Symphony No. 6

Tchaikovsky Research

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 (TH 30 ; ČW 27), subtitled Symphonie pathétique (Патетическая симфония) [1] was composed in February and March 1893, and orchestrated in July and August the same year.


The Symphony is scored for an orchestra comprising 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A), 2 bassoons + 4 horns (in F), 2 trumpets (in A, B-flat), 3 trombones, tuba + 3 timpani, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam (ad lib.) + violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Movements and Duration

There are four movements:

  1. Adagio—Allegro non troppo (B minor, 354 bars)
  2. Allegro con grazia (D major, 179 bars)
  3. Allegro molto vivace (G major, 547 bars)
  4. Adagio lamentoso (B minor, 171 bars)

A complete performance generally lasts between 45 and 50 minutes.


On 11/23 February 1893, Tchaikovsky wrote to Vladimir Davydov: "You know I destroyed a symphony I had been composing and only partly orchestrated in the autumn [2]... During my journey I had the idea for another symphony, this time with a programme, but such a programme that will remain an enigma to everyone—let them guess; the symphony shall be entitled: A Programme Symphony (No. 6); Symphonie à Programme (No. 6); Programm-Symphonie (No. 6). The programme itself will be suffused with subjectivity, and not infrequently during my travels, while composing it in my head, I wept a great deal. Upon my return I sat down to write the sketches, and the work went so furiously and quickly that in less than four days the first movement was completely ready, and the remaining movements already clearly outlined in my head. The third movement is already half-done. The form of this symphony will have much that is new, and amongst other things, the finale will not be a noisy allegro, but on the contrary, a long drawn-out adagio. You can't imagine how blissful I feel in the conviction that my time is not yet passed, and to work is still possible. Of course I might be mistaken, but I don't think so" [3].

At the end of the sketches for the first movement is the author's note: "Begun on Thursday 4th Febr[uary]. Finished on Tuesday 9th Febr[uary 18]93" [O.S.].

"All my thoughts are now taken up with a new composition (a symphony), and it's very difficult for me to break away from this work. It seems to me that this is the best work I have ever produced. This symphony must be finished as quickly as possible, for I have a great deal of other work...", the composer wrote to Anatoly Tchaikovsky on 10/22 February [4].

Among the sketches for the third movement, at the start of the E major section of the exposition, the composer wrote: "Leaving today 11 Febr[uary]. On returning, the first thing to compose is the ending, i.e. the march in G major on the theme:


... in a solemnly triumphant manner. Then there's still the first statement of the march in C major, starting from this page, and also the reprise of the scherzo with changes and a pedal on D" [5].

It appears that Tchaikovsky worked on the third movement between 17 February/1 March and 24 February/8 March, after which he left again. It is difficult to establish how much work Tchaikovsky did after his return from Moscow, between 28 February/12 March and 3/15 March. It is known that during these days he was writing the quartet Night; at the end of the manuscript of the quartet is the date: "Klin, 3 March 1893" [O.S.]. Afterwards, work was interrupted for some time, because of a concert tour by the composer in Kharkov. On 19/31 March, back at Klin, Tchaikovsky wrote to his brother Modest: "I arrived home from Kharkov last night... Over the coming days I'll be busy finishing off the sketches of the finale and scherzo of the new symphony" [6].

It seems reasonable to suppose that when the author referred to the "scherzo" he meant the second movement, since Tchaikovsky had worked on the third movement for around 10 days in February and March. This is also borne out by notes in the copy-book containing the sketches. The following note was made after the sketches for the second movement: "Today 24 March [O.S.] finished the rough sketches completely!!!". The following day he wrote to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov: "I cannot believe how much I have done since the winter... albeit in fits and starts while I was at home. I don't know whether I wrote to you that I had prepared a symphony [7] and suddenly became disappointed and tore it up. Recently, in fits and starts, I managed to compose a new one, and this will certainly not be torn up" [8].

The notes in the sketches can be used to establish the sequence of composition of the Sixth Symphony: starting with the first movement, then the third movement, after them the finale and, finally, the second movement. The whole of the rough draft was written within three weeks.

Tchaikovsky did not begin the instrumentation of the symphony until July. On 6/18 July, he told Anatoly Tchaikovsky: "I will stay here [at Ukolovo] for five days... and then travel to Klin. I must confess to wanting to be by myself, although it is not possible to go home, which I need to do in order to start the instrumentation of two new large works, i.e. the symphony (with which I am very pleased) and the piano concerto... now I must hurry so that all this will be ready for 1 September" [9].

From Klin on 19/31 July, Tchaikovsky wrote to Anna Merkling: "I have been idle for far too long and now I am thirsty for work. Tomorrow I shall immerse myself in the new symphony" [10]. He also reported to Aleksandr Ziloti, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, Anatoly Tchaikovsky, Vladimir Davydov, Sergey Taneyev [11] and Praskovya Tchaikovskaya that the orchestration had been begun [12].

On 22 July/3 August 1893, he wrote to Modest Tchaikovsky: "I'm now up to my neck in the symphony. The further I get with the scoring, the more difficult it becomes. Twenty years ago I used to go full steam ahead, without thinking, and it came out well. Now I have become timid and unsure of myself. Today I spent the whole day sitting over two pages—and nothing came out as I wanted it to. But all the same, the work is progressing..." [13].

