Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6, Mvt. 1 opening

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Symphony No. 6 in B minor (Pathetique), Op.74 (1893)

Movement 1 Adagio-Allegro non troppo

  • Ist bassoon m. 1-15 (15 total measures)
  • Range – (Low E-B in the staff)
  • Bass clef only

Performance issues: Phrasing. Articulation, Rhythm, Low register

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About the music. In his Sixth Symphony, Tchaikovsky takes a traditional item, the slow introduction, and creates a powerful dramatic effect. He establishes the “pathetique” mood right from the start, as divisi basses begin with sustained low notes and the bassoon adds this effective statement of desolation. (“Pathetique” is the French equivalent of “pathetic” and it is used in the sense of the word that means “marked by sorrow’ or “melancholy.”) This coloristic opening balances well with the dramatic movement that follows. The pairing of this excerpt with the next one is suggested since they are from the same symphony: their technical focuses are different, however, and they need to be approached individually first

The excerpt is not technically difficult and the student will probably be able to play the notes quite easily. Controlling the pitch and response in the low register, making a clean E-F# slur, maintaining the breath control necessary to play the long phrases, however, are challenges for even advanced players.

About performing the excerpt: It is suggested that initial efforts with this movement be done faster than the given metronome marking of 54. The five-bar phrase groupings are difficult enough to play easily at a tempo which will allow the student to develop a sense of the necessary pacing. As a last step in the mastery process, the phrases can then expand to slower tempo settings. Since the feel for articulation in every range of the instrument is different, sufficient time must be spent in each register working on the initiation of tones, both approaching them from a nearby note and beginning them when the air column is not already in motion. Confident articulation in this excerpt is critical because valuable air is wasted if a note does not speak, and that can impact the phrase endings which follow.

On another technical matter, the first two notes require a roller motion, whether the regular or alternate fingering for F# is used. Depending on the student’s hand size, the right thumb may slide between adjacent keys to produce the two notes, or the right hand’s finger may slide to the half key alternate position. (Many players prefer the alternate fingering for general use because it is better in tune. The technical move involved, however, involves extension of a finger rather than horizontal motion, so hand size and position are critical matters.)

This excerpt was taken and used with permission from Ann Pesavento’s doctoral dissertation: Orchestral excerpts as developmental studies for the intermediate bassoonist: a collection of selected passages. D.A. diss, University of Northern Colorado, 1989. Pp. 360. OCLC#: 21892445. UMI 9016608.
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