London Office; lOa Soho Square London, W.1

THE GRAMOPHONE Incorporating V 0 X, THE R A D 10 C R I TIC and B R 0 A DCA ST REV lEW


Edited by

Gerrard 2136, 2137



Vol. XVI


No. 189

The Pathetic Symphony

By a happy coincidence an orchestral recording came from His Master's Voice last month which might have been expressly published to test the effectiveness of the Concert Autoradiogram with the new H.M.V. Hyper-Sensitive Pick-up, on which I am enjoying the privilege of playing records at present. This was Tchaikovsky's Pathetic Symphony played by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler on six red discs. Although I fancy I have apprehended the remarkable quality of this H.M.V. instrument, I do not propose to expatiate upon that topic until I have heard upon it a number of recordings already familiar to me. What I must expatiate on is this new recording of the Pathetic Symphony, which on any instrument will be by far the best recording of this symphony which has yet been achieved. I would not have believed i t possible for any conductor and orchestra to give me such a fresh thrill from the Pathetic Symphony as to make me play i t through on four consecutive evenings and tempt me at the present moment to throw aside my pen and play i t again for the fifth time.

r turn back to the first volume of THE GRAMOPHONE and find myself writing :

"A composer like Tchaikovsky has expressed so perfectly that fin-de-siecle weariness from which many of us in our adolescence found i t hard to extricate ourselves, that even at the risk of boring my readers I must make some attempt to express what this particular symphony sounded for my inner ear, because Tchaikovsky had an emotional influence which, if not quite comparable with the influence of Rousseau, was certainly as great as Byron's a century later. Vesti la giubba! I no longer believe that the tragic bassoon which groans forth during the introduction its protest against the unendurable complexity of modern life is really tragic. I believe now that it is merely neurasthenic, which is not quite the same thing. But twenty years ago, when those lugubrious strains pierced the blue haze of the tobacco smoke (at Queen's Hall) and reached my heart, how truly tragic that bassoon was! I know now that what i t really reached was my solar plexus, and I know now that the whining melody on the strings which repeats and repeats itself through the first movement was not so much charged with all the human grief that ever was, as with a kind of epileptic irritability of mind. But twenty years ago, all sorrow, all hope deferred, all the tragic sense of human failure,

, Where youth grows pale and spectre-thin and dies, Where but to think is to be full of sorrow And leaden-eyed despairs' was in the first movement of the Pathetic Symphony, and if I ,,.,'a nted to heap the Pelion of neurotic prose upon the Ossa of neurotic music, could I not go home when the concert was finished and read Dostoievsky until the sparrows chirped in a dripping London dawn, and in the yard ofthe London General Omnibus Company behind my room in Grosvenor Road inspectors jangled bells and tested the steps of those horse-drawn vehicles that already seem as remote as mammoths ? I t is all very well to laugh at the shrouded and confused horizons of youth, but when one looks back on them now they appear more romantic, more beautiful, more fraught with magical potentialities than the clear-cut, heavy, thunderous horizons of middle-age. And so why should I not go on believing that bassoon to be a tragic bassoon, and believing that melody so many times repeated to be a wail and not a whine, and believing that my heart is still being played upon by the tears of things and that my solar plexus is not being troubled by uncomfortably low vibrations and that the first movement of the Pathetic Symphony does express grief and not merely a grievance.

" But if the first movement led one's imagination through dripping, grey, and hopeless dawns, through what sombre and subtle twilights was one led by the second movement! In those days i t was the fashion for writers whether of verse or prose to perceive in the barrel-organ one of the greatest illustrators of human emotion, and by how many French symbolists, and by how many English decadents was a barrel-organ playing at twilight held up as the most intimate expression of human heartbreak! I am sure that the barrel-organ which served Huysmans, Mallarme, Laforgue, Verlaine, Arthur Symons, George Moore,