Pyotr Ilitch Tchaïkovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a major composer in Russian Romanticism and one of the greatest symphonists of his generation. His gift for expansive, lyrical melodic lines have made his works enduringly popular.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky studied law and began earning his living as a civil servant in the ministry of justice. On his mother's death in 1854 he decided to devote himself exclusively to music. In 1861, he entered the Moscow conservatoire established by Anton Rubinstein. He studied under Zaremba and Rubinstein and graduated in 1865. The following year, he was appointed to teach harmony at the Moscow conservatoire. Between 1868 and 1874, Tchaikovsky worked as a music critic for the Moscow press, alongside his career as a composer.
The composer's personal life and relationships were tumultuous. He struck up an epistolary friendship with Nadezhda von Meck, to whom he dedicated his fourth symphony. Von Meck paid him a stipend of 6,000 roubles a year. The Emperor Alexander III subsequently assumed this patronage.
Rumours circulated about Tchaikovsky's homosexuality. To prove the rumours unfounded, in 1877 Tchaikovsky married one of his pupils, Antonina Miliukova, but the marriage was not a happy one. So popular was Tchaikovsky at the end of his life that, on his death, he was given a national funeral, paid for by the Emperor.
Though Tchaikovsky was close to The Five (Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Mussorgsky and Cui), he never became involved in their musical militancy. He was aware of musical currents and had a strong influence on Arensky and Rachmaninov. The composers he admired most were Mozart, Beethoven, Glinka, Meyerbeer, Weber and Schumann. Though he was deeply attached to Russian traditions, his works (notably 10 operas, along with ballets and symphonies) were nevertheless influenced by Western music and shaped by the desire to portray the tragic destiny of man.
Six landmark dates in the life of Tchaikovsky:
• 1865: graduated from the conservatoire and was awarded a silver medal for his cantata based on Schiller's Ode to Joy
• 1867: met Berlioz on his tour of Russia
• 1875: in Paris, met Liszt, Bizet, Saint-Saëns and Massenet
• 1890: end of the 6,000 rouble annual stipend paid by Nadezhda von Meck. This allowance had been paid without interruption for 13 years
• 1888: left on a tour as conductor and composer (Europe and the United States)
• 1893: awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Cambridge
Six key works by Tchaikovsky:
• 1873: The Tempest, symphonic fantasia Op. 18
• 1875: Swan Lake, ballet
• 1877: Eugene Onegin, opera based on Pushkin
• 1878: Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35
• 1890: Souvenir de Florence, String Sextet Op. 70
• 1893: Symphony No. 6, "Pathétique"