Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840 – November 6, 1893), anglicised as Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, was a Russian composer whose works included symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, and chamber music. Some of these are among the most popular concert and theatrical music in the classical repertoire.
In the West, [Tchaikovsky] has often been referred to as a "crazy genius" or, stereotypically, as a "mad gay Russia," and his music - by extension- has been decried as sentimental or decadent. In contrast, the official lone in the Soviet Union, starting with 1940, strove for the unqualified glorification of Tchaikovsky as both artist and human being by suppressing all material deemed ideologically suspect, including references to the composer's private life.
His death in 1893 was believed to be as a result of a decision made by a ‘court of honour’ following revelations that Tchaikovsky had formed a relationship with a male member of the Russian aristocracy; it was apparently decided that the only course of action open to the composer was for him to commit suicide.
By the end of his fairly short life, Tchaikovsky’s inner and outer circumstances would appear to have been perfectly splendid. After his triumphant tour of America, and being awarded an honorary doctorate at Cambridge University, he was accepted as a world figure, not a merely national composer but one of universal significance. In 1891 the Carnegie Hall program booklet proclaimed him, together with Brahms and Saint-Saëns, to be one of the three greatest living musicians, while music critics praised him as "a modern music lord".
The last years of Tchaikovsky's life were very productive. "The Queen of Spades", "The Sleeping Beauty", the symphonic poem "Manfred", the lyric opera in one act "Iolanta", the famous two act fairy ballet "The Nutcracker", the Sixth Symphony… - this is far from the full list of his late works. The last works did not need the approval of critics. He became famous not only in Russia, but in Europe and in America, as a incomparable master-orchestrator, as a genius in creating melodies.
In 1877, Tchaikovsky received some commissions from a wealthy widow, Nadezhda von Meck, whose continued patronage and financial gifts enabled Tchaikovsky to devote all of his time to composing. The Symphony No. 4 in F minor was the first of these later works [...] It was also at this time that Tchaikovsky, in anguish over his homosexuality, made the regrettable decision to marry. The union of the neurotic, hypersensitive homosexual and a mentally-disturbed and apparently sexually insatiable young girl was surely destined for disaster. The marriage was dissolved in only three months, after Tchaikovsky's mental breakdown and attempted suicide.
In his heart a follower of Liszt, in his intellectual conscience an adherent of Classicism, Tchaikovsky composed under the sway of two conflicting influences, neither of which was strong enough to efface for long his own intense personality. Thus throughout his work we find a lack of unity which baffles dogmatic criticism, and compels us to seek in the character of the man, rather than in his theories, the interpretation of all he has expressed in music.
His most popular works are characterized by richly melodic passages in which sections suggestive of profound melancholy frequently alternate with dancelike movements derived from folk music. Like his contemporary, the Russian composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky was an exceptionally gifted orchestrator; his ballet scores in particular contain many striking effects of orchestral coloration. His symphonic works, popular for their melodic content, are also strong (and often unappreciated) in their abstract thematic development. In his best operas, such as Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades, he used highly suggestive melodic passages to depict a dramatic situation concisely and with poignant effect. His ballets, notably Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty, have never been surpassed for their melodic intensity and instrumental brilliance.
Tchaikovsky's life was very tormented, which is reflected in most of his music, including his famous Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, and one of his most played works, the 1812 Overture. He captured the Russian spirit magnificently, and has been beloved by classical music fans since he first set pen to paper. His popularity grows with each passing year.
Although Tchaikovsky made outstanding contributions to the symphonic and operatic repertoires, the average music-lover knows Tchaikovsky for his ballets. Foremost among these are Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker, three of the most popular ballets of all time.
Tchaikovsky was one of the later Romantic masters who most successfully merged nationalistic energies with the classical symphonic and concerto tradition. He had a gift for the utterly apt melodic expression of strong emotion and a sure sense of rhythmic character, which helped make masterpieces of theater works such as the opera Eugene Onegin and the ballets Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.
Tchaikovsky is probably THE most popular classical composer of all time. Best known for his ballet music and symphonies.