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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Composer Peter Tchaikovsky, Possibly Russia's Finest

Composer Peter Tchaikovsky, Possibly Russia’s Finest

The life of Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), though he achieved incredible fame during his lifetime, was replete with tenuous personal relationships, periods of low self-esteem, and times of nervous collapse.

Still, the author of such musical masterpieces as Swan Lake, The Overture of 1812, and The Nutcracker learned how to balance his overly sensitive, self-critical soul and his incredible talent to produce some of the greatest ballets, symphonies, and concertos ever written.

Some key dates, events, and facts regarding the life of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky include:

* Born May 7, 1840, in Votkinsk, Russia

* Age 7 through 19 Tchaikovsky takes piano lessons from respected teacher, Rudolf Kundinger, who tries to dissuade him from a musical career

* 1859 Becomes clerk at Ministry of Justice, St. Petersburg

* 1863 Leaves Ministry of Justice to study music full-time at St. Petersburg Conservatory

* 1866-1878 Teaches at Moscow Conservatory; writes symphonies and operas, including Romeo & Juliet and Swan Lake

* 1877 Student Antonina Milyokova hints at suicide if Tchaikovsky won’t marry her; short, disastrous marriage follows; he attempts suicide by drowning, fails, and suffers nervous breakdown

* 1878-1890 Nadejda von Meck, widow of wealthy railroad engineer, provides Tchaikovsky with yearly allowance that allows him to quit teaching and compose full-time; though the benefactress and composer agree to never meet in person, their correspondence is ongoing

* 1881 Writes Joan of Arc, opera

* 1882 Writes The Overture of 1812

* 1888 Writes The Sleeping Beauty, ballet; conquers inner fears and goes on European conducting tour

* 1891 Highly successful U.S. conducting tour of his own works, including opening ceremonies at what’s now Carnegie Hall

* 1892 Writes The Nutcracker, ballet

* 1893 Writes Symphony #6, Pathetique, which Tchaikovsky considers to be his finest work

* November 6, 1893 Death caused by cholera

Described at times as morbidly shy, Peter Tchaikovsky often is considered to be a man who compensated for his inability to communicate socially through his musical genius of creating melodies and mastering the world of musical drama.

Tchaikovsky lived an unusual life where nervous depression was intertwined with his uncanny talent as a composer. He suffered from insomnia, headaches, and hallucinations; and many of his works were extremely avant-guard for his time. Even Swan Lake, considered today to be a masterpiece, was panned both by critics and audience at its premier.

The gifted Russian composer sometimes was obsessive in his reactions to rejection. Responding to what Tchaikovsky considered to be an unwarranted refusal to consider his works in St. Petersburg, the composer moved permanently to Moscow in 1866 and never again asked that any of his work be performed in St. Petersburg.

Composer Peter Tchaikovsky didn’t limit his grudges to the city of St. Petersburg. Of his teacher, Anton Rubinstein, whom Tchaikovsky felt disrespected his work, Tchaikovsky once said, “I have always regarded him as the greatest of artists and the noblest of men, but I shall never become his friend.”

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