How to Build a Classical CD Collection

40. Tchaikovsky: "Pathétique" Symphony & Francesca da Rimini

Tchaikovsky's last symphony, generally known under its title as the Pathétique, was first played in St. Petersburg under the composer's direction nine days before his mysterious death, whether by his own hand or as the result of a bout of cholera, the official version, remains a matter of dispute. The symphony is imbued with strong feelings, intensely dramatic and exaggerated in its instructions to players as to dynamics. The symphony includes a charming waltz as its second movement and in its conclusion an ironically triumphant march, followed by a sombre confrontation with despair and death. The fantasy Francesca da Rimini has a literary source in an episode from Dante's Inferno, where the adulterous couple Francesca and her lover Paolo are eternally damned. Francesca had been married by her father to the ugly Giovanni Malatesta, but had thereafter fallen in love with her husband's handsome brother, a crime for which the lovers were executed, punished in this world and the next. It has been suggested that the subject of forbidden love was one that haunted Tchaikovsky, whose homosexual proclivities were increasingly well known. In music Tchaikovsky evokes the sadness of Francesca's fate, blown about now by the winds of Hell.

Recommended recording
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique" & Francesca da Rimini played by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra directed by Antoni Wit. Naxos 8.550782

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