Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Julie Fan

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Early Life

Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, Russia in the Ural mountains on May 7, 1840. Piotr's family was well off, the young child and his six siblings lived in a yellow mansion provided by his affluent father, Ilya, and his second wife, Alexandra. Alexandra was a narcissistic woman despite receiving unconditional love from her stepson. She mourned to return to her home-city, St. Petersburg. Though her personality was very reserved, Alexandra introduced music to Piotr and his siblings, and for this Piotr was grateful. Young Piotr showed an enthusiasm for music throughout his adolescence; though he was a decent pianist his heart always lied with composing the music he heard in his head. Fanny Dürback, a french governess, was hired by Alexandra to nurture and guide the little Tchaikovsky's throughout their childhood. Though she was a well-mannered and honorable lady who kept the children in line, she wasn't particularly fond of Piotr's love for music at an early age!
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School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, Russia

When Piotr was ten years old, he was transferred to an preparatory school in St. Petersburg, the home town of his mother. Roughly after this transfer his mother, Alexandra, left the family leaving Piotr in the dust (no pun intended). As a student Tchaikovsky excelled, he achieved stellar grades and aced his final exams. He was a proud Russian, and his school helped prepare him to serve as an authority in Russia's civil service. Piotr's school integrated music in the student's daily lives. He attended a choir and often visited operas and theaters, which helped him develop his piano skills. Tchaikovsky sits on the bottom row, sixth from the right, holding hands with his fellow classmate.
Tchaikovsky - The Queen Of Spades - Overture

The Queen of Spades (1887)

Tchaikovsky based this opera off of a short story written by Alexander Pushkin. This story was popular when it was published in 1834 since it shed new light on a haunting tale that symbolized society and its contemporary, yet destructive habits. The story revolves around Narumov's grandmother, a countess, who has a knack for gambling though she never seems to play it. This is when Hermann, a German engineer, attempts to discover her secret to success, but when the countess refuses to spill the engineer accidentally scares the woman to death while pointing a gun at her. At the countess's funeral, Hermann recalls the woman's lifeless body winking at him. In a dream, the ghost of the countess reveals the three winning cards that should guarantee him success in gambling, they are: a three, a seven, and an ace. He wins the first two rounds of gambling with the three and the seven, but loses the last round when the the Queen of Spades appears rather than the ace. Hermann thought to have witnessed the Queen of Spades wink at him just like the countess did when she was placed in her casket. The engineer is driven insane after losing all his money.

List of Other Known Music

Tchaikovsky was also well known for various other operas, concertos, and ballet music including:
  • Swan Lake, a ballet
  • Nutcracker, a ballet
  • Romeo and Juliet, a musical drama
  • 1812 Overture, a celebration of Russian victory over France

Composer's Legacy

Tchaikovsky fit the impeccable image of a patriotic Russian; he placed Russia as one of the most influential European countries that has ever composed music. Despite the lack of musical education in his home country, Tchaikovsky excelled at his work and produced unforgettable music even up to this day. Even though he was immensely dedicated to his career, he never failed to make friends and influence/meet others who share the same passion as he did. Tchaikovsky will always be renowned for his inspiring music, and the impact he had on the musical community.


APAHarvardChicago Manual of Style Portrait of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
(Kamsko-Votkinsk, 1840-St Petersburg, 1893), Russian composer. Postcard,
1900. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 16 Mar 2016.

"The Queen of Spades." Brittanica. N. pag. Britannica Encyclopedia Online School
Edition. Web. 17 Mar. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/

Russian composer pyotr tchaikovsky in his 1859 graduation class of the imperial
school of jurisprudence, st, petersburg, russia, tchaikovsky (19) is
sitting sixth from right in front row, holding hands with the boy sitting
beside him.. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 16 Mar

TheWickedNorth. "The Queen of Spades." YouTube. N.p., 3 Oct. 2008. Web. 17 Mar.
2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g43Ropa1QyY>.