Happy birthday Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky!

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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840–  November 6, 1893) was a Russian composer, the first to hit the international stage in a lasting way. His works include symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, and chamber music. He was hugely influenced by the death of his mother at an early age, and his life was marked by periodic depression thereafter. Though his work garnered mixed critical reviews, it was universally popular, partly due to its incorporation of Western musical standards. Some of his works include Piano Concerto No. 1 (1875), Swan Lake (1876), Eugene Onegin (1879), The Sleeping Beauty (1889) and many others.



Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, in present-day Udmurtia, Russia to Petrovich Tchaikovsky and Alexandra Andreyevna Tchaikovsky. Both of his parents were trained in the arts. Tchaikovsky had a French governess who is said to have been very close to him. He started piano at the age of five, and by eight could read as well as any of his teachers. His parents encouraged his study of music, hiring him a tutor and buying an orchestration, which is a barrel organ that imitates the sounds of an orchestra. He attended boarding school by the age of ten and then moved up to the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, where his parents had studied. His initial separation from his mother caused him a great deal of anxiety, as did her death from cholera when he was 14 years old.

Tchaikovsky's first composition was a waltz written in memory of his mother. Following that, he maintained an interest in music, but composed little while at school, instead spending time cultivating friendships. His father eventually hired Rudolph Kündinger to give his son private lessons. When asked about the boy's aptitude and potential for a musical career, Kündinger gave the advice to try to get a job in the Ministry of Justice, which he did, and went on to remain in civil service for a period of three years after graduation. (Image source)


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Tchaikovsky attended classes in music theory taught by Nikolai Zaremba as part of the Russian Musical Society in Saint Petersburg. He then enrolled at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory as part of its first class. After he graduated, he was strapped for cash, so he took up a professorship at the new Moscow Conservatory teaching music theory.

By the late 1850's, a debate emerged in Russia over a nationalist musical agenda. Five composers (known as "The Five") has begun to follow and promote an anti-Western ideology in music, arguing that there was a need for an incorporation of Russian folk music and that training from Western music teachers damaged Russian creativity. Tchaikovsky was caught in the middle of this debate, as he owed a piece of music to the very people who questioned his formation. But he maintained a prolific professional relationship with The Five despite these differences.

In 1875 he composed Piano Concerto No. 1, which would go on to become perhaps his most famous work.


In 1877, Tchaikovsky married Antonina Miliukova, from whom he became estranged in a matter of months. During his marriage, he became involved with the wealthy, older Nadezhda von Meck, who was enchanted by his music. He became financially dependent upon her and used the money to travel and create freely. The two only ever met twice, accidentally. Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony (1877) was dedicated to her.

In 1879, Tchaikovsky completed the opera Eugene Onegin. Other notable works of this period of Tchaikovsky's life include Violin Concerto (1881), the Fifth Symphony (1888), and the ballet Sleeping Beauty (1889).

During the later years of his life, Tchaikovsky was hugely successful throughout Europe and the United States. He retreated to Klin, near Moscow, and completed the opera Queen of Spades (1890). He was angered when von Meck cut him off in 1890, though he could more than support himself.

Thanks to von Meck, he was the first full-time Russian composer, allowing him the time to combine European standards of quality with Russian native influences.

Tchaikovsky died of cholera in 1893.


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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Wednesday, 07 May 2014
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