Piotr Ilich Tchaikovski


Some of whose works are among the most popular music in the classical repertoire. He was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally, bolstered by his appearances as a guest conductor in Europe and the United States. Tchaikovski was honored in 1884, by Emperor Alexander III, and awarded a lifetime pension.

Piotr was born as the second son into a bourgeois family. His father, a mine engineer, and his mother of French origin, had decided to instruct the young Piotr to study law. However, starting with the age of 5 years old, he began to study piano. In 1854 his mother died, thing which caused him a deep sadness.

In 1866, after finishing his studies in music, Nikolai Rubinstein, Anton’s brother, offered him the post of professor of music theory at the freshly founded Conservatory in Moscow, a post he held until 1878. During this period, he composed Symphony no. 1 in G minor, op. 13, “Winter Dreams”. He had strong friendships with several members of the group of 5 Russian composers (Mili Balakirev, Cesar Cui, Modest Mussorgski, Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin), so he dedicated his fantasy overture “Romeo and Juliet” to the founder of the group, Mili Balakirev.

In the summer of 1872, Tchaikovski composed Symphony No. 2 in C minor (also called the “Little Russian Symphony”, “Little Russia” or “Ukraine”) op.17, which was based on Ukrainian and Russian themes, and in the winter of 1874 he gave his first performance with a piano concert. In the summer of 1875 he composed Symphony No. 3.

In 1876, Tchaikovski started an epistolary communication with Nadezhda von Meck, a great admirer of him, which for 13 years she will provide the Russian composer an alimony of 6.000 rubles per year, which has substantially improved his financial situation, even if they never met and their relations remained “strictly epistolary”. Symphony No. 4, in F minor, op. 36, composed in 1877, was dedicated to Mrs von Meck.

In July 1877, Tchaikovski would live one of the worst episodes of his life. To put an end to speculations about his homosexuality, he married Antonina Miliukova, a former student who had a real passion for him. The marriage was a failure. Unable to bear the presence of his wife, Tchaikovski tried to commit suicide by trying to become ill with pneumonia. Shortly thereafter, he separated from Antonina.

Tchaikovski then composed his first ballet in four acts, “Swan Lake” (libretto by V. Beghicev and V. Geltzer). The premiere took place in Sankt Petersburg, at the “Mariinski Theatre”, on 15 January 1895, but was a failure due to an inadequate staging. Only 30 years after this even, the ballet texture was completed. He also composed an opera, “Eugene Onegin”, the libretto being drawn from a novel wrote by Alexander Pushkin.

In 1885, he composed the Symphony “Manfred” op.58, after Byron. In 1888, Tchaikovski composed Symphony No. 5 in E minor op.64, then, in 1889, his second ballet, “Sleeping Beauty”, a ballet-extravaganza in three acts with prologue on libretto by I. Vsevolojski and Marius Petipa after the story of Charles Perault, choreographed by Marius Petipa. The premiere took place on 3 January 1890 at the “Mariinski Theatre” in Sankt Petersburg and was a real triumph.

In 1890 he composed an opera in three acts, with seven scenes, on a libretto inspired by a short story of Alexander Pushkin: “Queen of Spades”. In 1890, Nadezhda von Meck stops the funding of Tchaikovski. The official reason consists in “financial problems”. It seems that the real reason was that she found about the composer’s homosexuality, a moment at which, deeply shocked, she suddenly interrupted the correspondence with him.

This episode was a heavy blow to Tchaikovski. In 1891, he undertook a trip to the United States of America. There he directed his works at the inauguration of the Carnegie Concert Hall, and had an outstanding success. In 1892 he finished his 3rd ballet in two acts, “The Nutcracker”, after the fairy tale “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E. T. A. Hoffmann, which surprisingly, wasn’t successful. Only a few decades later, he achieved the success he deserves and now it is one of the most frequent played ballets and appreciated by the public.

On 6 November 1893, nine days after he finished Symphony No. 6 in B minor “Pathetique” op.74, Tchaikovski died of cholera because he drank unsterilized water from the Neva river. At least this is the official reason. Some believed that the act was deliberate, therefore a suicide, after it was discovered that he had a homosexual relationship with the nephew of a Russian nobleman. Whatever the real reason, he benefited of a state funeral, which was attended by almost 8.000 people, being buried in the Alexander Nevski Monastery in Sankt Petersburg.

Tchaikovski’s opera is a happy synthesis between the Western classical works and Russian tradition, represented at the time by Modest Petrovich Mussorgski and the Group of Five. Tchaikovski’s tumultuous life had inspired Ken Russell’s 1970 movie, “The Music Lovers”.

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