Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky was born in Kamsko-Votinsk, Russia on May 7, 1840. A bright child, Tchaikovsky could read Russian, French, and German by the time he was six years old. He loved music so much that it made his governess worry. If he could not find a piano to try out the music he made up, he would use his fingers to tap out his tunes on the windowpanes of his house. One time while he was doing this he tapped so hard that he broke the glass of the window, and cut himself very badly.
Tchaikovsky began taking piano lessons when he was six years old. After attending boarding school he studied law and mathematics and got a job as a clerk working in the Ministry of Justice. But after just four years, he quit his job to go to music school full time in order to study composition. He was soon invited to teach classes.
Tchaikovsky was a nervous, unhappy man all his life, yet his beautiful music made him one of the most popular of all the Russian composers. He wrote the music for the three most famous ballets of all time: Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty. In his lifetime he also wrote nine operas, six symphonies, four concertos, three string quartets, and numerous songs, suites, and overtures.
The famous score for the Nutcracker was composed over a period of about 4-5 months in 1891 and was orchestrated from January-March 1892. Busy traveling at this time, he ended up composing bits and pieces of the ballet while on his journey. Tchaikovsky was a fan of the Nutcracker story originally penned by E.T.A. Hoffmann, but he was not enthusiastic about the Candyland setting of the ballet that Marius Petipa arranged, which made it hard for him to compose some of the parts. While working on the score, he also received the sad news of his sister’s passing. Still, Tchaikovsky worked through any setbacks and the final Nutcracker score is full of wonderful, magical sounds that continue to be appreciated by audience members today.
Tchaikovsky was only 53 when he died in St. Petersburg in 1893. He had just completed his sixth symphony, which he felt was the best piece of music he ever created.