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The Russian Composer, Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Works and Life

Pyotr Tchaikovsky: Overview

  • Born: May 7, 1840 - Votkinsk, Russia
  • Died: November 6, 1893 - St. Petersburg 
  • Historical period: The Late-Romantic era
  • Compositional media: Ballet, Orchestra, Chamber music, Opera, Keyboards, Choral, Songs

Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Tchaikovsky: The Man Who Uplifted Ballet

Russian musical savant, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born on May the 7th, 1840 in Vyatka, Russia. From an early age, he showed signs of a musical inclination when he came under the influence of Italian singing instructor Luigi Piccioli, who highly appreciated his talents. Mozart’s Don Giovanni further affected and influenced his musical tastes which would eventually lay the groundwork for his best works. At 21, Pyotr Tchaikovsky started taking lessons at the Russian Musical society by enrolling at the St. Petersburg Conservatory as one of its first students. 

The first public performance of his work was in the year 1865, Characteristic Dances at a Pavlovsk concert. Subsequently, 1868 was a good year for Tchaikovsky where his First Symphony was highly appreciated by the audiences but his The Voyevoda, which was performed the following year, received a lukewarm response. 

To recover from The Voyevodas’s underwhelming response, Tchaikovsky repurposed his work toward his next opera, Oprichnik, and it received critical acclaim in 1974, performed at the Maryinsky at St. Petersburg.  Going forward, his Second Symphony was very well received and further established him as a revered personality on the musical front. However, Vakula the Smith, Tchaikovsky’s composition in 1874, met harsh reviews, although, he was nonetheless recognized for his Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat Minor. 

1875 was a wonderful year for the master composer where his Symphony no.3 in D Major received further acclaim and at the end of that year, he began a Europe tour. In the year of 1876, came Swan Lake, the composer’s most well-known work. 1878 saw the artist resigning from the Moscow Conservatory and devoting all his capacities toward compositions. 

His entire body of work includes a total of one hundred and sixty-nine pieces which include symphonies, ballets, and concertos, among many other forms of composition. A detailed oeuvre is as follows:

  • 7 symphonies
  • 11 operas
  • 3 ballets
  • 5 suites
  • 3 piano concertos
  • 1 violin concerto
  • 11 overtures
  • 4 cantatas
  • 21 choral works
  • 3 string quartets
  • 1 string sextet
  • Over 100 songs and piano pieces

Among those mentioned above, his notable works are The Nutcracker, Symphony No 6 'Pathetique', Manfred Symphony, Piano Concerto No 2, Romeo & Juliet and 1812 Overture. 

Born in the 19th century, Tchaikovsky was a major patron of Romanticism, who promoted the style through his works and also drew inspiration from Russian folk music. Possessing an ardent love for Ukrainian folklore and culture, Tchaikovsky also found profound inspiration from its melodiousness and fascinating lyricism, closely familiarizing himself with its musical culture. 

Considered universally the greatest Russian symphonist, he had an acute sense of melody and orchestration of themes. The best pieces of Tchaikovsky are characteristically harmonized into magnificent compositions with efficient use of instrumental sonority.  

His excellence was as a connoisseur of instrumental music and this was evident from his operas which were often multifaceted and diverse. Despite limited success for the majority of his operas, Tchaikovsky proved to be the architect who revolutionized ballet, a grand decorative gesture in the 19th century, into a performed musical drama.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky passed away from cholera in 1893, though many controversies at the time suggested that he committed suicide. This was however never proven and Tchaikovsky remains in the public mind as a gifted and committed composer.

Tchaikovsky is considered to be a composer of the late-Romantic era. However, a lot of his works also belong to classical repertoires.


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