above:

  1. Adagio – Allegro non troppo 00:01
  2. Allegro con grazia 18:55
  3. Allegro molto vivace 26:49
  4. Finale. Adagio lamentoso – Andante 35:55

1. Adagio – Allegro non troppo

The first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique,” is a powerful and emotionally charged piece that sets the tone for the entire symphony. Marked Adagio – Allegro non troppo, it begins with a slow, somber introduction that immediately establishes the work’s profound emotional depth. This introduction features a dark, brooding melody in the lower strings, creating a sense of foreboding and melancholy that pervades the movement.

After the introspective opening, the movement transitions into the Allegro non troppo section, where the main thematic material is introduced. This section is characterized by its contrasting themes and dynamic shifts, showcasing Tchaikovsky’s mastery of orchestration and his ability to convey complex emotions through music. The first theme is passionate and expressive, driven forward by the strings with support from the woodwinds and brass. It conveys a sense of longing and unresolved tension, which is a recurring motif throughout the symphony.

The development of the movement sees Tchaikovsky exploring these themes further, weaving them through different orchestral textures and harmonies. The composer skillfully builds tension, leading to climactic moments that are both powerful and deeply moving. The interplay between the orchestra’s sections highlights the conflict and turmoil that lie at the heart of the “Pathétique” Symphony.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this movement is Tchaikovsky’s use of contrast. Moments of intense drama and passion are juxtaposed with passages of serene beauty, reflecting the complexity of human emotions and the struggle between despair and hope. The movement’s conclusion revisits the opening adagio, bringing the listener full circle with a return to the somber, reflective mood that began the symphony.

2. Allegro con grazia

The second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique,” presents a striking contrast to the emotional intensity of the first movement. Marked Allegro con grazia, this movement is characterized by its unique 5/4 time signature, which imparts an elegant yet subtly unsettling rhythmic quality. This unusual time signature, often described as resembling the lilting flow of a waltz with an extra beat, creates a sense of continuous forward motion and adds a distinctive charm to the movement.

Musically, the second movement unfolds with a graceful, flowing melody that conveys a sense of gentle nostalgia and poignant beauty. The main theme, introduced by the strings, is lyrical and serene, evoking a dance-like quality that is both reflective and light-hearted. This melody is then passed around and elaborated upon by different sections of the orchestra, showcasing Tchaikovsky’s skill in orchestration and his ability to create rich, textured soundscapes.

Despite its overall grace and elegance, the movement is not without its moments of melancholy and introspection. The interplay between major and minor harmonies, along with the subtle rhythmic complexity, adds layers of emotional depth and complexity. Tchaikovsky masterfully balances these elements, ensuring that the movement maintains its graceful poise while hinting at the underlying themes of longing and sadness that permeate the symphony.

The structure of the second movement is relatively straightforward, adhering to a modified ternary form (A-B-A) that allows for the exploration and development of the main theme. The central section introduces contrasting material, offering a moment of reflection before returning to the initial theme, which is then reprised and developed further. The movement concludes with a gentle coda, bringing the dance-like journey to a serene and contemplative close.

3. Allegro molto vivace

The third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique,” is a dynamic and spirited march that stands in sharp contrast to the emotional depth and melancholy of the preceding movements. Marked Allegro molto vivace, this movement is characterized by its energy, vitality, and brilliant orchestration, offering a surprising shift in mood that has fascinated audiences and scholars alike.

This movement opens with a vigorous string theme that sets a brisk and lively pace. The energy is infectious, with the strings playing a driving rhythm that propels the music forward. This is soon joined by the woodwinds and brass, adding layers of color and intensity to the texture. Tchaikovsky’s skill in orchestration shines here, as he expertly weaves together various instrumental timbres to create a rich and vibrant musical tapestry.

One of the most compelling aspects of the third movement is its march-like character, which brings a sense of optimism and triumph. This is in stark contrast to the symphony’s overall mood, particularly the somber and introspective nature of the first and second movements. The march theme is both majestic and celebratory, featuring bold brass fanfares and lively woodwind melodies that suggest a ceremonial procession or festive celebration.

Despite its exuberant character, the movement is not without its moments of tension and drama. Tchaikovsky introduces contrasting themes and harmonic shifts that add complexity and depth to the music. These moments serve to heighten the emotional impact of the movement, weaving a narrative of struggle and triumph that is both engaging and thought-provoking.

The climax of the third movement is a tour de force of orchestral power, with all sections of the orchestra joining in a grandiose rendition of the march theme. This leads to an exhilarating and triumphant conclusion, which often elicits spontaneous applause from audiences, misled by its conclusive power into thinking it’s the symphony’s end.

4. Finale. Adagio lamentoso – Andante

The fourth and final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, “Pathétique,” is a profound and moving conclusion to one of the composer’s greatest works. Marked Adagio lamentoso – Andante, this movement plunges into the depths of despair and resignation, offering a stark contrast to the triumphant energy of the third movement. It is in this finale that the symphony earns its nickname, “Pathétique,” encapsulating the essence of sorrow and pathos that Tchaikovsky masterfully conveys.

The movement opens with a heart-wrenching melody in the strings, immediately setting a tone of lament and melancholy. This melody, simple yet profound, is one of Tchaikovsky’s most poignant creations, expressing a sense of loss and irrevocable sadness. The use of descending motifs throughout the movement reinforces the feelings of sorrow and despair.

As the movement unfolds, the orchestration becomes richer, with the woodwinds, brass, and strings interweaving to create a tapestry of sound that deepens the emotional intensity. Tchaikovsky employs a wide range of dynamics and textures, from the delicate and ethereal to the powerful and anguished, showcasing his ability to evoke a profound emotional response from the listener.

The central section of the movement features a brief moment of hope, where the music momentarily lifts in a major key. However, this is quickly overshadowed by the return of the somber main theme, suggesting the inevitability of sorrow and the futility of resistance. The movement, and thus the symphony, concludes not with a dramatic flourish but with a whispering fade into silence, leaving a lingering sense of unresolved grief and resignation.

This ending is unprecedented in the symphonic tradition, marking a departure from the more optimistic or triumphant conclusions typical of the genre. Tchaikovsky’s choice to end the symphony in this manner is both bold and deeply personal, reflecting his own struggles and perhaps presaging his untimely death just days after the symphony’s premiere.

The fourth movement of the “Pathétique” Symphony is a masterpiece of emotional expression, demonstrating Tchaikovsky’s unparalleled ability to translate the complexities of the human condition into music. It serves as a powerful conclusion to the symphony, encapsulating themes of loss, despair, and the search for meaning in the face of suffering. The “Pathétique” remains one of the most beloved and frequently performed symphonies in the classical repertoire, testament to its enduring emotional impact and Tchaikovsky’s genius as a composer.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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