Semyon Bychkov, Artistic Director: Tchaikovsky Project
Decca Classics

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 Pathétique
Tchaikovsky Romeo & Juliet Fantasy-Overture

“The Pathetique is a musical auto-biography of Tchaikovsky’s short life, which lasted only 53 years and ended abruptly. He writes to Vladimir Davidov, his nephew: “I certainly regard it as quite the best – and especially the ‘most sincere’ – of all my works. I love it as I never loved any one of my musical offspring before”.

Those close to him like his brother Modest Tchaikovsky, or the pianist Vasily Sapelnikov, write how Tchaikovsky became unrecognisable in the final year of his life. Sapelnikov ascribes it to the premonition of death, while in ‘Life and Letters of Tchaikovsky’ Modest Tchaikovsky writes how in the last year his brother ‘seemed as though he had become the victim of some blind force which drove him hither and thither at will… This mysterious force had its source in an inexplicable, restless, despondent condition of mind… So also at this juncture, we are conscious of a feeling that things could not have gone on much longer; we feel on the brink of a change, as though something had come to an end, and was giving place to a new and unknown presence. His death, which came to solve the problem, seemed fortuitous. Yet it is clear to me that it came at a moment when things could not have gone on much longer; nor can I shake off the impression that the years 1892 and 1893 were the dark harbingers of a new and serene epoch’.

Regardless whether his death was self-inflicted or accidental, when it came Tchaikovsky had reached the point of being able to express in his music the entire life cycle within one continuous arch, with laconic austerity and inevitability.  The complexity, abundance of expressive nuance and tempo indications in the score guide us towards an understanding of the story that he is telling.

And what is that story? It is his story: of coming into the world, dreaming to find his place in it, struggling to identify a way to express the human condition and, with humility matched with an iron will, using his courage and perseverance to overcome persistent doubts. It is his story, but it is also our story.

The first movement is a condensed version of the cycle of life and ends with a choral in the wind instruments, accompanied by the strings in what we call a walking pizzicati. One looks into the future with hope and a feeling of enlightened renewal. The middle movements of the symphony are the episodes of expectations and disappointments, the struggle between creation and destruction. Does the scherzo signify victory or defeat?  Certainly victory, if it were not turned into defeat in the final movement, where the coda presents us with the great enigma.

Tempo indications and harsh sforzandi contradict the idea of resignation and the acceptance of death. The theme which flows earlier in D major, rising upwards with hope and immense persistence, comes to a crush, before disintegrating in B minor when the coda begins. It is brief and, like Tchaikovsky’s life itself, ends abruptly. In protest, not resignation.”

© Semyon Bychkov