PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY was one of the greatest Russian composers of the 19th century. He is the author of a work remarkable for its artistic value. His 10 operas, 3 ballets, 6 numbered symphonies, the Manfred Symphony and other programmatic symphonic opuses, chamber-instrumental and choral works, art songs (104 romances, etc.) are among the most inspired pages of Russian and European music in the second half of the 19th century.
Tchaikovsky was born on 25 April (7 May) 1840 in Votkinsk, Vyatka province. He grew up in a cultured family and loved music. His Piano lessons began when Pyotr was still five years old. He sang in the school choir and studied music under the Italian Piccioli.
He listens to operas and concerts. At the age of 10, his parents enrolled him in the prestigious Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, which prepared the children of the nobility to governing social roles. At the same time, he continued his musical pursuits, and later attended free music classes at the Russian Musical Society, although he had already joined the Ministry of Justice as a clerk. Convinced of his musical vocation while still employed at the Ministry, Tchaikovsky applied to the new conservatory in St Petersburg.
In 1865 he graduated from it with a large silver medal. As a scholarship student he studied composition with Anton Rubinstein (Russian composer, pianist and conductor). Financially strapped, Tchaikovsky considered re-entering the workforce as a clerk, but Nikolai Rubinstein (Russian pianist and composer, brother of Anton Rubinstein), co-organizer and director of the Moscow Conservatory, offered him a position as professor of theory and harmony at the Conservatory. The Conservatory officially opened in 1866. And although the pay was not high, Tchaikovsky appreciated this professional gesture and gladly accepted the post. He taught at the Moscow Conservatory almost until the end of his life. In 1866 he wrote his first symphony, which was performed in early 1868 in Moscow. From 1867 his works started being published. He actively participated in Moscow musical life, publishing reviews in various newspapers.
During the 1970s, the composer created many of his works, including some of his first masterpieces. These are: the overture-fantasy Romeo and Juliet, Concerto No 1 for Piano and orchestra (1874), the opera Vakula the Smith, which he would later rework as a comic-fantasy opera, Cherevichki (The Slippers), and his first ballet Swan Lake (1876). In 1877 and 1878 appeared two of his most significant and most performed works, Symphony No. 4 and the opera Eugene Onegin. By the late 1880s Tchaikovsky was already well known in Europe, and soon after, in 1891, he earned his popularity in America. He made extensive concert tours throughout the world. His works were performed on the concert podiums of the greatest music centres. For several years he lived in Switzerland and Italy. In Paris his works were highly appreciated. He met the composers Berlioz and Saint-Saëns, as well as other famous European musicians. In the spring of 1891 he went to the United States, giving concerts with remarkable success. He was invited to take part as conductor at the official opening of Carnegie Hall on May 5th , 1891. In 1892 he became a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, and the following year the University of Cambridge in England awarded him the prestigious honorary title of Doctor of Music.
Tchaikovsky’s personal life was very complex, full of twists and turns, moments of extreme despair and depression, which are reflected in his music. He returned to his homeland in 1885. He settled near the town of Klin, and from 1891 he lived on its outskirts and actively created.
He composed his last works, including his Symphony No 6, Pathetique, which captured the tragedy of his brilliant and contradictory personality. Tchaikovsky conducted its first performance. Nine days later, on 25 October (6 November) 1893, probably infected with cholera, he passed away.