The New World Encyclopedia regards Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky as one of the most famous Russian and one of the world’s best classical composers due to his various harmonies, technical skill and stirring melodies. He is also considered to be the author of some of world’s most popular classical music themes.
It is believed that Peter had a rather difficult but memorable life. (“Tchaikovsky, Pyotr (Peter) Ilyich” The New World Encyclopedia)
Born in Votinsk, in the district of Viatka, Russia on May 7, 1840, he was the son of a successful engineer named Ilya Petrovich Tchaikovsky. His mother, Alexandra Andreuevna had seven children, and Peter was the third child.
The Encyclopedia of World Biography reports that Peter and his brothers and sister got a sound education from a governess from France that they had. When he was four he started taking piano lessons and showed remarkable talent, and even surpassed his teacher’s abilities. One evening after the concert, Tchaikovsky complained that he was not able to sleep because the music had stuck in his head.
A boy loved his mother and when he was four he along with his sister composed a song devoted to her. That’s why when his mother died from Cholera and he was a 14- year boy, this greatly affected him. Since that time he suffered from different neuroses and had some periods of deep depression.
Attending the St. Petersburg law school he also took music lessons, including some composing, from Gabriel Lomakin. When he was 19, he graduated and got his first job as a bureau clerk and he performed some administrative functions. The young men tried to work hard, but he couldn’t as he hated his job; besides, by that time he had been fully absorbed by music.
Some time later he met two composers who were brothers, Anton (1829–1894) and Nikolai (1835–1881). It was only at the age of 23 that he made a career change and decided to study composition at the new St. Petersburg Conservatory and became its first composition student.
As Anton Rubinstein was always demanding and critical, he was always frightened by Anton’s harshness even after the graduation.
It was in 1866 when Peter got the Rubinstein’s invitation to live in Moscow and to work as a composition professor at the Moscow Conservatory.
At that time Tchaikovsky’s father had some financial problems so the young man had to support himself by earnings from teaching in the conservatory.
During the first two years there he had already created his first symphony and the opera Voyevoda.
In 1868 he met the famous Russian composers group “The Five” that included Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Cui. Tchaikovsky admired them and in response to their fervor he wrote his second symphony, but he never joined the group and later he even considered them to be more internationalists than real Russians.
In 1869 he wrote two his musical poems Fatum and Romeo and Juliet, where his style was shown and for which he became famous for. In addition, Mily Balakirev’s (1837–1910) help him to redo twice his Romeo and Juliet.
Three years later he became a music critic for Russkiye Vedomosti.
In 1873 he wrote the Second Symphony, and two years later he created the ballet Swan Lake and it is the most successful.
In 1877 he married his student, Antonina Milyokova but nine weeks later they separated. She became mentally ill and died in 1917. (Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Biography” The Encyclopedia of World Biography)
The Classical Net reports that in 1876 Tchaikovsky met Madam Nadejda von Meck, who was a wealthy widow. She was his music admire and proposed him an allowance of 600 pounds per year. However, fourteen years later, Madame von Meck terminated the subsidy. Anyway, this period is considered to be one of the composer’s rich productivity as such works were created: Onegin, the Violin Concerto, Francesca da Rimini, Capriccio Italien, The Maid of Orleans, Mazeppa, the Fifth Symphony, The Sorceress, Serenade for string orchestra, the fantasy overture Hamlet as well as the ballet Sleeping Beauty.
The composer made some concert tours of a great success in the many important cities of Europe and the U.S from 1887 to 1891. Additionally, his opera that is considered to be one of his best, The Queen of Spades, was composed in 1890. Three years later he began working on his Symphony #6 in B minor that was titled Pathétique by his brother Modest.
Classical Archives states that later, in October 28, 1893 in St. Petersburg, his performance of the work, under his direction, was received rather indifferently. According to the official records, within nine days he died of cholera.
Nevertheless, modern scholarship is sure he committed suicide as an aristocrat had complained to the czar about his homosexuality.
Despite the fact now that the music of Tchaikovsky is appreciated throughout the world, he didn’t always have a warm reception, especially in his native country and his works had a rather poor critical reception so as a result, he suffered from long periods of depression.
It is also very interesting to mention that his early works were rather good but not memorable. It may be said the he integrated Russian folk melodies with the Western European melodies. Despite the fact, he wrote a lot of works, he is usually associated only with the several, such as Swan Lake, Nutcracker, Capriccio Italien, Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades.
Besides, many compositions, for example, The Nutcracker, the Trio in A minor for Violin, the Piano Concerto #2 in G Major, Cello, the String Quartet #3 in E Flat minor and Piano, have been popular ever after.
