‘Pathetique’

Few works match the intrigue of Pytor Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 6 Pathétique.” Premiered only a few days before the composer’s death, the mystery surrounding this piece is still debated over one hundred years later. Did Tchaikovsky die from cholera-infected water? Could it have been suicide? Or was it the result of a broken heart? The theories have been swirling around Tchaikovsky’s death for decades. Because this symphony is so closely associated with his death, some have described this work as his farewell to life. While we may never know what exactly inspired Tchaikovsky to write this magnificent piece, we can be confident that it will continue to be one of his most celebrated and performed works.

The symphony’s nickname, “Pathétique,” was added by Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest, with the blessing of the composer himself.  It is in reference to the extreme emotions of the work. Biographer John Warrack wrote, “The Russian word…carries more feeling of ‘passionate’ or ’emotional’ in it than the English ‘pathetic,’ and perhaps an overtone, which has largely vanished from our world…of ‘suffering.’” The abrupt switches from beautiful soaring melodies to somber laments to quirky 5/4 waltzes are just a few examples of the vast spectrum of emotions Tchaikovsky employs.

Interestingly, the first performance of the “Pathétique” symphony was not a success. However, after the second performance, just days after Tchaikovsky’s death, it was hailed as a symphonic masterpiece.

The University of Utah Philharmonia, under the direction of Robert Baldwin, will be bringing this symphony to life with two special performances. The first will take place on March 7 at 7:30 p.m. in Libby Gardner Concert Hall. This performance will also feature “Overture in C Major” by Fanny Mendelssohn which boasts “bold modulations, finely controlled rise and fall of tension, and scoring of a resourcefulness bordering on the quirky” (The Times).

The second performance is the next evening on March 8 at 7:30 p.m. in Abravanel Hall. This concert is particularly unique because Utah Philharmonia will be joined by the Lyceum Philharmonic. This talented youth orchestra is made up of musicians from around the state and has been named the “Best Orchestra” by Best of State Utah for 10 consecutive years. They will join the Philharmonia for a side-by-side performance meaning that audiences will get to hear not only one, but two orchestras perform Tchaikovsky’s seminal work together.