Tchaikovsky's Pathetique and Russian Culture
Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony (1893), widely recognized as one of the world's most deeply tragic compositions, is also known for the mystery surrounding its hidden programme and for Tchaikovsky's unexpected death nine days after its premiere. While the sensational speculations about the composer's possible planned suicide and the suggestion that the symphony was intended as his own requiem have long been discarded, the question of its programme remains.
Tchaikovsky’s mention of the extreme subjectivity lying behind the work’s artistic concept has usually led scholars to seek clues to the programme in his inner emotional world, and some have mooted his homosexuality as the source of personal tragedy that may be at the work’s roots. In this close analytical and historical study, Marina Ritzarev argues that viewing a work of such outstanding aesthetic achievement solely as a personal lament is both unsatisfactory and inconsistent with Tchaikovsky's artistic ethics. She looks for the programme instead in the realm of European eighteenth- and nineteenth-century cultural values. Focusing her extensive knowledge of Russian culture on Tchaikovsky’s personal reading and social circle, she offers a startling new interpretation of this great work.