REVIEW POTPOURRI: Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6

Muir Mathieson (1911 – 1975), Scottish conductor, film score composer and director of musical documentaries, pictured while conducting, 1954. (Photo by Baron/Getty Images)

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6

“Pathetique”; Muir Mathieson conducting the Sinfonia of London. Camelot CMT 102, stereo LP, recorded 1958.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony was given its world premiere on October 28, 1893, nine days before he died at 53. He wrote a letter to his nephew that year describing his feelings about what would be his last work :

“It would not surprise me in the least if this Symphony meets with abuse or unfavorable criticism. It would not be the first time. I myself regard it as the best and most sincere of all my works. I love it as I have never loved any other of my musical offsprings before.”

As in so many of his major works – the 1st Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto, Swan Lake and Nutcracker ballets, Romeo and Juliet, 4th, 5th and Manfred Symphonies etc.; – the composer so brilliantly poured his entire heart and soul into the Pathetique Symphony (his own meaning of the word vaguely hinted at as ‘private and personal’.). He also utilized the entire range of dynamics from softest to loudest.

The Symphony has been performed and recorded infinitely countless times; I have scads of different performances ranging from A-plus to bad. It has never gone sour for me and even the worst performance has something interesting.

Muir Mathieson (1911-1975) was best known for composing soundtracks for English movies and conducting those of other composers. This recording is superb and stands out in a very distinguished catalog; it can also be heard on YouTube but the Symphony’s four movements are posted separately.

WOH to host live Metropolitan Opera

The Waterville Opera House is hosting live links from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. The next one is Puccini’s Madame Butterfly on November 9. I attended Puccini’s last opera Turandot on Saturday, October 12, and Massenet’s Manon this past Saturday, October 26.

Highly recommended. Check the Waterville Opera House website for times.


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