A Palette of Human Emotions By: Gunnar Moll Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky is one of the most famous Russian composers. He was born in Votkinsk on May 7, 1840 into a middle class family. His family greatly supported his musical interests. They gave him piano lessons and provided him with the instruction of music theory. Their move to St. Petersburg proved to be a significant milestone is Tchaikovsky’s life.
It had set the course for Tchaikovsky’s progress and success in the musical world. From September of 1850 to May of 1859, Tchaikovsky attended the School of Jurisprudence.At this boarding school in St. Petersburg, he received an excellent education and further pursued his interest in music. During this time, he received piano lessons from Rudolf Kundinger, a well known piano teacher, and Luigi Piccioli, an Italian master. Both teachers profoundly influenced Tchaikovsky, especially Piccioli who was one of the first to recognize his talent. It was also at the boarding school that Tchaikovsky discovered his sexual orientation. Signs of his homosexuality became apparent, although throughout his life, he tried to keep his homosexuality kept quiet for the risk of a scandal.
More inner turmoil followed in 1854 when his mother died. He was so affected with her death that he wrote 26 years later: “Every moment of that appalling day is as vivid to me as though it were yesterday”. In 1862, Tchaikovsky enrolled in the St. Petersburg Conservatory to focus solely on music. He studied theory and composition, piano, flute and organ under his principal teachers, Anton Rubinstien and Nikolai Zaremba. He also began to compose his first prominent works such as the Characteristic Dances and the String Quartet in B-flat major.After his graduation in 1865, he met opposition with other nationalistic composers due to his studies with the western-oriented Rubinstien.
Such disdain for Tchaikovsky’s works was met by a group of the most prominent Russian composers called “The Five”. It wasn’t until Tchaikovsky wrote his fantasy-overture Romeo and Juliet that he gained the appraise of “The Five”. As a mature composer in 1867, Tchaikovsky produced some of his best works: the Piano Concerto no. 1, Variations on a Rococco Theme for cello, and Swan Lake to name a few. It was also during these years that Tchaikovsky began to struggle more and more with is sexuality.
Accepting his supposed orientation, he ironically became effectuated with the Belgain soprano Desiree Artot, claiming that she was the only women he had ever loved. However, their marriage was unsuccessful, leaving Tchaikovsky with feelings of great depression. It is commonly believed that these negative feelings actually enhanced Tchaikovsky’s creativity. He wrote very long, ambitious works such as his Violin Concerto in D Major which was deemed impossible to play at the time.
He extensively traveled throughout Europe to compose and promote new works. He eventually went back to Russia to settle down.There, he was awarded a lifetime pension from the Tsar for writing pieces for him. With financial security, he could turn his attention to cultivating his social skills which he lacked.
Although he hated public life, he worked on improving his conducting, teaching, and public speaking. Tchaikovsky died in St. Petersburg in 1893, nine days after the premiere of his 6th Symphony. His death has been widely attributed to suicide. The rumor goes that a cholera outbreak had polluted the water supply in St.
Petersburg. One had to boil the water to ensure that it was sterile and free of disease.One night after a concert, Tchaikovsky decided against boiling his water and drank it, thus dying of cholera. The general plan of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies includes a very ‘pessimistic’ first movement, a sad, peaceful second movement, an allegro movement (often in dance form) and a fourth movement full of vigor. His 6th symphony, the Pathetique, is an exception.
The themes are broad, decorative, and striking. The orchestration is rich – but without any attempt at spectacular effects. The last movement is slow and mournful, and recent research reveals the reason.The Pathetique was only partly finished when news spread of a homosexual ‘encounter’ Tchaikovsky had with a fellow student. Some believe that the composer finished the symphony as a farewell to life. The scoring is for the standard symphonic orchestra with winds, brass, strings, timpani, and other percussion instruments. It was premiered in St.
Petersburg with Tchaikovsky himself leading the orchestra. The 1st movement is in sonata form. The slow introduction to this symphony is unusual in that it begins in the subdominant key – E minor, solemnly introduced by the bassoons.It modulates into B minor and the tempo increases for the principal subject. This theme is elaborated and developed, and a march-like motif forms a bridge passage leading to a climax. The strings then introduce an amorous, song-like second subject in D major. The development section enters with a bang.
This section brings no startling thematic growth or transformation, but is highly dramatic and effective nonetheless. A huge recapitulatory climax utilizing the full brass section announces the return of the principal subject. The amorous song is also restated and ends with another ‘dying’ coda.A descending pizzicato bass provides a background for the brass, which bring the movement to a close. The 2nd movement is in ternary form. This movement begins like a typical Tchaikovsky waltz, except for the unusual feature of a 5/4 time signature broken into 2+3 beats per measure.
The first theme in D major, is basically an upward scale with a triplet in the middle, which descends in a similar fashion. The trio begins in the relative minor full of dissonance which creates emotional tension. Tchaikovsky also includes various modulations, thus adding to the effect of the trio.The key of D major returns at the end of the trio, announcing the return of the first theme. The coda consists of the first theme in the bass, and fragments of the trio in the upper parts. The 3rd movement is basically a scherzo in ternary form.
It opens in a playful moto perpetuo with the violins and woodwinds. The trumpets then enter with a motive of descending fourths, and a march rhythm takes over the moto perpetuo. This eventually leads on to a march in E major, introduced quietly by the clarinet. Following this is a disappearance of the main rhythm through a syncopated chordal theme.The first group of themes is restated, and the march returns triumphantly following a fanfare of trumpets.
The march is then brought to a heroic conclusion in the coda. The finale, marked Adagio lamentoso, is in rondo form. This movement is quite unusual in that it lacks the complexity of the first and is very slow and mournful – very uncharacteristic of a final movement. The movement’s principal subject is a descending idea in B minor created by the criss-crossing of various instruments. The theme is repeated, but the accents are now played by the darker wind instruments like the bassoon.The second subject is introduced by the strings in D major which builds to a climax. The now powerful rhythm stops suddenly as the theme repeats and moves back to B minor.
The coda is very long, and consists of the second theme harmonized in a similar way to the first, portraying despair and sorrow. The year in which Tchaikovsky wrote this symphony, 1893, was the year that Russia began to make amends with France. Russia ratified the Duple Alliance and signed a military accord with the French. However, these political events did not influence Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony at all.The massive culmination of emotion in his sixth symphony stem from his personal experiences at the time. He wrote the symphony in bouts of extreme depression.
He tore up many drafts of the score claiming that it was one of the worst works he had ever written. Strangely, he obsessed over writing the symphony soon after. He was wholly occupied with the work, unable to tear himself away from it. Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony became one of my favorite orchestral pieces after I played the second violin part in the Connecticut Youth Symphony last year.It is a very emotionally draining work requiring great stamina and energy from everyone. My favorite recording of it would be the one played by the Russian National Orchestra. They seem to capture every nuance of the human emotion from the brooding bassoon introduction to the bombastic march in the 3rd movement.
In my opinion, the Symphony Pathetique isn’t a musical experience. It’s more of a reflection on what it is to be human. The symphony forces one to reconnect with joy and sorrow. It serves as a reminder that we are human and even the coldest person can still feel.