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Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

[chI kawf' skE] the first Russian composer to gain international fame

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, Russia, on May 7, 1840, the son of a successful mining engineer. He began taking piano lessons at age five, and by the time he was eight was reading music as well as his teacher. In 1850 his father was made Director of the St. Petersburg Technological Institute, and Peter entered the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg that same year. Although he was supposed to be gaining an education suitable for a future civil servant, he also found time to attend the opera and theater with friends and to take piano lessons from a piano manufacturer who occasionally visited the school. The death of his mother in 1854 affected him deeply and began what became a life-long battle with depression, but it also moved him even deeper into music. Although he got a clerical position with the Ministry of Justice in 1859, he never liked the work and gave it up after four years.

In 1861, while still working for the Ministry of Justice, Tchaikovsky began studying at the Russian Musical Society under pianist/composer Anton Rubinstein, making him the first Russian composer to receive systematic training in music fundamentals. When Rubinstein moved to the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1863, Tchaikovsky quit his job and moved with him. After his studies ended in 1866, he became a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, where he remained until 1876.

Tchaikovsky began composing sometime around 1866, but did not receive major acclaim until his Overture-Fantasy Romeo and Juliet was performed, in 1869. As the volume of his works increased and he gained exposure, his music attracted the attention of Nadezhda von Meck, a wealthy widow, who, in 1876, agreed to support him financially so he could compose at leisure; her only condition was that the two could never meet in person. Tchaikovsky eagerly accepted the widow's offer, and, after taking some time to travel, spent the rest of his life composing. And, in keeping with the widow's condition, Tchaikovsky never saw his patroness, nor did she ever meet him in person, although the two exchanged numerous letters over the years.

The first Russian composer to gain international fame, Tchaikovsky is today best known for the ballets Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, as well as the fireworks spectacular standard The 1812 Overture. He died of cholera in St. Petersburg on November 6, 1893.

His Major Works

Dramatic Music
The Voyevoda
The Oprichnik
Vakula the Smith (1876)
Eugene Onégin (1879)
The Maid of Orleans
Mazeppa (1884)
The Sorceress (1887)
The Queen of Spades

Swan Lake (1877)
Sleeping Beauty
The Nutcracker

Orchestral Music
Symphony No. 1, G, "Winter Daydreams"
Romeo and Juliet,
fantasy overture (1869)
Symphony No. 2, C, "Little Russian" (1872)
Symphony No. 3, D, "Polish" (1875)
Francesca da Rimini (1876)
Variations on a Rococo Theme for Violoncello and Orchestra (1876)
Symphony No. 4, F (1878)
Violin Concerto in D Major (1878)
1812 Overture (1880)
Manfred (1885)
Symphony No. 5, E (1888)
Symphony No. 6, B, "Pathétique"
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in B Flat Minor

over 100 other piano pieces
about 30 choral works
over 100 songs and duets

Print Source

World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, Inc., 1979.

Web Sources

Great Performances
Notorious Names Database

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The Robinson Library >> Composers and Songwriters

This page was last updated on 12/18/2018.