I. Adagio – Allegro non troppo II. Allegro con grazia III. Allegro molto vivace IV. Finale. Adagio lamentoso – Andante
Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony is one of those works where legend and music are inextricably intertwined. Its nickname of “Pathetique” is not Tchaikovsky's own, but that of his brother Modest, but just after completing the symphony, Tchaikovsky himself read a verse entitled “Requiem”, which he felt “actually says what I say in my symphony.” It is needs no further explanation why we are inclined to detect the shadow of the composer's impending death stalking the score. At its premiere, it was only a modest success, but when the composer died a few weeks later, it was performed a second time. On this occasion, the audience stood transfixed, and demanded the final movement be encored.
The construction of the first movement is traditional: the passionately swooning melody on sordino violins is contrasted with the fast principal theme that unfolds from the slow introduction. The second movement is more surprising, we only notice after this enchanting dance movement is over that far from being a traditional waltz, it is actually in five four time, alternating bars of two and three beats. We ordinarily expect a slow movement to follow, but instead, we are thrown into a characteristic scherzo, which retrospectively gives the second movement the feel of an intermezzo. From this beginning, a march melody reveals itself, the triumphant procession of which gives the impression of a true finale. But this is the end of the triumph, because there then follows the Fourth movement, which although marked Finale, is a tragic slow movement, bringing the symphony to a very dark close.