Tchaikovsky readily admitted that the symphony presents the story of his life, in which the last movement plays the part of De Profundis, a prayer for the dead. But even the very first listeners, who knew nothing about its hidden program, guessed that the Pathétique might be the composer’s artistic farewell to this world.
Tchaikovsky began conducting with the baton held tightly in his fist, again in his usual way. But when the final sounds of the symphony had died away and Tchaikovsky slowly lowered the baton, there was dead silence in the audience. Instead of applause, stifled sobs came from various parts of the hall. The audience was stunned and Tchaikovsky stood there, silent, motionless, his head bowed.
After the last rehearsal of the symphony, conducted by Tchaikovsky, Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, a talented poet and fervent admirer of the composer, ran into the green room weeping and exclaiming, “What have you done, it’s a requiem, a requiem!”