In a letter to Aleksandr Ziloti of 23 July/4 August, he reported: "I'm scoring the symphony and, it's a funny thing, but I'm finding it terribly difficult, i.e. I'm unhappy with everything, I want to do everything better—but how? I don't know! But in any case, I think you will like the symphony" [14].

On 2/14 August 1893, Tchaikovsky informed Vladimir Davydov that the symphony was "...coming along. I'm very pleased with its content, but dissatisfied, or rather not completely satisfied, with the instrumentation. For some reason it's not coming out as I intended. To me it would be typical and unsurprising if this symphony were torn to pieces or little appreciated, for it wouldn't be for the first time that had happened. But I absolutely consider it to be the best, and in particular, the most sincere of all my creations. I love it as I have never loved any of my other musical offspring" [15].

The orchestration of the symphony was now nearing its end: "Soon I will finish scoring the third movement of the symphony, then in two or three days more I shall set about the finale, which should not take me more than three days. Then I must make the piano duet arrangement", he told Sergey Taneyev on 1/13 August [16]. A week later he told Aleksandr Ziloti: "I've decided to make the piano duet arrangement of the new symphony myself!!!" [17].

"My work is going very well, but I can't write as quickly as before; but not because I'm becoming feeble through old age, rather because I'm being much stricter with myself, and don't have my former self-confidence. I am very proud of my symphony, and think that it's my best composition", the composer told Anatoly Tchaikovsky [18].

The symphony was still not completely finished when Tchaikovsky offered it for performance in Saint Petersburg. In August he wrote to Pavel Peterssen: "... And so: abgemacht!!! On 10/22 October I will play the symphony, which, by the way, will be completely ready in a day or two" [19].

The symphony was completed on 12/24 August. Tchaikovsky wrote to Sergey Taneyev: "I have finished the symphony; only the markings and tempi remain to be inserted. With regard to the bowings, I intend to consult with Konyus, who is coming to see me about this in the next few days with his violin and younger brother Lev. The latter will be essential for playing through the arrangement, which I have also made myself" [20]. He reported the same thing to Pyotr Jurgenson [21].

According to the date on the manuscript, the full score was finished in its entirety on 19/31 August.

Tchaikovsky regarded his new symphony with great affection: "I think it will be successful; it is rare for me to write anything with such love and enthralment" [22]. "I can honestly say that never in my life have I been so pleased with myself, so proud, or felt so fortunate to have created something as good as this"[23].


As noted above, Tchaikovsky also arranged the Sixth Symphony for piano duet (4 hands) between 1/13 and 12/24 August 1893, with assistance from Konyus [24].


According to the memoirs of Konstantin Saradzhev [25], the symphony was first played through on 8/20 or 9/21 October by an orchestra of students from the Moscow Conservatory, from the classes of professors Jan Hřímalý, Alfred von Glenn, Nikolay Sokolovsky and others, conducted by Vasily Safonov. However, no other documents have been found to corroborate this account. There is a surviving note by Sergey Taneyev concerning meetings with Tchaikovsky on 8/20 and 9/21 October 1893 [26]. It contains references to the Piano Concerto No. 3 and the vocal quartet Night, performed by Yelizaveta Lavrovskaya's student class, but there is not a word about the Sixth Symphony.

Another personal account of Tchaikovsky's last visit to the Moscow Conservatory also makes no mention of the private performance of the symphony [27].

The first public performance of the Sixth Symphony took place on 16/28 October 1893 in Saint Petersburg, at the first symphony concert of the Russian Musical Society. Tchaikovsky conducted, and after the performance he told Pyotr Jurgenson: "Something strange is happening with this symphony! It's not that it displeased, but it has caused some bewilderment. So far as I myself am concerned, I'm more proud of it than any of my other works..." [28].

In Moscow, the symphony was performed in public for the first time after the composer's death, on 4/16 December 1893, at a special symphony concert conducted by Vasily Safonov.

Other notable early performances include:

  • London, Queen's Hall, 16/28 February 1894, conducted by Alexander Mackenzie
  • New York, Metropolitan Opera House, Symphony Society concert, 4/16 March 1894, conducted by Walter Damrosch
  • Manchester, 10th Hallé Orchestra concert, 15/27 December 1894, conducted by Charles Hallé
  • Frankfurt, 13/25 January 1895, 7th Friday concert, conducted by Gustav Kogel
  • Vienna, 7th Philharmonic Society subscription concert, 19 February/3 March 1895, conducted by Hans Richter
  • Brno, Vienna Philharmonic Society concert, 19/31 March 1896, conducted by Hans Richter
  • Amsterdam, Concertgebouw, subscription concert, 12/24 September 1896, conducted by Willem Mengelberg


The symphony was published by Jurgenson soon after the first performance, in November the arrangement for piano duet was issued and in February 1894 the full score and orchestral parts were printed [29].

The full score and piano duet arrangements of the Symphony were published in volumes 17Б (1963) and volume 48 (1964) respectively of Tchaikovsky's Complete Collected Works. Both volumes were edited by Irina Iordan.

