Pyotr IlyichTchaikovsky

De Agostini Picture Library

Early Life

Pyotr (Peter) Tchaikovsky was born in Russia on May 7, 1840. He grew up in a family of five sons and one daughter. His father, Ilya Petrovitch, was the son of a government mining engineer. His mother, Alexandra, was the second of Ilya's three wives. Tchaikovsky's piano lessons began at age four with a local teacher. He could read music within three years. However, his parents decided to steer him away from music, sending him instead to the School of Jurisprudence in St.

Petersburg to secure his future as a civil servant.


Tchaikovsky's mother died in 1854 from cholera. Within a month of her death, he composed a waltz in her memory. Some people claim that the early loss of his mother may have contributed to feelings of homosexuality, which was widespread among students at the School of Jurisprudence. In 1861, he attended classes at the Russian Musical Society. The following year he moved to the new St Petersburg Conservatory. He studied harmony, counterpoint and fugue, and was obviously talented. After graduation, Tchaikovsky became the professor of harmony, composition, and the history of music at the Moscow Conservatory.


Tchaikovsky created some of the world's greatest ballet music. His music contained both classical and romantic melodies, which prompted some critics to attack his work. Tchaikovsky believed in his music and defended it by saying that ballet music was not inferior to any other form of music.

With growing confidence, he composed several unique works, from piano solos to concertos, symphonies, and operas. Tchaikovsky established himself as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic period.

Famous Works 

Tchaikovsky's ballets are considered considered the mainstays of Russian Ballet. His most popular ballets include The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet.


Tchaikovsky died in 1893 at the age of 53. His cause of death is controversial, with two very different versions. The story published after his death was that he drank a cup of untreated water, contracted cholera and died. However, Tchaikovsky's body was on display at his funeral, with many of his friends weeping over his corpse. Some say that if he had really died of cholera, his body would have been kept in quarantine.

Another version of his death is that of suicide. Some people say that when his homosexuality was discovered, he committed suicide.