Tchaikovsky: The Troubled Life of a Musical Genius
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born to a fairly wealthy middle class family. His father, Ilya Petrovich married Alexandra and the two had two sons, Pyotr and Modest. Pyotr was a 1)precocious child, having learned to read French and German by the age of six. A year later, he was writing French 2)verses. The family hired a 3)governess to keep watch over the children, and she often 4)referred to Tchaikovsky as the "5)porcelain child." Tchaikovsky was very 6)sensitive to music and was placed into piano lessons at a young age. He would complain at night that the music in his head would not let him sleep.
When Tchaikovsky was ten years old, his family 7)enrolled him into the School of 8)Jurisprudence for a career in 9)civil service, not fully 10)comprehending his remarkable musical talent. Because the minimum acceptance age was 12, he was sent to 11)boarding school. After turning 12, he entered into the senior classes at the school. Apart from singing in 12)choir, he did not seriously study music. It wasn't until after he graduated in 1859 that he began to study music. In 1862, Tchaikovsky began taking classes with Nikolai Zaremba at the St. Petersburg 13)Conservatory. In 1863, Tchaikovsky quit his job as clerk at the Ministry of Justice.
After quitting his job, Tchaikovsky devoted his life to music. Under the 14)mentorship of Anton Rubinstein (director of the conservatory), Tchaikovsky went through the conservatory's 15)curriculum.
Aside from musical studies, he also studied conducting. Tchaikovsky had an 16)immense fear of it and would often hold his chin with his left hand while conducting after once imagining his head falling off his shoulders. Though he was not the best conductor, he was one of the best music students. In 1866, Tchaikovsky took a job as a 17)harmony teacher for the Moscow Conservatory with Rubenstein's 18)recommendation.
In 1868, he had a brief 19)flirtation with 20)soprano Desiree Artot, but she later married a Spanish 21)baritone. Though his personal life may have been unsuccessful, Tchaikovsky was steadily completing composition after composition. In 1875, Tchaikovsky's world 22)premiere of his third 23)symphony was given in Boston on October 25th and was conducted by Hans von Bulow. Despite there being pockets of opposition towards his music, his works and 24)reputation began to spread across Europe.
In 1877, Tchaikovsky married Antonina Miliukova, his former student at the conservatory who declared her love for him. It has been suggested that she reminded him of Tatiana, a character in his opera Eugene Onegin. But the marriage failed after a few months with Tchaikovsky unable to return his wife's 25)affection. He was very 26)distraught and even tried to drown himself in the river.
During the same year of his disastrous marriage, Tchaikovsky also entered into another relationship—only instead of meeting face to face, they communicated through letters. This worked out very well for him given his extreme shyness. The woman was Nadezhda von Meck. Though it is unclear why she did not want to meet him, she sent him money as she greatly admired his work. They exchanged well over 1,000 letters between 1877 and 1890. In these letters, Tchaikovsky was more open about much of his life and his creative 27)processes than he had been to any other person.
Despite what it seemed on the outside, inside Tchaikovsky was emotionally troubled, weeping and doubting himself very often, and took to alcohol as a form of relief.
After enjoying numerous successes and frequent travels, Tchaikovsky's money and letters from Meck came to a 28)halt. In 1890, she claimed to be broke, though that wasn't the case. It wasn't the loss of the money that had greatly upset him, it was the sudden 29)termination of his emotional 30)companion of 13 years. This was a 31)blow for the already emotionally sensitive composer.
Throughout Tchaikovsky's last years, he was continually 32)plagued by anxiety and depression.
Though there are many rumors about Tchaikovsky's cause of death, the most widely accepted explanation is that he died of 33)cholera after drinking a glass of water that wasn't boiled. He died nine days after the premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique.