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Tchaikovsky’s Inner Struggles & Creations Peter Tchaikovsky, a well-known Russian musician, made his mark through the creation of many operas, concertos, symphonies, and other works. He began as composition student and worked his way up to being remembered as “one of the most loved of Russian composers” (World Biography 1). Tchaikovsky made it through many ups and downs of his life, including family issues, struggling with his own identity, and a doomed marriage. While plagued by depression for many years, he never stopped composing.
Music was his life and this can be seen through his many successful works. Tchaikovsky, while also a famous composer, was also a man of depth and extraordinary pain throughout his life.
Born in Votkinsk, Russia on May 7, 1840, Tchaikovsky did not have an easy or conventional childhood. At the age of five, he started piano studies. He showed great promise and this marked the beginning of his love of music. Tchaikovsky’s mother died when he was 14 and this death was an “event that may have stimulated him to compose” (Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich 1).
His works have become famous for their strong emotion, some of which may have stemmed from the tragedy of the loss of his mother. Tchaikovsky was revered for his technical skill and work habits, both of which helped his works to become memorable.
Tchaikovsky began his career with a study at Russia’s first conservatory. He was the first in student and studied under Anton Rubenstein. Anton’s brother, Nikolai, later invited him to serve as a professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory in 1866.
Tchaikovsky’s family was having financial trouble at this time and he had to support himself on the slim earnings he made at the conservatory. His first works were well made but not very memorable. This included the opera “The Voyevoda” which he wrote in 1869. It was not very successful and was later abandoned, but Tchaikovsky reused material from it for his next opera. This, entitled “The Oprichnik,” had more success than his previous work. These early compositions were the foundation for his later works.
In the 1870s, Tchaikovsky’s career really began to take off. He spent much of his time teaching, composing, writing critical essays, and conducting. Conducting was not one of his strong suits, but he continued to become better at composing. The Piano Concerto No. 1, one of his most well-known works was created in 1875. Only one year later, he wrote Swan Lake, “the most successful ballet ever written if measured in terms of broad audience appeal” (World Biography 3). He later wrote “Carmen” while in Paris. Tchaikovsky had to deal with a lot of criticism and other issues throughout this time. Nikolai rejected the Piano Concerto No. 1, although he later became one of the most distinguished interpreters of it. When Tchaikovsky returned home from Paris, he was deeply depressed but continued writing.
After returning home, he soon married Antonina Milivkova, one of his students at the conservatory, in 1877. Their marriage was practically doomed. Tchaikovsky’s brother, Modeste, attacked Antonina in a biography he wrote about Peter. This novel was written to shield Peter and his weaknesses. One of these so-called “weaknesses” was Peter’s sexual orientation which he attempted to hide from everyone around him. Within a few weeks of his marriage, he fled to Moscow and hoped to never have to return home to his wife. He was depressed about Antonina, money, his friends, and even his music at times. Tchaikovsky often spoke of suicide, but he never stopped working or composing. His wife later became mentally ill and died in 1917.
Although the time of his marriage was a personal struggle for him, Tchaikovsky created two of his greatest works during this period. These were the Fourth Symphony and “Eugene Onegin.” The symphony “embodies a ‘fate’ motif” (Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich 2) and consists of three movements and a finale. “Eugene Onegin” tells of a woman’s approach to a man who captivates her and how she is later rejected. This story parallel’s Tchaikovsky’s situation with his wife. The opera shows the man’s later remorse and is set in rural Russia with many fantastic ball scenes. These two works alone show how Tchaikovsky was able to work through the issues that surrounded his personal life to create brilliant masterpieces.
After this short time of great works came a “creative trough” (Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich 2). He resigned from the conservatory and could not produce any music of emotional force. Part of this was due to the fact that he was tortured by his hidden sexuality. He spent some time abroad, but in 1884 he managed to regain some of his creative juices. He wrote “Sleeping Beauty,” “Nutcracker,” and “The Queen of Spades,” among other works. Tchaikovsky also spent some of his time travelling, visiting the United States in 1891. The following year, he heard another version of “Eugene Onegin” at Hamburg. Then, in 1893, he worked on the Sixth Symphony.
This symphony was to be his last and was entitled “Pathetique.” It is a “profoundly pessimistic work” (Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich 3) and was poorly received. Tchaikovsky heard it performed on October 28, 1893 and never knew of its later success. He died nine days after the performance on November 6. The death was declared to be caused by cholera, but there has been some speculation as to the real cause. Some believe that he may have committed suicide, either independently or after being coerced by a court from his old school. No one knows for certain how Tchaikovsky died and it remains to be unknown.
Tchaikovsky was obviously one of the most well-known Russian composers for a reason. He had emotional depth and immense talent. His works show the pain and suffering that he endured and there is real uniqueness to each piece. While he struggled for most of his life and died before knowing most of his success, what he created will live on forever as some of the greatest pieces of Russian music. Tchaikovsky, while suffering with depression and personal issues for many years, never stopped composing and made it his job to create memorable pieces that will be remembered for years to come.
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