76 Facts About Tchaikovsky


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer of the Romantic period.

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Tchaikovsky was the first Russian composer whose music would make a lasting impression internationally.

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Tchaikovsky wrote some of the most popular concert and theatrical music in the current classical repertoire, including the ballets Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, the 1812 Overture, his First Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto, the Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy, several symphonies, and the opera Eugene Onegin.

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Tchaikovsky's training set him on a path to reconcile what he had learned with the native musical practices to which he had been exposed from childhood.

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Tchaikovsky's sudden death at the age of 53 is generally ascribed to cholera, but there is an ongoing debate as to whether cholera was indeed the cause, and whether the death was accidental or intentional.

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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, a small town in Vyatka Governorate in the Russian Empire, into a family with a long history of military service.

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Tchaikovsky's grandfather, Pyotr Fedorovich Tchaikovsky, was born in the village of Nikolayevka, Yekaterinoslav Governorate, Russian Empire, and served first as a physician's assistant in the army and later as city governor of Glazov in Vyatka.

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Four-and-a-half-year-old Tchaikovsky was initially thought too young to study alongside his older brother Nikolai and a niece of the family.

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Tchaikovsky became attached to the young woman; her affection for him was reportedly a counter to his mother's coldness and emotional distance from him, though others assert that the mother doted on her son.

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Once those two years had passed, Tchaikovsky transferred to the Imperial School of Jurisprudence to begin a seven-year course of studies.

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The loss of his mother prompted Tchaikovsky to make his first serious attempt at composition, a waltz in her memory.

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Isolated, Tchaikovsky compensated with friendships with fellow students that became lifelong; these included Aleksey Apukhtin and Vladimir Gerard.

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Tchaikovsky continued his piano studies through Franz Becker, an instrument manufacturer who made occasional visits to the school; however, the results, according to musicologist David Brown, were "negligible".

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In 1855, Tchaikovsky's father funded private lessons with Rudolph Kundinger and questioned him about a musical career for his son.

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Tchaikovsky later admitted that his assessment was based on his own negative experiences as a musician in Russia and his unwillingness for Tchaikovsky to be treated likewise.

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Tchaikovsky was told to finish his course and then try for a post in the Ministry of Justice.

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On 10 June 1859, the 19-year-old Tchaikovsky graduated as a titular counselor, a low rung on the civil service ladder.

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Tchaikovsky remained a senior assistant for the rest of his three-year civil service career.

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In 1861, Tchaikovsky attended RMS classes in music theory taught by Nikolai Zaremba at the Mikhailovsky Palace.

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Tchaikovsky enrolled at the Conservatory as part of its premiere class.

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Tchaikovsky studied harmony and counterpoint with Zaremba and instrumentation and composition with Rubinstein.

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Tchaikovsky believed and attempted to show that both these aspects were "intertwined and mutually dependent".

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Tchaikovsky's efforts became both an inspiration and a starting point for other Russian composers to build their own individual styles.

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Tchaikovsky was less pleased with the more progressive tendencies of some of Tchaikovsky's student work.

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Tchaikovsky complied but they still refused to perform the symphony.

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Once Tchaikovsky graduated in 1865, Rubinstein's brother Nikolai offered him the post of Professor of Music Theory at the soon-to-open Moscow Conservatory.

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Tchaikovsky was further heartened by news of the first public performance of one of his works, his Characteristic Dances, conducted by Johann Strauss II at a concert in Pavlovsk Park on 11 September 1865.

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From 1867 to 1878, Tchaikovsky combined his professorial duties with music criticism while continuing to compose.

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Tchaikovsky appreciated the staging of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen at its inaugural performance in Bayreuth, but not the music, calling Das Rheingold "unlikely nonsense, through which, from time to time, sparkle unusually beautiful and astonishing details".

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In 1856, while Tchaikovsky was still at the School of Jurisprudence and Anton Rubinstein lobbied aristocrats to form the Russian Musical Society, critic Vladimir Stasov and an 18-year-old pianist, Mily Balakirev, met and agreed upon a nationalist agenda for Russian music, one that would take the operas of Mikhail Glinka as a model and incorporate elements from folk music, reject traditional Western practices and use non-Western harmonic devices such as the whole tone and octatonic scales.

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In 1869, he and Balakirev worked together on what became Tchaikovsky's first recognized masterpiece, the fantasy-overture Romeo and Juliet, a work which The Five wholeheartedly embraced.

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Tchaikovsky's popularity grew as several first-rate artists became willing to perform his compositions.

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Tchaikovsky's works were performed frequently, with few delays between their composition and first performances; the publication from 1867 onward of his songs and great piano music for the home market helped boost the composer's popularity.

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Between these projects, Tchaikovsky started to compose an opera called Mandragora, to a libretto by Sergei Rachinskii; the only music he completed was a short chorus of Flowers and Insects.

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Tchaikovsky, too embarrassed to ask for another copy, decided to write the libretto himself, modelling his dramatic technique on that of Eugene Scribe.

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Tchaikovsky was declared the winner, but at the 1876 premiere, the opera enjoyed only a lukewarm reception.

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Tchaikovsky later claimed she was the only woman he ever loved.

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Tchaikovsky's family remained supportive of him during this crisis and throughout his life.

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Tchaikovsky was aided by Nadezhda von Meck, the widow of a railway magnate, who had begun contact with him not long before the marriage.

