Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Portrait of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer of the Romantic period famous for his symphonies and ballet scores. He was the first Russian to break through into the international music scene. He was born on 7th May 1840 in Votinsk, Russia and died on 6th November 1893 in Saint Petersburg aged 53.

Major Works

Six symphonies
Three piano concertos
“Romeo and Juliet” (1870)
“Marche Slave” (1876)
“Swan Lake” (1876)
“Eugene Onegin” (1878)
“1812 Overture” (1880)
“Capriccio Italien” (1880)
“The Manfred Symphony” (1885)
“The Sleeping Beauty” (1889)
“The Nutcracker” (1892)

Biography Timeline

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born on 7th May 1840 in Votkinsk, Russia. He was the second son of Ilya Tchaikovsky, a mining engineer, and Aleksandra (nee Assier).

1842: Birth of his sister Aleksandra on 9th January.

1843: Birth of his brother Ippolit on 22nd April. 

1845: He is given piano lessons by Mariya Palchikova.

1848: The family moves from Votkinsk to Moscow and then to St Petersburg, where Tchaikovsky is sent to boarding school.

1849: The family moves to Alapayevsk in the Urals as his father is appointed manager of a metallurgical plant.

1850: His twin brothers Anatoly and Modest are born on 13th May. In September Tchaikovsky enrols in the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St Petersburg.

1854: Death of his mother Aleksandra from cholera on 25th June. 

1855: He has piano lessons with Rudolf Kündinger.

1856: He meets the Italian singer and Luigi Piccioli who recognises his musical potential and is a major influence on him. 

1859: He graduates from the Imperial School of Jurisprudence and begins working as a civil servant in the Ministry of Justice.

1861: He begins studying harmony with Nikolay Zaremba.

1862: He enrols at the newly-opened Saint Petersburg Conservatory. He publishes his first composition, the song, “Mezza Notte”.

1863: He attends all of Richard Wagner’s concerts in St Petersburg during the Spring and on 23rd April he resigns from the Ministry of Justice to concentrate on his musical studies. He is taught composition by Anton Rubinstein. He gives private piano lessons in order to gain some income.

1864: He completes his first work for orchestra “The Storm”. His brothers Anatoly and Modest find out about his homosexuality from school friends. 

1865: His father gets married for a third time. Tchaikovsky’s “Characteristic Dances in Pavlovsk” is given its premiere on 11th September conducted by Johann Strauss the Second. The String Quartet in B-flat major is given its first performance at the St Petersburg Conservatory in November.

1866: He leaves St Petersburg in January to teach musical theory in Moscow. He begins sketching out his first symphony during the summer and in September he begins to work at the Moscow Conservatory with its director Nikolay Rubinstein.

1867: He meets the Hector Berlioz in December who is conducting two concerts in Moscow.

1868: On 15th February the Symphony No. 1 is premiered in Moscow with Nikolay Rubinstein conducting. In April he meets Mily Balakirev, Aleksandr Borodin and other musicians during a visit to St Petersburg. He falls in love with an opera singer named Désirée Artôt. 

1869: Désirée Artôt marries Mariano Padilla-y-Ramos in January. He begins writing his second opera “Undina” and his first “Voyevoda” is premiered on 11th February at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.  Later he meets Mily Balakirev who inspires him to write the overture-fantasia “Romeo and Juliet”.

1870: He begins working on his third opera, “The Oprichnik”. “Undina” is rejected by the Imperial Theatre. During July he flees to Switzerland following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.

1872: He completes “The Oprichnik” in April and in September he begins working as the music critic of the “Russian Register” newspaper.

1873: Symphony No. 2 is premiered in Moscow on 7th Febraury. 

1874: On 24th April the first performance of “The Oprichnik” takes place at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. He begins writing the opera “Vakula the Smith”.                   

1875: Symphony No. 3 is written during the summer and in August he starts work on this first ballet, “Swan Lake”. The first performance of the Piano Concerto No. 1 takes place in Boston USA on 25th October under the baton of Hans von Bulow and is performed again in St Petersburg on 13th November. Tchaikovsky meets Camille Saint-Saëns in Moscow. Symphony No. 3 is premiered in Moscow on 19th November.

