The birthday of one of the greatest composers of the 19th century is coming up soon. Tchaikovsky was born on May 7th in 1840 in Russia. He was a Russian composer of the Romantic era known for various symphonies, operas, ballets and a selection of chamber music. His most famous compositions are Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, the 1812 overture, the 6th symphony, the 1st piano concerto and the world-famous violin concerto. He graduated from the school of Jurisprudence at the age of 19 and was destined to become a civil servant. He did not learn how to play the piano until the age of 21 and started attending classes in music theory. He soon abandoned his former career and became a musician.
At the instigation of Charles Villiers Stanford, Tchaikovsky was awarded an honorary doctorate by Cambridge University in 1893. He had an international reputation as a composer by then and was celebrated mainly for his 1st piano concerto and the 1812 overture. However, today his most acclaimed musical masterpiece is the 6th symphony. He composed this symphony during the last years of his life and it was performed in St. Petersburg on October 28th 1883. It is undeniably an expression of his life and the predicaments he had endured.
Tchaikovsky was attracted to his own sex and had to hide behind his own identity for his entire life. Sexuality was a topic mostly unspoken about in Victorian times and generally oppressed (for more information on the topic about sexuality in Victorian times: Michel Foucault, The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality). Not until quite late in his life in 1878, he could reconcile himself with his own true nature after various failed relationships with men and women. He wrote in a letter to his brother Anatoly: “Nothing more futile than wanting to be anything other than what I am by nature.”
Tchaikovsky was incredibly tense and filled with emotion during the performance of the 6th Symphony, which was mal-received by the St. Petersburger audience. Nationalist feelings at the time determined musical styles and the audience demanded the performance of the 1812 overture after the performance of Tchaikovsky’s newest master piece. It is said that he stormed out of the concert hall in turmoil and disgust. He died in the same year.
The famous German author Thomas Mann wrote a novel based on Tchaikovsky’s life: Symphony Pathétique. It has a beautiful narrative and is based quite closely on the live of the Great Composer. It catches well the sentiment of the time.
Happy Birthday Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky! Your music will not be forgotten.
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