Anyway, Tchaikovsky’s works are characterized by a variety of the richly melodic passages, sections of which feature the profound melancholy that is often alternated with so called dance-like movements that origin from the folk music.
Besides, he was a talented orchestrator; and his ballet scores have many striking effects of the coloration of the orchestral.
I must say that The Classical Net considers the symphonic works of the composer to be popular due to the melodic content, being strong in their abstract thematic development as well. His best operas are Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades, and they feature the suggestive melodic passages depicting a dramatic aspect with the effect of poignant.
The ballets of Tchaikovsky- Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty – are well-know within the world and remain popular nowadays.
Besides, it was Tchaikovsky who extended the symphonic poem range, and his works, in particular, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, are perfect due to their various moods melodic evocation of the literary works, they are based on. (“Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky”, The Classical Net)
After listening to the Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, I would like to say that it is a really amazing melody, featuring a wide combination of sounds.
As to the rhythm, the piece meter is 4/4 within the whole. I especially like the two rhythmic ostinati found in Theme A.
Besides, the Theme A features a lot of energy compelling the piece with the ostinati towards Theme B.
Then, the Theme B gains more energy with the syncopated accompaniment and melody.
While admiring the music your imagination begins to work and create various situations and that, to my point of view, is the thing I like the most.
Family and social life
Garden, Edward in their article Tchaikovsky say that it was in 1877 when his student, Antonina Milyokova, declared that she was in love with him and claimed to suicide unless he would marry her. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, she reminded him of Tatiana of his opera Eugene Onegin. They married but nine weeks later they separated and then he attempted suicide by drowning. It was his brother, Modeste, who saved him and he only experienced a nervous breakdown. After that Tchaikovsky moved to Switzerland because he wanted to recover, and after some time he moved to Italy. He supported financially Antonina while she took on a series of lovers. Furthermore, according to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, she became mentally ill and died in 1917, and she suffered not only her husband’s rejection but also the criticism of his brother Modeste Tchaikovsky. It is important to mention that Modeste, like Peter, was a misogynist, meaning that hated all women. In his brother’s biography he attacked Antonina, trying to shield Peter and to mask all his weaknesses. Garden, Edward. 2000).
Classical Archives reports that It has been widely reported by a number of biographers that being often gloomy about his wife, money and friends, he often spoke of suicide. When he was alive, he was unkindly treated by the critics because his music was open and emotional. Nevertheless, he didn’t even think about changing his style, even being sometimes dissatisfied with his works. Besides, Tchaikovsky never stopped composing. (Classical Archives, Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893); RUS”)
The Classical Net reports that in 1876 Tchaikovsky met Madam Nadejda von Meck, who was a wealthy widow. She was his music admire and proposed him an allowance of 600 pounds per year. It is interesting to mention that Madame Von Meck and Tchaikovsky never met specially, except for several accidental encounters.
In 1877 Tchaikovsky dedicated his Fourth Symphony to her. Two years later he finally finished Eugene Onegin. It should be stressed that it was the only opera of him that was performed outside the Soviet Union. Besides, within that period he also wrote the following works: the Violin Concerto, Francesca da Rimini, Capriccio Italien, The Maid of Orleans, Mazeppa, the Fifth Symphony, The Sorceress, Serenade for string orchestra, the fantasy overture Hamlet as well as the ballet Sleeping Beauty.
However, fourteen years later, Madame von Meck terminated the subsidy because she thought she was in the financial trouble. The composer had other sources of income and could sustain himself; nevertheless, he never forgave her such a sudden defection. Anyway, this period was one of the composer’s rich productivity.
Despite the fact that according to the state report he was considered to have died of cholera, modern scholarship thinks he committed suicide as an aristocrat had complained to the czar about his homosexuality. (“Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky”, The Classical Net)
It is no doubt that Tchaikovsky is the author of some of the most popular themes in world of the classical music. As a person he left hardly anything to the world, being so strange and experiencing a lot of nervosas but as a composer he left a number of amazing melodies and changed the classical music.
Besides, it was Tchaikovsky who extended the symphonic poem range.
I should add that some of his best works will be popular ever after, in particular, two operas Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades and two ballets Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty as well as Nutcracker, Capriccio Italien and Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet.
In addition, there is a well-known proverb saying music is everlasting, so his works will live forever.
1. Garden, Edward. Tchaikovsky. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
2. “Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Biography” The Encyclopedia of World Biography
3. “Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)”, Mfiles
4. “Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky”, The Classical Net
5. “Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893); RUS”, Classical Archives,
6. “Tchaikovsky, Pyotr (Peter) Ilyich” The New World Encyclopedia