The New Complete Edition of Tchaikovsky's works includes a facsimile of Tchaikovsky's sketches in volume 39a (1999), edited by Polina Vaidman; the full score in volume 39b (1993), and critical report in volume 39c (2003), both edited by Thomas Kohlhase with the assistance of Polina Vaidman.


Tchaikovsky's manuscript full score is now preserved in the Russian National Museum of Music in Moscow (ф. 88, No. 60) [view]. On the title page of the full score the author wrote: 'To Vladimir Lvovich Davydov. Pathétique Symphony No. 6. Composed by P. Tchaikovsky, Op.???" [30]. On the same page are two notes by the composer. The first of them was made on the day the full score was finished: "I urge you to ensure when writing out the parts that all the markings in the parts correspond exactly to the full score. P. Tchaikovsky. 19 August 1893" [O.S.]. The second note was added, it seems, after the first performance of the symphony: "I made some corrections in the 2nd and 3rd movements, which need to go into the parts!!! Ask Mr Kleinecke to attend to this".

A further 16 folios containing passages discarded from the full score can also be found in the Russian National Museum of Music (ф. 88, No. 60a) [view].

The composer's autograph arrangement for piano duet has been lost, but a manuscript copy containing his annotations is preserved in the Russian State Archive for Literature and Art in Moscow (ф. 952, No. 725a).


See: Discography


The Sixth Symphony is dedicated to the composer's nephew, Vladimir Davydov [31].

Related Works

The first movement (bars 202-205) includes a quotation from the Orthodox Requiem Mass: 'With thy saints, O Christ, give peace to the soul of thy servant'.

External Links

Notes and References

  1. After the composer's death, Modest Tchaikovsky claimed to have thought of the title Pathétique on the day after its premiere in October 1893 — see Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 3 (1902), p. 645; however, this is thrown into doubt by two letters preserved in the Klin House-Museum from Pyotr Jurgenson to Tchaikovsky. On 20 September/2 October 1893 the publisher already enquired about the title page design: "What is to be done with pathétique and W. Davidoff or Dawidow?" On 19/31 October, Jurgenson wrote to Tchaikovsky again: "The title pages have been engraved and now we can easily add: 'Symphony No. 6 (pathétique)'. It should be styled not Sixth 'Pathétique' symphony, but Symphony No. 6, 'Pathétique'. Do you agree?" — П. И. Чайковский — П. И. Юргенсон. Переписка, том 2 (2013), p. 491, 495-496.
  2. In fact, this symphony was not destroyed—see the article on the unfinished Symphony in E-flat major.
  3. Letter 4865 to Vladimir Davydov, 11/23 February 1893.
  4. Letter 4864 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 10/22 February 1893.
  5. "...the first statement of the march in C major" was probably a slip of the pen; it was actually set in E major.
  6. Letter 4897 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 19/31 March 1893.
  7. i.e. the Symphony in E-flat major.
  8. Letter 4901 to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, 25 March/6 April 1893.
  9. Letter 4968 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 6/18 July 1893.
  10. Letter 4975 to Anna Merkling, 19/31 July 1893.
  11. See Letter 4973 to Aleksandr Ziloti, Letter 4974 to Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, Letter 4979 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, Letter 4972 to Vladimir Davydov (all 19/31 July 1893), and Letter 4969 to Sergey Taneyev (now believed to date from 18/30 July 1893).
  12. Letter 4980 to Praskovya Tchaikovskaya, 20–21 July/1–2 August 1893.
  13. Letter 4984 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 22 July/3 August 1893.
  14. Letter 4985 to Aleksandr Ziloti, 23 July/4 August 1893.
  15. Letter 4998 to Vladimir Davydov, 2/14 August 1893.
  16. Letter 4997 to Sergey Taneyev, 1/13 August 1893.
  17. Letter 5004 to Aleksandr Ziloti, 8/20 August 1893.
  18. Letter 5009 to Anatoly Tchaikovsky, 12/24 August 1893.
  19. Letter 5005 to Pavel Peterssen, 11/23 August 1893. Abgemacht = "it is settled".
  20. Letter 5008 to Sergey Taneyev, 12/24 August 1893.
  21. Letter 5010 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 12/24 August 1893.
  22. Letter 5040 to Ilya Slatin, 23 September/5 October 1893.
  23. Letter 5010 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 12/24 August 1893.
  24. Letter 5019 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 20 August/1 September 1893.
  25. Saradzhev's account of this occasion was first published in Konstantin Saradzhev, О П. И. Чайковском (1962), p. 176–180.
  26. State Central Archive for Literature and the Arts (ф. 880, No. 55).
  27. Mikhail Bukinik, 25 октября 1893 года. Мой воспоминания о П. И. Чайковском» (1952).
  28. Letter 5062 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 18/30 October 1893.
  29. Letter from Pyotr Jurgenson to Modest Tchaikovsky, 8/20 February 1894.
  30. See Letter 5062 to Pyotr Jurgenson, 18/30 October 1893.
  31. See Letter 4998 to Vladimir Davydov, 2/14 August 1893.