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Profile of Pytor Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

“He is melancholic almost to the point of madness. He is a beautiful and good person, but an unhappy person. I did not think the latter when I met him in his time, but so it is: either one has others or oneself to fight." Edvard Grieg

Born: May 7,1840
Died: 1893 (St. Petersburg) of cholera
Place of birth: Votkinsk – a small industrial town east of Moscow
Father: Superintendent of State Mines
Mother: French

Tchaikovsky was the second of five sons and one daughter. As a youngster he was very devoted to his mother, Alexandra who herself was a nervous epileptic. In his early teens, he had to be held back from holding the carriage wheels to prevent his mother’s parting.

He began his piano training at five and within a year was a better player than his teacher. His father, however, had different aspirations for his son. Pytor was encouraged to study law. The family moved from Votkinsk first to Moscow and soon after to St. Petersburg. Here the young adult Tchaikovsky was enrolled in the School of Jurisprudence and after graduation, worked for four years as a civil servant in the Ministry of Justice.

Through it all he had maintained his interest in music through taking lessons and attending the opera with increasing frequency. He was particularly devoted to the music of Mozart and in his later life attributed his desire to become a composer to this admiration.

In his mid-twenties, Tchaikovsky quit his work in the Ministry to begin full time studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. It was here that he began to study under the noted teacher Anton Rubenstein who was the first to recognize his inherent talent, despite Rubenstein’s concern that it was masked by a very amateur execution. In 1864 he composed his first orchestral score, The Storm that infuriated Rubenstein because of its “colour and drama”. Yet, in less than a year, Tchaikovsky was offered a position as Professor of Harmony at the Moscow Conservatory.

Over the ensuing years, Tchaikovsky composed a variety of concerto, symphony’s and some operas in addition to his three ballet scores. In 1877 he was able to resign from his teaching post when a noble woman, Nadezha Filaretovna von Meck provided him with an annual gift of 6,000 rubles to concentrate solely on composition. Von Meck’s annuity came with one condition, the two of them were to never meet, or if they did by accident, they were not to speak to each other. She continued providing Tchaikovsky with the annuity until 1890 when for some reason their relationship was ruptured. Over the thirteen years, they did maintain a steady correspondence.

In 1891, he traveled to America to give a concert of his works as part of the opening ceremonies at the newly completed Carnegie Hall in New York. In 1893 he developed cholera and died.

Tchaikovsky was briefly married (a few months), but there is speculation that in fact, he was a homosexual and that the repression of his sexual identity precipitated his lifelong bouts of melancholy and depression. Whatever the root cause, he has been characterized as a shy, somewhat neurotic man, who attempted suicide at least once in his adult life. His opinion of his own music was changeable. Typically when he finished work on a piece he would dismiss it as inferior work, only to return to it a few years later and remark that it wasn’t as bad as he had first imagined. Regardless of his own opinion, his work, including The Nutcracker, has endured and grown in popularity during the more than 100 years since his death.

Calendar of his life
1840 Born May 7 at Votkinsk, son of Ilya Petrovitch Tcahikovsky, an inspector of mines
1850 Begins to compose. Sent to school of Jurisprudence, St. Petersburg
1854 Mother dies of cholera
1859 Enters Ministry of Justice as a clerk
1863 Resigns Ministry, Devotes time to music study under Anton Rubenstein
1864 Hired as Professor of Harmony at Moscow Conservatory
1869 Begins Romeo and Juliet fantasy-overture
1874 Composes Piano Concerto in B Flat minor
1875 Meets Liszt. Begins correspondence with Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck
1877 Begins Symphony No. 4 in F Minor. Begins opera Eugene Oniegon.
Marries but separates from Anotonina Ivanovna Milyukov. Mme. Von
Meck settles on him an annuity of 6,000 rubles
1878 Resigns from teaching. Finishes symphony and opera
1879 Eugene Oniegon premiers in Moscow
1885 Moves to a country house near Klin.
1886 Conducts a program of his own works in St. Petersburg
1887 International concert tour. Meets Brahms, Grieg, Dvorak and many others. Finishes Symphony No. 5 in E Minor
1890 Rupture with von Meck. Sister dies
1891 Conducts his own work at the opening of Carnegie Hall in New York
1892 Nutcracker premieres
1893 Begins Symphony No. 6. Receives Honorary degree from Cambridge
Develops cholera and dies

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