Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky

Selection from "1812 Overture"

Tchaikovsky's name can be spelled in many ways, most of them not used now. For example, Pyotr Ilyich Chaikovsky, Tschaikovky, or Tschaikowski. Tchaikovsky was born on April 25, 1840 (May 7 in the New Style Russian calendar) in Votkinsk. He died in St. Petersburg on October 25 (November 6), 1893.

Tchaikovsky is perhaps the best-known composer of ballet music. He wrote Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. He also wrote the 1812 Overture; six symphonies; several tone poems; piano sonatas and concertos; the fantasy overture Romeo and Juliet; the operas, The Queen of Spades, The Maid of Orleans, and Eugene Onegin; the comic opera Vakula the Smith, a violin concerto, the orchestral suite Capriccio Italien, the Manfred Symphony, and the Serenade for Strings, among others

Tchaikovsky's father was a government bureaucrat, and his mother was French. As was the custom, he had a French governess. He related well with the governess, but she was dismissed when the family moved first to Moscow, then to St. Petersburg.

Peter was considered a neurotically excitable child, so his interest in music was not encouraged because his parents thought it was not suitable for his temperament. Peter entered the School of Jurisprudence in 1850, where he studied singing, harmony, and piano.

When he was 14, Peter's mother died of cholera, and he missed her greatly. His father was an easygoing man, and he did not appear to grieve unduly for his wife. However, Peter gave vent to his grief by writing a waltz for piano. After he finished school, Peter had a job in the government's Ministry of Justice.

In 1862, Peter left his job to enroll in the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music. His teacher there was the great Russian composer Anton Rubinstein. Peter eventually was given a post as professor of harmony at the Moscow Conservatory by Rubinstein's brother.

Desiree Artot, prima donna of a visiting Italian opera company, fell madly in love with Peter, but their relationship lasted only a short time. Not long after that, one of his students, Antonina Milyukova, swore that she would commit suicide if he did not marry her, so he did. However, they soon found out they were not suited to each other, and the marriage failed. Even after they separated, Desiree demanded money from Peter. This put a severe strain not only on his finances but also on his psychological health. The only other woman in Tchaikovsky's life was Nadezhda von Meck, a wealthy widow who admired his music. They never met, but Mme. von Meck gave Peter enough money to allow him to buy off his ex-wife, leave teaching, and spend his time composing music. Peter eventually developed a liking for conducting, and he led several orchestras in performances of his music.

Peter spent most of his life alone, and he did not form friendships or relationships easily. Many people believe that much of his music reflects these feelings, especially his last symphony, which he had labeled Pathetique., with pathos.

Tchaikovsky went on several conducting tours to foreign cities, one to Leipzig, where he met composers Johannes Brahms and Edvard Grieg. Other cities he visited were Berlin, Hamburg, Paris, Prague, and London. He also toured the United States and England.

Tchaikovsky bought a home near Moscow, where he spent all but the last year of his life. He took two happy vacations in the Caucasus Mountains, where he was honored and feted at Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia.

The Pathetique Symphony received its premier in St. Petersburg in August 1893 with Tchaikovsky himself conducting. However, the audience was not receptive to the format of the music. Most classical symphonies are written in four movements, the second of which is usually slow. Peter, for reasons of his own, put the slow movement at the end, and the people just did not understand or appreciate it. He was extremely dejected, and he never recovered his spirits.

Tchaikovsky died two months later, some say from drinking a glass of unboiled water during a cholera epidemic, others say from suicide by poisoning. In any event, the world of music lost a major asset when Tchaikovsky was gone.

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