Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840 – November 6, 1893)
Listen to Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake – Theme
Born into a middle-class family, Tchaikovsky was educated for a career as a civil servant, despite his obvious musical precocity. He pursued a musical career against the wishes of his family, entering the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1862 and graduating in 1865. This formal, Western-oriented training set him apart from the contemporary nationalistic movement embodied by the influential group of young Russian composers known as The Five, with whom Tchaikovsky’s professional relationship was mixed.
Tchaikovsky was never emotionally secure, and his life was punctuated by personal crises and periods of depression. Contributory factors were his suppressed homosexuality and fear of exposure, his disastrous marriage, and the sudden collapse of the one enduring relationship of his adult life, his 13-year association with the wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck. Amid private turmoil Tchaikovsky’s public reputation grew; he was honoured by the Tsar, awarded a lifetime pension and lauded in the concert halls of the world. His sudden death at the age of 53 is generally ascribed to cholera, but some attribute it to suicide.[
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, a small town in present-day Udmurtia, formerly province of Vyatka in the Russian Empire, to a family with a long line of military service. His father, Ilya Petrovich Tchaikovsky, was an engineer of Ukrainian descent who served as a lieutenant colonel in the Department of Mines and manager of the famed Kamsko-Votkinsk Ironworks.
On June 10, 1859, at the age of 19, Tchaikovsky graduated from the School of Jurisprudence with the rank of titular counselor, a low rung on the civil service ladder. On June 15, he was appointed to the Ministry of Justice. Six months later he became a junior assistant and two months after that, a senior assistant, where he remained for the rest of his three-year civil service career
Peter Tschaikovsky As A Student At Conservatory 1863
Rubinstein’s Western musical orientation brought him into opposition with the nationalistic group of musicians known as The Five. As Tchaikovsky was Rubinstein’s best-known pupil, he became a target for the group, especially for César Cui. Cui’s criticisms began with a blistering review of a cantata Tchaikovsky had written as his graduation exercise from the Conservatory. Calling the piece “feeble”, Cui wrote that if Tchaikovsky had any gift for music, “then at least somewhere or other [the cantata] would have broken through the fetters of the Conservatoire”. The effect of this review on Tchaikovsky was devastating: “My vision grew dark, my head spun, and I ran out of the café like a madman…. All day I wandered aimlessly through the city, repeating, ‘I’m sterile, insignificant, nothing will come out of me, I’m ungifted’”
Tchaikovsky died in Saint Petersburg on November 6, 1893, nine days after the premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique. Though only 53 years old, he lived a long life compared to many Russian 19th century composers..