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Tchaikovsky remained abroad for a year after the disintegration of his marriage.

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Tchaikovsky returned briefly to the Moscow Conservatory in the autumn of 1879.

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Tchaikovsky wrote to Nadezhda von Meck that this piece, the 1812 Overture, would be "very loud and noisy, but I wrote it with no warm feeling of love, and therefore there will probably be no artistic merits in it".

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Tchaikovsky warned conductor Eduard Napravnik that "I shan't be at all surprised and offended if you find that it is in a style unsuitable for symphony concerts".

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Nevertheless, the overture became, for many, "the piece by Tchaikovsky they know best", particularly well-known for the use of cannon in the scores.

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Tchaikovsky helped support his former pupil Sergei Taneyev, who was now director of Moscow Conservatory, by attending student examinations and negotiating the sometimes sensitive relations among various members of the staff.

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In 1888, Tchaikovsky led the premiere of his Fifth Symphony in Saint Petersburg, repeating the work a week later with the first performance of his tone poem Hamlet.

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In November 1887, Tchaikovsky arrived at Saint Petersburg in time to hear several of the Russian Symphony Concerts, devoted exclusively to the music of Russian composers.

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Tchaikovsky spent much time in this circle, becoming far more at ease with them than he had been with the 'Five' and increasingly confident in showcasing his music alongside theirs.

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In 1892, Tchaikovsky was voted a member of the Academie des Beaux-Arts in France, only the second Russian subject to be so honored.

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Tchaikovsky was interred in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, near the graves of fellow-composers Alexander Borodin, Mikhail Glinka, and Modest Mussorgsky; later, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Mily Balakirev were buried nearby.

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Tchaikovsky displayed a wide stylistic and emotional range, from light salon works to grand symphonies.

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Second way melody worked against Tchaikovsky was a challenge that he shared with the majority of Romantic-age composers.

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All a composer like Tchaikovsky could do with them was to essentially repeat them, even when he modified them to generate tension, maintain interest and satisfy listeners.

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Harmony could be a potential trap for Tchaikovsky, according to Brown, since Russian creativity tended to focus on inertia and self-enclosed tableaux, while Western harmony worked against this to propel the music onward and, on a larger scale, shape it.

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One point in Tchaikovsky's favor was "a flair for harmony" that "astonished" Rudolph Kundinger, Tchaikovsky's music tutor during his time at the School of Jurisprudence.

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The traditional argument that Tchaikovsky seemed unable to develop themes in this manner fails to consider this point; it discounts the possibility that Tchaikovsky might have intended the development passages in his large-scale works to act as "enforced hiatuses" to build tension, rather than grow organically as smoothly progressive musical arguments.

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Tchaikovsky placed blocks of dissimilar tonal and thematic material alongside one another, with what Keller calls "new and violent contrasts" between musical themes, keys, and harmonies.

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Leon Botstein, in elaborating on this comment, suggests that listening to Tchaikovsky's music "became a psychological mirror connected to everyday experience, one that reflected on the dynamic nature of the listener's own emotional self".

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Tchaikovsky kept the musical conversation flowing by treating melody, tonality, rhythm and sound color as one integrated unit, rather than as separate elements.

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Tchaikovsky became noted for the "sensual opulence" and "voluptuous timbrel virtuosity" of his orchestration.

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However, beginning with the Third Symphony, Tchaikovsky experimented with an increased range of timbres Tchaikovsky's scoring was noted and admired by some of his peers.

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In works like the "Serenade for Strings" and the Variations on a Rococo Theme, Tchaikovsky showed he was highly gifted at writing in a style of 18th-century European pastiche.

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Tchaikovsky's focus on pleasing his audience might be considered closer to that of Mendelssohn or Mozart.

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Tchaikovsky was aided in this by Ivan Vsevolozhsky, who commissioned The Sleeping Beauty from Tchaikovsky and the libretto for The Queen of Spades from Modest with their use of 18th century settings stipulated firmly.

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Tchaikovsky was angered by Fitzenhagen's license but did nothing; the Rococo Variations were published with the cellist's amendments.

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Tchaikovsky compromised to make his music as practical as possible for the dancers and was accorded more creative freedom than ballet composers were usually accorded at the time.

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Tchaikovsky responded with scores that minimized the rhythmic subtleties normally present in his work but were inventive and rich in melody, with more refined and imaginative orchestration than in the average ballet score.

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Tchaikovsky was capable of turning out music—entertaining and widely beloved though it is—that seems superficial, manipulative and trivial when regarded in the context of the whole literature.

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Tchaikovsky's melodies, stated with eloquence and matched by his inventive use of harmony and orchestration, have always ensured audience appeal.

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Tchaikovsky's popularity is considered secure, with his following in many countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, second only to that of Beethoven.

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Tchaikovsky's music has been used frequently in popular music and film.

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Wiley and Holden both note that Tchaikovsky did all this without a native school of composition upon which to fall back.

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Tchaikovsky was, they write, for all intents and purposes alone in his artistic quest.

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Maes and Taruskin write that Tchaikovsky believed that his professionalism in combining skill and high standards in his musical works separated him from his contemporaries in The Five.

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Tchaikovsky, according to Maes, came along at a time when the nation itself was deeply divided as to what that character truly was.

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Tchaikovsky was inspired to reach beyond Russia with his music, according to Maes and Taruskin.

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