Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

(Kamsko-Votkinsk 1840 – St. Pietroburg 1893)

Perhaps it is not by chance that composers’ life stories lend themselves so well to being romanticized: but in the case of Tchaikovsky, whose life was marked by a Leitmotiv of psychic and existential restless, it reached a certain excess.

Born in a well-off family (his mother, who he loved very much, was a noble lady) and his own family nucleus provided both the basic principles of music and a haven of affection which however was rather tormented especially with his mother, his sister Alexandra and his brother Modest.

He began studying law (leaving the blindfolded goddess of the scales for the chaos of Euterpe is another great topos of musicians) in the School of St. Petersburg from which he graduated in 1859, and took a position in the Ministry of Justice without much enthusiasm. It was a position he would leave rather quickly: after having seen Mozart‘s Don Giovanni he decided to devote his life to music.

First pursuing musical studies at the Moscow Conservatory and following his graduation, he became a teacher there. Subsequently, he even left this position to concentrate on composing under the patronage of the Baroness Nadežda von Meck, with whom he had a long, complex and tormented relationship (that the composer was a homosexual is known), a fact he hides and reveals in the dedication of his Symphony n. 4 in F minor, op.36:  “to my best [boy] friend”. But revealed even more after a disastrous marriage with one of his students, von Meck becomes even more important as all of his works would be implicitly dedicated to her, as Pëtr himself wrote.

One of his first masterpieces was written between 1874/5: the famous Concerto n. 1 for piano and orchestra in B flat minor, op. 23, is dedicated to Rubinštejn. Two years later he became interested in a musical genre held in low esteem then: music for ballet and wrote another masterpiece:  Lebedinoe ozero, Swan Lake, op. 20 which opened in the Bol’šoj Theatre in Moscow in 1877.

A particularly fruitful period followed in which the composer produced a series of very famous masterpieces:  ballets: Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, lyric operas, Eugene Onegin, and the Queen of Spades, the Serenade for String Orchestra in C and the Concerto for violin in D major, op. 35.

Tsar Alessandro III awarded him the title of master of music of the ruling house, giving him a lifetime stipend. The latter part of his life was darkened by a series of bereavements and the break up between he and von Meck. Here he composed the Symphony n.6 in B minor, Pathétique, op.74, in 1893.

Whether he died by suicide or cholera, is left to his biographers  (there is a vast bibliography on the composer) to determine.

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