Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Biography
Pyotr (Peter) Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: ???? ????? ????o?????, Pjotr Il’i? ?ajkovskij; (7 May 1840 [O.S. 25 April] – 6 November 1893 [O.S. 25 October]), also transliterated Piotr Ilitsch Tschaikowski, Petr Ilich Tschaikowsky, Piotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, as well as many other versions, was a Russian composer of the Romantic era. Although not a member of the group of nationalistic composers usually known in English-speaking countries as 'The Five', his music has come to be known and loved for its distinctly Russian character as well as for its rich harmonies and stirring melodies. His works, however, were much more western than those of his Russian contemporaries as he effectively used international elements in addition to national folk melodies.
Piotr (Pyotr) Tchaikovsky was born on April 25, 1840 (Julian calendar) or May 7 (Gregorian calendar) in Votkinsk, a small town in present-day Udmurtia (at the time the Vyatka Guberniya under Imperial Russia), the son of a mining engineer in the government mines and the second of his three wives, Alexandra, a Russian woman of French ancestry. He was the older brother (by some ten years) of the dramatist, librettist, and translator Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Musically precocious, Pyotr began piano lessons at the age of five, and in a few months he was already proficient at Friedrich Kalkbrenner's composition Le Fou. In 1850, his father was appointed director of the St Petersburg Technological Institute. There, the young Tchaikovsky obtained an excellent general education at the School of Jurisprudence, and furthered his instruction on the piano with the director of the music library. Also during this time, he made the acquaintance of the Italian master Luigi Piccioli, who influenced the young man away from German music, and encouraged the love of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. His father indulged Tchaikovsky's interest in music by funding studies with Rudolph Kündinger, a well-known piano teacher from Nuremberg. Under Kündinger, Tchaikovsky's aversion to German music was overcome, and a lifelong affinity with the music of Mozart was seeded. When his mother died of cholera in 1854, the 14-year-old composed a waltz in her memory.
Tchaikovsky left school in 1858 and received employment as an under-secretary in the Ministry of Justice, where he soon joined the Ministry's choral group. In 1861, he befriended a fellow civil servant who had studied with Nikolai Zaremba, who urged him to resign his position and pursue his studies further. Not ready to give up employment, Tchaikovsky agreed to begin lessons in musical theory with Zaremba. The following year, when Zaremba joined the faculty of the new St Petersburg Conservatory, Tchaikovsky followed his teacher and enrolled, but still did not give up his post at the ministry, until his father consented to support him. From 1862 to 1865, Tchaikovsky studied harmony, counterpoint and the fugue with Zaremba, and instrumentation and composition under the director and founder of the Conservatory, Anton Rubinstein, who was both impressed by and envious of Tchaikovsky's talent.
After graduating, Tchaikovsky was approached by Anton Rubinstein's younger brother Nikolai to become professor of harmony, composition, and the history of music. Tchaikovsky gladly accepted the position, as his father had retired and lost his property. The next ten years were spent teaching and composing. Teaching proved taxing, and in 1877 he suffered a breakdown. After a year off, he attempted to return to teaching, but retired his post soon after. He spent some time in Italy and Switzerland, but eventually took residence with his sister, who had an estate just outside Kiev.
Tchaikovsky took to orchestral conducting after filling in at a performance in Moscow of his opera The Enchantress (Russian: ) (1885-7). Overcoming a life-long stage fright, his confidence gradually increased to the extent that he regularly took to conducting his pieces.
Tchaikovsky visited America in 1891 in a triumphant tour to conduct performances of his works. On May 5, he conducted the New York Music Society's orchestra in a performance of Marche Solennelle on the opening night of New York's Carnegie Hall. That evening was followed by subsequent performances of his Third Suite on May 7, and the a cappella choruses Pater Noster and Legend on May 8. The US tour also included performances of his First Piano Concerto and Serenade for Strings.
Just nine days after the first performance of his Sixth Symphony, Pathétique, in 1893, in St Petersburg, Tchaikovsky died (see section below).
Some musicologists (e.g. Milton Cross, David Ewen) believe that he consciously wrote his Sixth Symphony as his own Requiem. In the development section of the first movement, the rapidly progressing evolution of the transformed first theme suddenly "shifts into neutral" in the strings, and a rather quiet, harmonized chorale emerges in the trombones. The trombone theme bears absolutely no relation to the music that preceded it, and none to the music which follows it. It appears to be a musical "non sequitur", an anomaly — but it is from the Russian Orthodox Mass for the Dead, in which it is sung to the words: "And may his soul rest with the souls of all the saints." Tchaikovsky was interred in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St Petersburg.
His music included some of the most renowned pieces of the romantic period. Many of his works were inspired by events in his life.