Tchaikovsky as a legal student
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born on , () or () in , a small town in present-day (at the time the under ). He was the son of Ilya Petrovich Tchaikovsky, a mining engineer in the government mines, and the second of his three wives, Alexandra Andreyevna Assier, a Russian woman of ancestry. He was the older brother (by some ten years) of the , , and .
Pyotr began lessons at the age of five, and in a few months he was already proficient at 's composition Le Fou. In , his father was appointed director of the . There, the young Tchaikovsky obtained an excellent general education at the , and furthered his instruction on the piano with the director of the music library.
Also during this time, he made the acquaintance of the master , who influenced the young man away from music, and encouraged the love of , , and . His father indulged Tchaikovsky's interest in music by funding studies with , a well-known piano teacher from . Under Kьndinger, Tchaikovsky's aversion to German music was overcome, and a lifelong affinity with the music of was seeded. When his mother died of in , the 14-year-old composed a in her memory.
Tchaikovsky left school in and received employment as an under-secretary in the Ministry of Justice, where he soon joined the Ministry's choral group. In , he befriended a fellow civil servant who had studied with , 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 , 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 to , Tchaikovsky studied , and the with Zaremba, and instrumentation and composition under the director and founder of the Conservatory, , who was both impressed by and envious of Tchaikovsky's talent.
Tchaikovsky as professor of composition
After graduating, Tchaikovsky was approached by Anton Rubinstein's younger brother to become professor of harmony, composition, and the . Tchaikovsky gladly accepted the position, as his father had retired and lost his property. The next ten years were spent teaching and composing. Teaching was taxing, and in 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 , but eventually took residence with his sister, who had an estate just outside .
Tchaikovsky took to orchestral after filling in at a performance in of his (: Чародейка) (1885-7). Overcoming a life-long , his confidence gradually increased to the extent that he regularly took to conducting his pieces.
Tchaikovsky visited in in a triumphant tour to conduct performances of his works. On , he conducted the in a performance of on the opening night of . That evening was followed by subsequent performances of his Third Suite on , and the choruses and on . The U.S. tour also included performances of his and .
Just nine days after the first performance of his , Pathйtique, in , 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 at the in St Petersburg.
His music included some of the most renowned pieces of the romantic period.