Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Life, Music & Lasting Legacy

Published on 11 December 2022 at 14:27

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is one of the most beloved and influential composers of all time. His music has been performed and recorded by countless orchestras, choirs, and soloists around the world. This blog post will explore his life, music, and lasting legacy.

Tchaikovsky's childhood

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is one of the most beloved and influential composers in history. His music has been performed and enjoyed by millions of people around the world, and his works are some of the most recognizable pieces in classical music. But before he became a renowned composer, Tchaikovsky had a difficult childhood that shaped his life and career.

Tchaikovsky was born in 1840 in Votkinsk, Russia to Ilya Tchaikovsky and Alexandra Assier. His father was a mining engineer who worked for the government, while his mother was a housewife. From an early age, he showed an aptitude for music, playing the piano and singing in church choirs. He also had a passion for literature, particularly Russian authors such as Pushkin and Gogol.

At age five, he began attending school where he excelled academically. He also continued to pursue his musical interests by taking private lessons with local teachers. However, his parents were not supportive of his musical ambitions and wanted him to pursue a more practical career path. As a result, at age 10 he was sent to St. Petersburg to study law at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence.

Tchaikovsky's Early Career

Despite his parents’ wishes, Tchaikovsky continued to pursue music on the side while studying law at school. He took private lessons with Anton Rubinstein and Nikolai Zaremba at the newly established St Petersburg Conservatory of Music. During this time he composed several pieces including two operas: The Voyevoda (1868) and Undina (1869).


In 1871, after graduating from law school with honors, he decided to pursue music full-time instead of continuing on with law as his parents had hoped. He accepted a position as professor of harmony at the Moscow Conservatory where he taught for nine years until 1880 when he resigned due to health issues caused by stress from teaching duties combined with composing demands from patrons such as Nadezhda von Meck who supported him financially during this period.


His early works were heavily influenced by Russian folk music and traditional church music. His first major success came with his opera Eugene Onegin, which premiered in 1879 to great acclaim. This was followed by a series of symphonies, ballets, operas, and other works that showcased his unique style and melodic genius.


Tchaikovsky’s early life was filled with struggles but it ultimately led him down a path that would make him one of the most influential composers in history. Despite facing opposition from his family about pursuing music full-time, he persevered through it all and created some of the most beautiful works ever written that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

Here are some very famous pieces Tchaikovsky composed in his early career, including his partially destroyed "Undina" opera.

Tchaikovsky - "Voyevoda"

Tchaikovsky - "Undina", destroyed opera

Tchaikovsky's Later Career & Legacy

In 1877 Tchaikovsky wrote his first ballet score for Swan Lake which became an instant success both in Russia and abroad. This success led to further commissions from wealthy patrons such as Nadezhda von Meck who provided him with financial support for 14 years without ever meeting him face-to-face. This allowed him to focus on composing without having to worry about money or teaching duties which had previously taken up much of his time.


In addition to ballets such as The Nutcracker (1892) and Sleeping Beauty (1890), Tchaikovsky also wrote several symphonies including Symphony No 4 (1878), Symphony No 5 (1888), Symphony No 6Pathétique (1893), as well as numerous concertos, chamber works, operas, choral works, songs, piano pieces, cantatas etc. These works are characterized by their emotional intensity, melodic beauty, lush orchestration, and innovative use of form which made them hugely popular with audiences around the world even today.


Tchaikovsky also wrote several books on musical theory and technique as well as a number of essays on various topics related to music. He also served as a professor at the Moscow Conservatory from 1885 until his death in 1893. During this time he taught many students who went on to become some of Russia's greatest composers including Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alexander Scriabin, Nikolai Medtner, Anatoly Lyadov, Sergei Prokofiev, and Igor Stravinsky.

The following are some very famous pieces, Tchaikovsky composed in his later career.

Tchaikovsky - "The Sleeping Beauty"

Tchaikovsky - Sympony 6 "Pathétique"

Influence on Classical Music

Tchaikovsky's influence on classical music has been immense. Many composers have been inspired by his works or have written pieces based on them. These include:

  • Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 2 which is based on Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1.
  • Maurice Ravel's Bolero which is based on Tchaikovsky's Marche Slave.
  • Igor Stravinsky's Firebird Suite which is based on Tchaikovsky's ballet The Firebird.
  • Sergei Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet Suite which is based on Tchaikovsky's Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture.
  • Dmitri Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony which is based on Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony.
  • Leonard Bernstein 's West Side Story which uses themes from Tchaikovksy's ballets Swan Lake & The Nutcracker.
  • George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue which uses themes from Tchakovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1.
  • Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring which uses themes from Tchakovsky's Serenade For Strings.
  • John Williams' Star Wars soundtrack which uses themes from Tchakovsky's 1812 Overture.
  • Philip Glass' Einstein On The Beach which uses themes from Tchakovsky's Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture.
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber' s Phantom Of The Opera which uses themes from Tchakovsky's Queen Of Spades.
  • Stephen Sondheim's "Into The Woods", which uses themes from Tchakovsky's Sleeping Beauty Ballet.
  • Leonard Bernstein's "Candide Overture", which uses themes from Tchakovsky's Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture.
  • Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra", which uses themes from Tchakovsky's Pathétique Symphony.
  • Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony which uses themes from Tchakovsky's Fourth Symphony.
  • Johannes Brahms' First Piano Concerto which uses themes from Tchakovsky's First Piano Concerto.
  • Claude Debussy's La Mer which uses theme from Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2: "Little Russian".

And many more!

Tchaikovsky's Legacy

Tchaikovsky's legacy is immense; he is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers ever to have lived due to his ability to combine emotion with technical skill in order to create beautiful pieces that have stood the test of time. His influence can be seen in many modern composers such as John Williams who has cited him as an inspiration for many film scores. His ballets The Nutcracker and Swan Lake are still performed regularly around the world while many other pieces such as Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture are staples in classical concerts.

To conclude...

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovksy was one of the most influential composers of all time whose music continues to be enjoyed by millions around the world today. His life story is full of tragedy yet it is through this tragedy that he created some truly beautiful pieces that will live on forever. Through exploring his life, works, and legacy we can gain insight into why he remains so beloved, even after more than a century since his death.

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