A Brief Biography of the Great Composer
Tchaikovsky is the best known and
arguably the greatest of the Russian romantic composers. He was born in
Votkinsk, Russia on 7th May 1840. The son of a wealthy mining engineer, he
displayed both a talent for music and an enormous sensitivity of character -
which was to plague him in later life - from a very early age.
The traumas of Tchaikovsky's early life, including the deaths of a school
friend and of his mother affected him deeply. He habitually took solace in music
when affected by such tragedies, so it was no great surprise when, at the age of
21, he gave up his job as a clerk at the Ministry of Justice in order to study
music full time. He was so successful in this venture that he was offered a
professorship at the newly founded Moscow Conservatory, which he accepted,
almost immediately upon graduation.
During this period he composed many of his early masterpieces, but despite
his relatively comfortable position, things were not going entirely as he could
have hoped. His life was a constant struggle with his homosexuality, which he
had to keep a secret because he lived in a time and a society in which it was
considered unacceptable. Like most people at the time in Russia, Tchaikovsky
thought of it as a 'disease' and desperately tried to cure himself through a
string of totally unsuccessful relationships with women. This came to a head in
1877 when Tchaikovsky was persuaded to marry a young admirer. This turned out to
be a huge mistake, and the marriage ended two months later when he attempted to
By this time Tchaikovsky had begun a correspondence with a wealthy widow
named Nadezhda von Meck. He never met her, but she became his patron, paying him
a regular allowance. With this financial security behind him, He decided to give
up his professorship (and chasing women) and make composition his sole
Though Tchaikovsky composed many great masterpieces, much of his music was
badly received during his lifetime. This had a profound effect on him. Often the
criticism affected him so deeply that he would express disgust at works he had
thought to be among his best only weeks previously. In some cases he even went
as far as to destroy his manuscripts. He was never happy with his own music, and
even those works which were well received by others did not always please him -
he often regarded his most popular works as shallow, and lacking in substance.
At the end of his life, however, he was finally to be satisfied. Early in
1893 he began working on his most profound and deeply personal work. The Sixth
Symphony is a dark and turbulent piece, expressing much of Tchaikovsky's
personal suffering, and he considered it to be the greatest work he had ever
written. It was first performed on 28th October 1893, and poorly received by
both the public and the critics. Uncharacteristically, Tchaikovsky was bothered
not a bit by the criticism, remaining convinced that this was his greatest work,
and saying that he had fully expected it to be unappreciated.
Only a few days later, on the 2nd of November, Tchaikovsky died in tragic
circumstances. Although the exact nature of his death is still not known
(his family covered it up behind the pretence that he had died of cholera), it is
thought that a threat to reveal his homosexuality drove him to suicide. His
Sixth Symphony remains as a fitting requiem, and today many music lovers agree
with him, that it is indeed his greatest masterpiece.
The above biography was originally written by me three years ago as part of a web development project. The information therein is distilled from various sources, including the full-length biography "Tchaikovsky" by Anthony Holden, the entry on Tchaikovsky from "The Great Composers" encylcopaedia, and sleeve notes from various CDs and LPs of Tchaikovsky's music.