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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky  listen (Russian: Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский, sometimes transliterated as Piotr, Anglicised as Peter Ilich), (May 7, 1840November 6, 1893 (N.S.); April 25, 1840October 25, 1893 (O.S.)) was a Russian composer of the Romantic era. Although not a member of the group of nationalistic composers usually known in English-speaking countries 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. His works, however, were much more western than his Russian contemporaries as he effectively used both nationalistic folk melodies and international elements.

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Tchaikovsky was born in Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia, to a Ukrainian mining engineer and his second wife, a woman of French ancestry. His last name derives from Tchaika (чайка) which means gull. 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 Antonina Milyukova, who had written to him declaring her love, on July 18, 1877. The marriage was hasty, and he quickly found he could not bear his wife. First, the composer made an attempt at suicide two weeks after the wedding, then he fled to Saint Petersburg a nervous wreck, and was separated from his wife after only six weeks. The couple never saw each other again, although they never divorced and Tchaikovsky died a married man. This episode only served to confirm Tchaikovsky's homosexuality, which he was apparently trying to conceal through the marriage. (Kamien, p. 253)

A far more influential woman in Tchaikovsky's life was a wealthy widow, Madame Nadezhda von Meck, with whom he corresponded from 1877 to 1890. At her insistence they never met; they did encounter each other on two occasions, purely by chance, but did not converse. 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. It is widely believed that she did so because she found out about Tchaikovsky's sexual orientation. It is possible she was planning to marry off one of her daughters to Tchaikovsky, as she also tried unsuccessfully to marry one of them to Claude Debussy, who had lived in Russia for a time as music teacher to her family. It was during this period that Tchaikovsky achieved success throughout Europe and as well as in the United States in 1891.

Just nine days after the first performance of his Sixth Symphony, Pathétique, in 1893, in St. Petersburg, Tchaikovsky died. It is generally accepted that his death was by suicide, although the manner (commonly claimed to be from cholera brought about by drinking infected water, although arsenic poisoning is more likely) and circumstances are uncertain. One suggestion is that a group of his former classmates encouraged 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 in Saint Petersburg.

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

Musical Works


Tchaikovsky is perhaps most well known for his ballets, although it was only in his last years, with his two last ballets, that his contemporaries came to really appreciate his qualities as ballet music composer.


Tchaikovsky wrote ten operas, including:


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 often neglected masterpieces of orchestral writing.


  • (1878): 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.
  • (1889): The so-called "Third Piano Concerto in E flat major", Op. 75, 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 (the 'Pathétique'). After Tchaikovsky's death, the composer Sergei 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, realised for piano and orchestra by Taneyev". The unfinished symphony was also completed by the Soviet composer Semyon Bogatyrev and published as "Symphony No 7 in E flat major".

Other works

For orchestra

For choir, songs, chamber music, and for solo piano

For a complete list of works by opus number, see [1]. For more detail on dates of composition, see [2].


Overture (info)
from the Nutcracker Suite
March (info)
from the Nutcracker Suite
Trepak (info)
from the Nutcracker Suite
Chinese Dance (info)
from the Nutcracker Suite
Problems listening to the files? Media help.

See also

Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32 (1876): Fantasia after Canto V of the Inferno from Dante's Divine Comedy


  • Meck Galina Von, Tchaikovsky Ilyich Piotr, Young Percy M. Tchaikovsky Cooper Square Publishers; 1st Cooper Square Press ed edition (October, 2000) ISBN 0815410875
  • Meck, Nadezhda Von Tchaikovsky Peter Ilyich, To My Best Friend: Correspondence Between Tchaikovsky and Nadezhda Von Meck 1876–1878 Oxford University Press (January 1, 1993) ISBN 0198161581
  • Tchaikovsky, Modeste The Life And Letters Of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky University Press of the Pacific (2004) ISBN 1410216128

Tchaikovsky's sacred works by polyansky

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