Tchaikovsky and I have a troubled history going back to music history and music theory in undergrad. Being a lover of Germanic music in the western tradition, I love all things Brahms. Tchaikovsky did not share this view with me since in 1886 he wrote in his diary that “The other day I played over the music of that scoundrel Brahms. What a giftless bastard!” (While I do not have the source, my memory may serve me right in saying that Brahms said of Tchaikovsky something to the extent of “when talking about the music of Tchaikovsky it is best not to say anything at all”.) Adding injury to insult, I have struggled with the beast that we know as the Variations on a Rococo Theme. Tchaikovsky left us cellists with this fantastically tricky concerto which challenges us both musically and technically. And on top of all of this, the Nutcracker does not have a special place in my heart.
It has come as both a great revelation and a relief to play Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony Op. 74, the Pathetique. It is seen by some to be a suicide note in musical form. Having been premiered just a week before his death, historians and music lovers speculate that he committed suicide after drinking unboiled water during a cholera epidemic. Did he write it as his own requiem? We can’t be sure but the slow introduction and dying-away ending are fodder for the imagination.
What we can know for sure is how very emotional and expressive the piece is. Okay, I know, a lot of music is emotional or expressive. But when talking about the Pathetique, it is like a tidal wave that crushes you and drags you out to sea.
But at the same time, there is almost unspeakable tenderness. It is the kind of hopeless-love tragic beauty that we only dare to dream of (14:55). This contrast makes the symphony an absolutely stunning experience to play or listen to.
So I will conclude by saying the only pity that exists with this piece is if you don't listen to it. The concert is at Chenery Auditorium at 3:00 and is presented by the WMU University Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bruce Uchimura and will also feature Stulberg Silver Soloist Emma Carina Meinrenken playing Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto No. 5.