pyotr ilyich tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Biography [1840-1893] The greatest Russian composer

pyotr ilyich tchaikovsky
We all associate Tchaikovsky’s name with the most popular ballets in history (Nutcracker, Swan Lake…), but his life and musical legacy goes far beyond that. It is time to get to know the story of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
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AUTHOR |JC Trembol
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Listening Time | 45 min

Tchaikovsky Trembol Card

  • 🗿 Name: It’s written Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in English, Piotr Ilich Chaikovski in Spanish and Piotr Il’ič Čajkovskij in Russian.
  • 🎂 Year: He was born in Russia on April 25, 1840 and died on October 25, 1893.
  • 👫 Genres: Classical music, symphony, opera and ballet.
  • ✍🏽 Signature:
Tchaikovsky signature
  • 🎖️ Highlights: His most important ballets are, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. Also outstanding are, the 1812 Overture, Romeo and Juliet, the First Piano Concerto, the Violin Concerto, the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and the operas Eugene Onegin and Lady in Spades.
  • 💿 Recordings: According to Tchaikovsky Research, there are more than 14,000 recordings and 43,000 editions of Tchaikovsky’s music 😳

There is no doubt that for some months I have been a bit crazy, and only now, being fully recovered, have I learned to relate objectively to everything I did during my brief period of insanity.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky bio
Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky (Google Images)

Tchaikovsky | Biography & Music

Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk (Russia) on April 25, 1840 and during his life, he was carried away by Romanticism, the musical style of the time. Although his work includes concerts and operas, he is best known for the ballets: ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘The Nutcracker’. But his life goes far beyond: lonely childhood, failed marriage, rumors of homosexuality, patrons …. We invite you to discover the biography and works of Tchaikovsky, one of the most outstanding authors in history.

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Chapter 1 | Feeling of loneliness in a large family

Tchaikovsky family
Tchaikovsky’s family. From left to right: Alexandra, Andreevna, Tchaikovska, Alexandra, Ippolit, Ilya and Petrovitch.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in 1840 in Votkinsk, a small Russian village in Udmurtia.
  • His father, Ilya Petrovich Tchaikovsky, was a mining engineer working for the state. His mother, Aleksandra Adréyevna, of French origin, was the second of three wives of Ilya 👪
  • His family was very fond of music, in fact, his brother Modest ILich Tchaikovsky, was a playwright, librettist and translator.
The composer’s childhood was anything but ordinary 
  • When he was only 3 years old, Tchaikovsky began to be raised by Fanny Dürrbach, a governess of French origin who would come to fill the void left by his own parents.
  • In fact, it is said that Aleksandra, Piotr’s mother was a “cold, unhappy and distant” woman with her son, although historians have different theories about this.
Tchaikovsky story
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky student period
At the young age of 5, Tchaikovsky began taking piano lessons 🎹 and became a gifted pupil who, after only three years of lessons, was able to read sheet music effortlessly.
  • Despite his son’s recognizable talent, it seems that his parents did not want him to be an artist and decided to send him in 1850 to the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, an institution that produced state officials.
  • Before being able to access this school, whose entrance age was 12 years old, Tchaikovsky had to spend two years away from home and boarded at the preparatory school of the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, where he would spend the next 7 years of his life studying 🏫
In 1854, fully immersed in his studies, Tchaikovsky received the devastating news of his mother’s death due to cholera 😢
  • This event made him approach music again composing a waltz as a tribute to Aleksandra.
  • Arts were not the strong point of his School, so Tchaikovsky began to go regularly to the theater and opera with friends, discovering his passion for the works of Rossini, Bellini, Verdi or Mozart 🎭
  • Given the boy’s preferences, his father again paid for piano lessons for him, this time with the prestigious teacher Rudolph Kündigen.
Finally, Tchaikovsky graduated in 1859 with the lowest rank in the civil service career and shortly thereafter began his journey in the Ministry of Justice, where he climbed up the ranks until he decided to leave the civil service three years later 🎓
Tchaikovsky's life
23 year old Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Did you know that his renowned piano teacher Rudolph Kündigen said that Tchaikovsky had no special talent for music?

