Composer of the Month: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky lived from 1840-1893 and is considered on of the greats, though he did not always receive the recognition and adoration from his modern peers and critics. Tchaikovsky, unlike his contemporaries, wrote music that did not completely reflect the Russian national character, but showed his adherence to European standards of quality. Tchaikovsky’s works such as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, 1812 Overture, and others are still beloved and performed by musicians and performers of all ages today.


Tchaikovsky was born near Moscow and was exposed to music and European culture at an early age. He took piano lessons and learned to read French and German. Later, he attended the School of Jurisprudence where he sang in the choir. Though it would be assumed that Tchaikovsky’s talents would have been apparent during this time, he was not considered anything but average. However, later when he was working at the Ministry of Justice he began studying under Nikolay Zaremba. Tchaikovsky flourished under Zaremba’s teaching and progressed quickly to show a true talent for writing music.

A Musical Bridge

Tchaikovsky premiered his Symphony in G minor in 1866 and was accepted by The Five (Mily Balakirev, Caesar Vui, Alexander Borodin, Modest Mussorgsky, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov as “Russian enough.” These composers purposed to write music that reflected the nationalism of the country, an intent that was not Tchaikovsky’s main aim for his compositions. Throughout his life, Tchaikovsky would straddle the two worlds of Russian and European music, becoming the bridge for later Russian composers such as Igor Stravinsky to emerge as part of 20th-century music on a global scale.


Full Creative Range

Tchaikovsky demonstrated true range and versatility in his compositions. Not only did he compose grand works such as ballets like The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty, and operas like The Queen of Spades and Eugene Onegin, but he also wrote works such as the his First Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto, and small salon pieces that highlighted the performance of one player. Mozart was his favorite composer and his influence can be seen throughout Tchaikovsky’s works, as well as Tchaikovsky's Russian heritage and his intent to express intense emotions through his music.

A Tumultuous Life

Though Tchaikovsky was able to enjoy the pleasures of patronage, his life had its fair share of heartbreak. Due to his sexual orientation and neurosis, he experienced a degree of dissatisfaction and sadness throughout his life. His brief marriage was wrought with drama, literally made him sick, and he even ran from Russia to escape it. However, in 1884, he was given a title of hereditary nobility and enjoyed direct audiences with the Tsar. Ultimately, Tchaikovsky died at age of 53 under debatable circumstances, though most believe that it was from cholera.

Tchaikovsky is one of the great composers and will continued to be celebrated for years to come. We at the The California Conservatory hope that you enjoyed learning about this month’s composer! We offer piano lessons, guitar lessons, and more to students of all ages in The Redwood City and Santa Clara areas and beyond. Learn more about us on our website!