Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

How to say the name:

‘Tchaikovsky’ is said like Chii-cough-ski. ‘Pyotr Ilyich’ is saide like ‘Peter Il-itch’ (although I’m not certain about these two first names).

Born:

7th May 1840 in Votkinsk, Vyatka, Russia (Votkinsk is now in the Udmurt Republic).

Tchaikovsky’s grave in St Petersburg

Died:

6th November 1893 in St Petersbrg, Russia.

Buried:

Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St Petersburg.

Type of Music:

Romantic classical music.

Some famous pieces:
  • 1812 Overture (for orchestra, choir—and real canons!).
  • Marche Slave (Slavonic March)—for orchestra.
  • Many short dances from ‘The Nutcracker’ (a ballet), such as the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’. (See below for a video.)
  • The beginning of Piano Concerto No. 1. (See the romantic page for a video.)
Some great pieces:
  • Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 and 6. (See below for a video of No. 5.)
  • Piano Concerto No. 1.
  • Swan Lake (a ballet).
  • Sleeping Beauty (a ballet).
  • The Nutcracker (a ballet) (See below for a video from this ballet.)
  • Eugene Onegin (an opera).
  • The Queen of Spades (an opera).
Some interesting facts:
  • His music is some of the most popular classical music) around today. Many people who don’t normally listen to classical music will recognise a tune or two by Tchaikovsky!
  • His music often has very beautiful tunes.
  • His music is full of strong emotions. These strong emotions can be heard and understood very easily.
  • The strongest emotions are probably in Symphony No. 6 (the ‘Pathetique’). This symphony was first heard only nine days before he died.
  • His music sounds Russian to people outside Russia. However, it sounded like Western European music to people in Russia at the time it was written.
  • His ballets are the world’s most popular ballets. And ‘The Nutcracker’ is performed all over the UK around Christmas time.
  • The ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ from ‘The Nutcracker’ is famous for using an instrument that was very new at the time—the celesta (see below for a video). This looks like a small piano and makes a tinkly sound (this instrument also appears at the beginning of the ‘Harry Potter’ film music).
  • Although the 1812 Overture is very popular, Tchaikovsky didn’t really like it!
  • There is a bit of a mystery about how Tchaikovsky died. Some say he died of cholera, while others say he killed himself.

Here is a video of the part of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

Part of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5

And here is a video of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker. You can’t see the orchestra, but it will be underneath and in front of the stage. This tinkly instrument you can hear is called a celesta.

‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ from Tchaikovsky’s ballet ‘The Nutcracker’

There is another video of music by Tchaikovsky on the following page:

Picture credits:
  1. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. This is a painting from 1893. The image is in the public domain. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
  2. Tchaikovsky’s grave in St Petersburg. This photograph was taken by Steven N. Severinghaus on the 23rd March 2003. This image is free to use providing one credits the photographer. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
Video credits:
  1. Tchaikovsky : Symphony No.5 in E minor Op.64:ashkenazy. Tchaikovsky : Symphony No.5 in E minor Op.64, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Ashkenazy, 2007, Tokyo. (The same information is also given in Japanese.) This video is from the third movement.
  2. Sugar Plum Fairy Dance. 2008 rehearsal IDT ballet production of the Nutcracker. Guest Artist Sugar Plum Fairy.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 katie 2nd October 2011

i love the nut cracker a beautiful peice of music. do you by chance know if peter composed secular or sacred music and if itis monophonic or polyphonic and if it is vocal or instrumental ? i know this is a lot of questions but it would be a big help to me thank you for your time .( i would need these nswers today)

dear catie

2 Malcolm Pullan 2nd October 2011

Thank you for your question Katie. Tchaikovsky wrote all sorts of music. Most of his music was secular (i.e. not for the church), but he did write some sacred music (i.e. for the church). His most well known scared music is probably “Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom”. This was written for the Russian Orthodox Church. It sounds quite different from most western scared music. Some of this music is polyphonic. As far as I know, Tchaikovsky’s sacred music is vocal only. This is because traditional Russian Orthodox music does not use any instruments.

3 Mia 19th October 2016

I love his songs!

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