Chapter 2 | Music and bands

During his years as a civil servant, Tchaikovsky attended the Russian Musical Society, where he took classes in music theory 🎶.
  • A year later he follows in the wake of his profersor, Nikolai Zaremba, his teacher at the SMR, and moves to the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
  • For 3 years he learned everything related to harmony, counterpoint and fugue, knowledge added to those provided by the director of the institution, Anton Rubinstein, who taught him all about instrumentation and composition.
  • The goal? Learning to compose like the great masters of classical music, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovisky First Symphony

After leaving his position as a civil servant, Tchaikovsky focuses completely on music, trying to get his compositions beyond Russia but keeping the musical essence of his country.
  • This is how he began to adapt and modify Western classical standards to his own style, avoiding the path set by his teachers and peers.
  • Tchaikovsky graduates in 1865 🎓, moment in which he also presents to his teachers his First Symphony, performed for the first time, with great success, in 1868.
During that time, Tchaikovsky has certain confrontations with The Five, a group of composers belonging to the Russian romantic nationalist movement. This circle was composed by Mili Balákirev, Aleksandr Borodín, César Cui, Modest Músorgski and Nikolái Rimski-Kórsakov, musicians with the same concerns and objectives regarding musical creation.
  • The purpose of all of them was to enhance the value of Russian musical art, leaving aside the mere reproduction of European music sounds. To do so, they took progressive musicians such as Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann as references.
  • On the other hand, Tchaikovsky, an advanced student of Rubinstein and the object of numerous criticisms, did make use of popular songs in his works, following certain Western practices when composing.
Tchaikovsky romeo and juliet
Tchaikovsky picture

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovisky Romeo and Juliet

Fortunately for Tchaikovsky, the tables turned when in 1867 Rubinstein left the city’s music scene.
  • This led Tchaikovsky to begin a working relationship with Mili Balakirev, which bore fruit with the creation, in 1869, of the Overture Romero and Juliet, one of the composer’s most famous masterpieces
  • Thanks to this work, the differences with the members of The Five were smoothed out, although Tchaikovsky never had a close relationship with most of them.

Tchaikovsky and his first relationships

1868 was an eventful year for Tchaikovsky also on a personal level. He had a crush on the Belgian soprano Désirée Artôt, with whom he even became engaged. Despite being his muse in compositions such as the Romance in F Minor for piano, a year later their relationship would end suddenly because Artôt left him for another members of his group 😕
His run of good fortune did not end there, as the final movement of his Second Symphony, subtitled Little Russia, was also accepted by The Five Group when it performed for the first time in 1872 👏
  • Having independence in their creations was easy, because some time later, Tchaikovsky was admitted to the chair of the Moscow Conservatory and because somewhat later, the members of the group would split up.
  • In fact, from this separation arose a new group, the Belyayev Circle, with whose members Tchaikovsky maintained a much closer relationship.

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovisky Romance in F minor for piano

Chapter 3 | Tchaikovsky’s masterpieces

In the following ones, Tchaikovsky combined his work as a composer with the elaboration of music reviews.
  • His 1970s decade was wonderful, including great works such as the First Piano Concerto, Variations on a Rococo Theme or Swan Lake 🦢.
  • All his works were well received by critics, but his personal life was a real turmoil. In the midst of that tempest, it is said that his creativity rose to higher levels. From that period of time are the Fourth Symphony and the opera Eugene Onegin.

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovisky First piano concerto

Tchaikovsky and his failed marriage

In 1877, although there were always doubts about his sexuality, Tchaikovsky married Antonina Miliukova, one of his former composition students 💍 Antonina and the composer never really got to be together, as the union produced in Tchaikovsky a state of crisis that even caused him to go to Switzerland to try to recover.
Tchaikovski's wife
Piotr Ilich Chaikovski y su mujer
During his stay in Switzerland, Tchaikovsky composed, with the help of violinist Iósif Kotek, the Concerto for Violin, a work that did not have the expected acceptance.
  • In fact, the work was booed at its premiere in Vienna and not even its sponsor, Eduard Hanslick, seemed to make sense of it.
  • But it was not all bad news, thanks to the violinist Iósif Kotek, Tchaikovsky met Nadezhda von Meck, a wealthy widow of one of the magnates of the railroad industry who would become his patron 💰

