MUSIC AND MORALITY: Expression and Katharsis in Peter Tchaikovsky’s symphonies

Jacek Szerszenowicz 1
1 - Akademia Muzyczna w Łodzi
MAeS
2015; 16 (3):
ICID: 1186514
Article type: Original article
IC™ Value: 3.00
Abstract provided by Publisher
 
The most fascinating task of aesthetics is to detect the hidden order of arts. As a matter
of fact, the last three symphonies of Tchaikovsky received an enthusiastic reception because
of their unusually strong expression and energy. So far, however, we know neither
why his previous symphonies had lacked such power, nor why each one of the last three
is so impressive. It seems that thanks to the psychoanalytical approach we can make it
clear that the source of these qualities lies in the conflict between the composer’s homosexual
preferences and the moral norms of his time. The psychical tension between Id
and Superego evoked the feeling of guilt which entailed the composer’s fight against his
susceptibility. Ultimately, the unsuccessful marriage disclosed the hopelessness of his efforts,
putting the composer into a poor mental condition in which the symphony no. 4
op. 36 came into existence. In a letter to his patron Mrs. von Meck Tchaikovsky described
an objective “program” of the symphony. He sketched the plan of a drama: the motif of
fate which “hangs over the head like the sword of Damocles”, the state of depression, and
glimmers of hope… This description suits well both the sound flow of the symphony and
the course of the composer’s life. Although the next two symphonies were not described
by the composer in such manner, a lot of features analogous to the op. 36 are noticeable.
Therefore, the same key can be applied to the interpretation of their dramatic contents.
The first movement of each symphony begins with the introduction based on the characteristic
motif of fate which comes and goes as the music develops. The music itself
oscillates between tension and fading, only to explode in tutti with great strength and
thickening texture of sounds, and with obsessive motifs. Further, the energy decreases
and the music falls down into low, dark regions. It dies away – but then again, it cheers
up and achieves the greatest tension.
In the biography of Tchaikovsky there is a great number of facts explaining the significant
differences between the three symphonies. For instance, the symphony no. 5
manifests temporal reconciliation with fate by the brighter mood and a particular way
of elaborating the motif of fate. On the other hand, the generally depressive mood of the
symphony no. 6 (Pathétique) reflects the deterioration of the composer’s physical and psychological
condition. It seems that the self-expression ceased to play the role of the catharsis
– the purification of mind from bad tensions. There has been a controversy about the
cause of Tchaikovsky’s death which occurred briefly after the completion of the symphony
Pathétique. The well grounded hypothesis suggesting the composer’s suicide is based on
the same facts which determined the contents of the symphony. Music happens to be the
mirror of life and the intuition of death.
DOI: 10.5604/20842937.1186514
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