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Pyotr Tchaikovsky

(1840—1893) Russian composer


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(b Votkinsk, 1840; d St Petersburg, 1893).

Russ. composer and conductor. Studied law in St Petersburg. Worked as civil servant and studied 1863–5 at mus. coll. instituted by A. Rubinstein which became St Petersburg Cons. Went to Moscow 1866, becoming prof. of harmony at new Cons. under directorship of N. Rubinstein. During first 2 years there wrote 1st Sym. and opera Voyevoda. In 1868 met nationalist group of young Russ. composers headed by Rimsky‐Korsakov and was stirred by their enthusiasm, as is shown by his 2nd Sym., but later came to be regarded by them as cosmopolitan rather than truly Russ. From 1869 to 1875 wrote 3 more operas and first pf. conc. and was mus. critic of Russkiye vedomosti 1872–6, going to first Bayreuth Fest. 1876. In 1877 married one of his pupils, separating from her 9 weeks later, attempting suicide, and coming near to mental collapse, psychological result of fatal step for a man of homosexual tendencies. At this time was taken under patronage of wealthy widow, Nadezhda von Meck, who out of admiration gave him yearly allowance which enabled him to abandon teaching and devote himself wholly to comp. She and Tchaikovsky never spoke to each other, though they corresponded voluminously. Fourth Sym. is ded. to her. Went to Switz. and It., composing opera Eugene Onegin, prod. by students of Moscow Cons. 1879, with moderate success. By 1880, his works were popular in Russia (thanks to advocacy of N. Rubinstein), and in Brit. and USA but still met with hostility in Paris and Vienna. In 1885 bought country house, first of several, at Klin, living in hermit‐like isolation. There, wrote Manfred and in 1887 made début in Moscow as cond. of rev. version of opera Vakula the Smith under title Cherevichki (The Slippers). In 1888 toured Ger., Fr., and London as cond., returning to Ger. and Eng. in 1889. Ballet Sleeping Beauty prod. 1890, after which Tchaikovsky went to Florence to work on opera Queen of Spades, prod. St Petersburg 1890. Year ended with sudden rupture of relationship with Mme von Meck; illness (or the disapproval by her family of her patronage of Tchaikovsky) had dictated her decision, which wounded Tchaikovsky deeply. Visited USA with great success 1891, and in Jan. 1892 heard Mahler conduct Eugene Onegin at Hamburg. Ballet Nutcracker comp. 1891–2, as double bill with opera Yolanta, and work started on a 6th Sym. In that year, again visited Vienna and in 1893 went to Eng., where hon. doctorate of mus. was conferred on him by Cambridge Univ. During 1893 wrote 6th Sym., having abandoned sym. begun in 1891–2 and re‐worked it as a 3rd pf. conc., eventually retaining only one movt. (2nd and 3rd orch. from the surviving sketches by Taneyev after Tchaikovsky's death). F.p. of the sym. was only moderately successful, though Tchaikovsky was con‐vinced it was his best work. It is usually stated that 4 days later he felt ill and drank a large glassful of unboiled water (possibly with deliberate intent) and developed cholera, which led to his death. But in 1979 the Russian scholar Alexandra Orlova published a theory that the composer's death was suicide by poison, ordered by a private court of his former law‐student colleagues to prevent revelation of a homosexual scandal involving the aristocracy. This theory is violently opposed by some scholars and the matter remains controversial and unresolved.

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Subjects: Music.


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