Chapter 4 | Finding his place in the world

After his failed marriage, Tchaikovsky returns to the Moscow Conservatory in 1879, although he leaves it soon after, thanks to the generous donations of Nadezhda von Meck
  • For a time and thanks to his income, Tchaikovsky travels between various cities in Russia and Europe. During this time he puts aside the composition of personal songs for fear of revenge from Antonina, the woman he married a year earlier.
In 1880 Tchaikovsky receives a commission for the commemoration of the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1812. With Tsar Alexander I as witness, Tchaikovsky presents Overture 1812, a piece far from the composer’s usual symphonic style. 1881 comes with the news of Rubinstein’s death in Paris. Tchaikovsky would dedicate Piano Trio in A minor to him.

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovisky Overture 1812

A long distance relationship

Incredible as it may seem, Nadezhda, his patron, and Tchaikovsky never saw each other in person. That did not prevent their relationship from going far beyond money. They shared countless confidences through the letters they sent to each other during the more than 10 years of their special friendship ✉️

In 1884 Tchaikovsky decided to leave aside his somewhat hermit-like life and accepted the Order of St. Vladimir, awarded by Tsar Alexander III. 
  • This decoration was a demonstration of the support to the composer, whose career was magnificent, as demonstrated by the enormous success of one of his last works, the Third Orchestral Suite, premiered in 1885.
  • Motivated surely by this honor, Tchaikovsky returned to his country and began his stay by accepting a new commission from the Tsar, a new production of Eugene Onegin.
  • All this work led Tchaikovsky to receive a lifetime pension of 3,000 rubles a year from the tsar 💶

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovisky Eugene Onegin

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovisky Fifth Symphony

In 1887 Tchaikovsky made his debut as guest conductor of the Cherevichki opera, something that the composer needed, since success depended a lot on whether or not he conducted his own works.
  • Thanks to this debut, Tchaikovsky was able to gradually overcome his stage fright, thanks in part to the number of cities that demanded his presence.
  • Already experienced in conducting, he premiered his Fifth Symphony and Hamlet in St. Petersburg in 1888.
  • As a conductor, he also traveled throughout Europe and even reached North America, where he ended up conducting the orchestra of the New York Symphony Orchestra Society in 1891 🗽

Chapter 5 | The last years of a master

In 1891 he composed one of his most famous ballets in history, The Nutcracker, consisting of several dances, such as the Trepak, a dance based on Ukrainian folklore 🩰
  • Two years later, Tchaikovsky receives an honorary degree as Doctor of Music from Cambridge University.
  • During these years, Tchaikovsky also composed the music for The Sleeping Beauty, a fairy tale consisting of a prologue and three acts.

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovisky The Nutcrucker

Tchaikovsky's death
Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky
Meanwhile, the close relationship between Nadezhda von Meck and Tchaikovsky came to an end in 1890 😥
  • Tchaikovsky would realize thanks to a letter delivered directly by a servant of Nadezhda’s, as Nadezhda could hardly write anymore.
  • In addition to his health problems, Tchaikovsky discovered some time later that his generous benefactress might also be going through financial problems.
After all his success in Russia and abroad, Tchaikovsky died in St. Petersburg on November 6, 1893.
  • His death came suddenly only six days after the premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique.
  • Although his death was initially attributed to cholera, the truth is that there have always been rumors that the composer ended his life himself.
  • Be that as it may, since that moment his body lies in the Tikhvinskoye Cemetery, in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, resting for eternity very close to companions such as Modest Músorgski or Mili Balákirev.
ballet Tchaikovsky
From Russia to the world. Tchaikovsky gave the world some of the greatest classical music works in history. An artist whose legacy will be eternal 🎶
pyotr ilyich tchaikovsky
pyotr ilyich tchaikovsky

You tell me, I always do the talking 🙂

1 Comment
  1. Zed

    I’m amаzеd, I have to аdmit.


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