Tchaikovsky (Chayovski etc), Peter Ilich (Pyotr Ilyich)

Composer

b Kamsko-Votinsk, Vyatka, Russia 1840, d St Petersburg, Russia 1893. Showing an early sensitivity to words, and close to his mother as a boy, he could read French and German as well as his native Russian by the age of 6. After moving briefly to Moscow with his family in 1848, the next change hardly a month later brought him to St Petersburg as his father looked for employment. After graduating in law in 1859 he started work as a civil servant at the Ministry of Justice. A patriot and Francophile from his youth, while surveying a large map of Europe he is said to have kissed Russia, covered France with one hand and spat on the rest. He went on to study music at the St Petersburg Conservatoire under Anton Rubinstein, and was influenced by (among others) Rimsky-Korsakov and came to love Mozart. But he made his own mark, notably as the first Russian composer to impress audiences in the UK and USA, with a style that was original, deeply personal, yet clearly national. His first masterpiece, the Fantasy Overture Romeo and Juliet (1869), has probably reached more audiences than any other music suggested by Shakespeare; he used the Bard in at least 3 other works. In all he composed 10 operas; 6 symphonies (notably no.6, the ‘Pathétique’, 1893, and the one he found ‘huge, serious, difficult’, Manfred in 1886); 3 ballets (his first becoming the world’s most popular ever, Swan Lake, 1876); 3 piano concertos (notably no.1 in B flat minor, 1875); also chamber music and many songs. The Oxford Companion to English Literature (ed M Drabble, 1985) rates him as ‘probably the man who has most nearly brought “classical