1876: “Swan Lake” is completed. In August he is at the premiere of Wagner’s Ring cycle in Bayreuth, Germany where he also meets Franz Liszt

1877: He conducts the “Slavonic March” at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. During May he begins writing the opera “Eugene Onegin”. On 1st June he meets Antonina Milyukova in Moscow and they marry at St Georges Church in Moscow on 18th July. The couple honeymoon in St Petersburg. It is not a happy union and they finally break up on 6th October. He achieves financial independence due to an allowance from Nadezhda von Meck.

1878: Symphony No. 4 is given its first performance on 22nd February. He begins writing the violin concerto in Switzerland. He returns to the Moscow Conservatory to continue teaching but in November he resigns due to ill health.

1879: “Eugene Onegin” is premiered in Moscow on 29th March. 

1880: In Rome during January he writes the “Capriccio Italienne” which is premiered in Moscow in December. His father dies on 21st January. The Violin Concerto is first performed in Hannover on 1st March. During the autumn he writes the “Serenade for String Orchestra” and the “1812 Overture”.

1881: He attends Nikolay Rubinstein’s funeral service in Paris on 25th March. The Second Piano Concerto is first performed in New York on 12th November with Madeline Schiller at the keyboard.

1882: The “1812 Overture” is first performed on 20th August at the Arts and Industry Exhibition in Moscow.

1883: On 4th June at the coronation of Alexander the Third in Moscow the “Coronation March” is heard for the first time. 

1884: He is called to St Petersburg by Tsar Alexander the Third on 19th March who awards him the Order of Saint Vladimir. “Eugene Onegin” is premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg on 31st October.

1885: In his rented house at Maydanovo during April he writes the “Manfred Symphony” after a suggestion by Mily Balakirev. 

1886: On 23rd March the “Manfred Symphony” is premiered in Moscow. He meets Gabriel Faure in Paris. 

1887: He conducts the premiere of “The Enchantress” at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg on 1st November. In December he begins a European tour and meets Johannes Brahms and Edvard Grieg

1888: Tsar Alexander the Third grants him a lifetime annuity of 3000 rubles. He meets Gustav Mahler on 28th January. In February he conducts two concerts in Prague and meets Antonín Dvořák. In March he conducts three concerts in Paris, and meets Charles Gounod, Léo Delibes, and other French musicians. On 20th March he conducts a concert at the Saint James’s Hall in London. He is back in Russia in May and lives in a new house at Frolovskoye, near Klin. In October Ivan Vsevolozhsky commissions him to write the ballet “The Sleeping Beauty”. On 17th November Symphony No. 5 in is premiered in St Petersburg conducted by Tchaikovsky. On 22nd December he meets Anton Chekhov in St Petersburg.

1890: The first performance of “The Sleeping Beauty” is given at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg on 15th January.

1891: During February he begins work on the ballet “The Nutcracker”. His sister Aleksandra dies on 10th April. He sails to America on the steamship La Bretagne arriving in New York on 26th April and gives concerts in several cities. He leaves for Hamburg on the Prince Bismarck on 21st May. In November he conducts the premiere of his symphonic ballad “The Voyevoda” but is disillusioned with it and tries to destroy the score.

1892: “The Nutcracker Suite” is premiered in St Petersburg on 19th March conducted by Tchaikovsky. On 10th May he moves to his last home at Klin. 

1893: He conducts concerts on Odessa of his own works on 24th January and has his portrait painted by Nikolay Kuznetsov. In London on 1st June he conducts Symphony No. 4 at a Royal Philharmonic Society concert and on 13th June he receives an Honorary Doctorate of Music at Cambridge University alongside Saint-Saëns, Bruch, and Grieg. He returns to Russia on 30th July and on 22nd October he stays with his brother Modest in St Petersburg at his apartment at 13 Malaya Morskaya Street. He conducts the premiere of the Symphony No. 6 in St Petersburg on 28th October. In early November he has stomach pains and the doctor diagnoses cholera. The treatment seems to work but on the 3rd he gets worse. 

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky died on 6th November from complications to his lungs.  His funeral was held on 9th November in the Kazan Cathedral in St Petersburg and he was buried in Tikhvinsky Cemetery at the Aleksandr Nevsky Monastery, St Petersburg.

Further Information

Complete list of compositions by Tchaikovsky.