Popular Russian composer Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky was born in Vyatka province in spring 1840. Introduced to music, literature, and languages as a child, he read French and German, as well as Russian, at six. He studied piano and wrote music, but was enrolled in the preparatory course for the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg in 1850. He started the school in 1852 and attended until 1859. While there, Tchaikovsky wrote his first surviving piece: a waltz dedicated to his second governess in 1854.
During his last years at school, his father arranged for him to have piano lessons, and he also met an Italian singing instructor, and his introduction to Italian music helped form his taste. After some travel, he continued his study of music and entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory when it opened in 1862. He studied there for three years, and the summer before his graduation had his first public performance when Johann Strauss Jr. conducted his work Characteristic Dances at a concert near St. Petersburg in 1865.
Tchaikovsky then moved to Moscow and began to teach music theory at the school that was to become the Moscow Conservatory, taking a position that he had been offered by the director, Nikolay Rubinstein, who would conduct Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet overture in 1869. Although it was written after his first symphony, which he composed in 1866 and his first opera The Voyevoda completed in 1868, Romeo and Juliet became the first of his works to be considered part of the classical repertoire.
His first string quartet had a successful premiere in 1871, but several operas that he composed soon after did not have a critical success. Rubinstein famously dismissed Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto as unplayable, but Hans von Bülow premiered it in Boston in 1875, and it has been a lasting favorite. By the summer of 1875, he had also completed two more symphonies.
The year 1876 marked the composition of the first of the three ballets for which Tchaikovsky may be best known, Swan Lake. The Sleeping Beauty was composed between 1888 and 1889, and Nutcracker in 1892. In 1878, he completed his fourth symphony, the Violin Concerto in D Major, and his opera Eugene Onegin. In 1880, he wrote Capriccio italien, the Serenade for Strings, and the 1812 Overture. His fifth and sixth symphonies were written in 1888 and 1893 respectively.
Tchaikovsky was invited to the inaugural concert at Carnegie Hall in 1891, where he conducted. Shortly after the premiere of his final symphony Pathétique, he became ill from cholera and died four days later.