If one is searching for an extra-musical heading under which to bracket the con- tent of the Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 & 6 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, one cannot really avoid the word “fate”. Personal fate, to be exact. Thus his Symphony No. 4 (1876-78) was a frank confession straight from the soul, a subtle psychological portrait printed on paper. In a letter to his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, he talked of “fate, this disastrous power, which prevents our urgent desire for happiness from achieving its objective”. After this, a further 11 years passed before Tchaikovsky attempted to compose another “purely” symphonic work – his Symphony No. 5.
When at last it was revealed what Mahler’s final intentions were regarding the ordering of the inner movements of his 6th Symphony, 90 years of theory, history, & performance practice went right out the window. For theorists, it altered the harmonic structure of Mahler’s A minor Symphony. For historians, it modified the meaning of Mahler’s “Tragic” Symphony. For players & conductors, it changed the musical progress of Mahler’s 6th Symphony. For listeners, it made Mahler’s deepest & darkest symphony even deeper & darker. With the achingly nostalgic Andante moderato now coming before the bitingly bitter Scherzo, the triumph of the opening Allegro energico sounds even more hollow & empty & the collapse of the closing Allegro moderato sounds even more final & total.