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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский, sometimes transliterated as Piotr, Anglicised as Peter Ilich), (May 7, 1840 - November 6, 1893 (N.S) ( April 25, 1840 - October 25, 1893 (O.S) ) was a Russian composer of the Romantic era. Although not a member of the group of nationalistic composers known as The Five, his music has come to be known and loved for its distinctly Russian character as well as its rich harmonies and stirring melodies.

Table of contents
1 Life
2 Ballets
3 Operas
4 Symphonies
5 Concertos
6 Other works
7 References


Tchaikovsky was born in Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia, to a Ukrainian mining engineer and his second wife, a woman of French ancestry. Musically precocious, he began piano lessons at the age of five. He went on to study at the St. Petersburg Conservatory from 1861 to 1865. In 1866, he was appointed professor of theory and harmony at the Moscow Conservatory, established that year. He held the post until approximately 1878.

Tchaikovsky married a woman called Antonina Milyukova, who had written to him declaring her love, on 18 July 1877. The marriage was hasty, and he quickly found he could not bear his wife. After an attempt at suicide, he fled to St Petersburg a nervous wreck, and was separated from his wife after only six weeks. This episode only served to confirm Tchaikovsky's homosexuality.

A far more influential woman in Tchaikovsky's life was a wealthy widow, Nadezhda von Meck, with whom he corresponded from 1877 to 1890, although at her insistence they never met. As well as financial support of 6000 rubles a year, she expressed her interest in his musical career and admiration for his music. However she abruptly cut off her support for the composer, which is believed to have happened when she was informed of his sexual preference. It is possible that Nadezhda was planning to marry off one her daughters to Tchaikovsky, as she had previously tried unsuccessfully to marry one of them to Debussy, who had lived in Russia for a time and was teacher to her family.

Just nine days after the first performance of his Sixth Symphony 'Pathetique' in 1893, Tchaikovsky died. It is generally accepted that his death was by suicide, although the manner (commonly claimed to be from cholera brought about by deliberately drinking infected water, although arsenic poisoning is more likely) and circumstances are uncertain. One suggestion is that a group of his former classmates required him to commit suicide to avoid the scandal of an alleged affair with the nephew of a member of the Russian aristocracy. Tchaikovsky was interred in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, St Petersburg.

His life, somewhat embroidered, is the subject of Ken Russell's motion picture The Music Lovers.


Tchaikovsky is perhaps most well known for his ballets.

The first, Swan Lake, Op. 20, was composed during 1875 and 1876, and first performed (with some omissions) at the Bolshoi in Moscow in 1877.

The work which Tchaikovsky considered to be one of his best was the ballet Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66. It was written some 13 years later in 1888 and 1889, with its first performance in 1890 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.

Tchaikovsky was less satisified with his last ballet, The Nutcracker, Op. 71, which was composed in 1891 and 1892.


Tchaikovsky wrote ten operas, including Eugene Onegin (1877 - 1888) and The Queen of Spades, Op. 68 (1890).


Tchaikovsky's earlier symphonies are generally happy works of nationalistic character, while the later symphonies dwell on fate, turmoil and, particularly in the Sixth, despair.

He also wrote four orchestral suites between the 4th and 5th symphonies. He originally intended to call one or more of these 'symphony' but was persuaded to alter the title. The four suites are nonetheless symphonic in character, and unjustly neglected masterpieces of orchestral writing.


Of his three concertos for piano, it is No.1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 (1874-75) which is best known and most highly regarded. It was initially rejected by pianist Nikolay Rubinstein as poorly composed and unplayable, and subsequently premiered by Hans von Bülow in Boston in 1875.

The so-called "Third Piano Concerto in E flat major" has a curious history. It was commenced after the 5th symphony and was intended to be his next symphony, ie. his 6th. However he abandoned work on this score and instead directed his efforts towards what we now know as the Sixth Symphony, which is a completely different work. After Tchaikovsky's death, the composer Taneyev re-worked the abandoned symphony, added a piano part, and published it as "Third Piano Concerto by Tchaikovsky". However, a more accurate title would be "An unfinished symphony by Tchaikovsky, completed and arranged for piano and orchestra by Taneyev". Interestingly, the unfinished symphony has also been completed - as a symphony - by a Soviet composer. This was published as "Symphony No. 7 in E flat major", and recorded by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy.

His Violin Concerto in D major (op. 35) was composed in less than a month during March and April 1878, but its first performance was delayed until 1881 because Leopold Auer, the violinist to whom Tchaikovsky had intended to dedicate the work, refused to perform it.

Other works

Among Tchaikovsky's other works for orchestra are the immensely popular 1812 Overture, Op. 49 (1880), the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (1881), Capriccio Italien, Op. 45 (1880) and Marche Slave, Op. 31 (1876).

His many other compositions include works for choir as well as many sets of songs, chamber music and music for solo piano. Some of the better-known of these other works are: