MSO’s Music From Life & Literature
Literature also inspired
one of the most famous orchestral works of French composer Gabriel Fauré
(1845-1924), in a roundabout sort of way. When the English actress Beatrice
(Mrs. Patrick) Campbell sought some incidental music for a British version of
Count Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande, she first approached
Claude Debussy, composer of the famous opera of the same title. He refused,
however. But Fauré readily accepted, and the result was so successful that,
some years later, he revised and expanded his incidental music to a
concert-hall-ready orchestral suite. Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande Suite,
Op. 80 consists of four parts. The first is a prelude announcing the tragic
dimensions of the story; the following Andante and Sicilienne seem to exist on
borrowed time, despite their grace and charm, while the finale carries us to the
pathos of Mélisande’s deathbed.
Pathos is certainly also
evident in the last symphony by Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-93).
By the winter of 1891-92, Tchaikovsky had grown increasingly lonely and
depressed, afflicted by ailments both real and imagined. He had great trouble
working, but eventually inspiration appeared—in the form of his own tormented
life. He worked on his new work, Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74, throughout
the spring and summer, conducting its premiere in October 1893. The symphony’s
title, Pathétique (his brother Modest’s suggestion and one which
Tchaikovsky emphatically approved) is assuredly appropriate, for pathos is the
work’s overriding theme.
consists of a large, brooding first movement, a graceful yet mournful Allegro
con grazia second, a strident and march-like third and a finale (Adagio
lamentoso) that is one of the most sorrowful utterances in the symphonic
literature. Tchaikovsky never “came clean” as to what this symphony was really
“about,” but given the state of his mental and physical health, few have
questioned its autobiographical nature. Indeed, it proved something of a
release for the composer. “I love it as I have never loved any of my musical
offspring,” he satisfyingly wrote. Alas, it was a final bright spot in a
cloud-shrouded life. Two weeks later Tchaikovsky was dead of cholera.
Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Music Director Edo de Waart conducts these three works, accompanied by violinist Masafumi Hori for the Takemitsu and Fauré pieces, at Uihlein Hall on April 24 & 25.