Turbulent Lives
One Composer     Three Czars

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)

Tchaikovsky, the eminent 19th century Russian composers, was born May 7, 1840, in Votkinsk, in the western Ural area of the country. He studied law in Saint Petersburg and took music classes at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. There his teachers included the Russian composer and pianist Anton Rubinstein, from whom Tchaikovsky subsequently took advanced instruction in orchestration. In 1866 the composer-pianist Nicholas Rubinstein, Anton's brother, obtained for Tchaikovsky the post of teacher of harmony at the Moscow Conservatory. There the young composer met the dramatist Aleksandr Nikolayevich Ostrovsky, who wrote the libretto for Tchaikovsky's first opera, The Voyevoda (1868). From this period also date his operas Undine (1869) and The Oprichnik (1872); the Piano Concerto no. 1 in B-flat Minor (1875); the symphonies no. 1 (called “Winter Dreams,” 1868), no. 2 (1873; subsequently revised and titled “Little Russian”), and no. 3 (1875); and the overture Romeo and Juliet (1870; revised in 1870 and 1880). The B-flat piano concerto was dedicated originally to Nicholas Rubinstein, who pronounced it unplayable. Deeply injured, Tchaikovsky made extensive alterations in the work and reinscribed it to the German pianist Hans Guido von Bülow, who rewarded the courtesy by performing the concerto on the occasion of his first concert tour of the U.S. (1875-76). Rubinstein later acknowledged the merit of the revised composition and made it a part of his own repertoire. Well known for its dramatic first movement and skillful use of folklike melodies, it subsequently became one of the most frequently played of all piano concertos.

Period of Productivity

In 1876 Tchaikovsky became acquainted with Madam Nadejda von Meck, a wealthy widow, whose enthusiasm for the composer's music led her to give him an annual allowance of 600 pounds. Fourteen years later, however, Madame von Meck, believing herself financially ruined, abruptly terminated the subsidy. Although Tchaikovsky's other sources of income were by then adequate to sustain him, he was wounded by the sudden defection of his patron without apparent cause, and he never forgave her. The period of his connection with Madame von Meck was one of rich productivity for Tchaikovsky. To this time belong the operas Eugene Onegin (1878), The Maid of Orleans (1879), Mazeppa (1883), and The Sorceress (1887); the ballets Swan Lake (1876) and The Sleeping Beauty (1889); the Rococo Variations for Cello and Orchestra (1876) and the Violin Concerto in D Major (1878); the orchestral works Marche Slave (1876), Francesca da Rimini (1876), Symphony no. 4 in F Minor (1877), the overture The Year 1812 (1880), Capriccio Italien (1880), Serenade for string orchestra (1880), Manfred symphony (1885), Symphony no. 5 in E Minor (1888), the fantasy overture Hamlet (1885); and numerous songs. Meanwhile, in 1877, Tchaikovsky, hoping to still the conflicts he felt about his homosexuality, had married Antonina Milyukova, a music student at the Moscow Conservatory who had written to the composer declaring her love for him. The marriage was unhappy from the outset, and the couple soon separated.

From 1887 to 1891 Tchaikovsky made several highly successful concert tours, conducting his own works before large, enthusiastic audiences in the major cities of Europe and the U.S. He composed one of his finest operas, The Queen of Spades, in 1890. Early in 1893 the composer began work on his Symphony no. 6 in B Minor, subsequently titled Pathétique by his brother Modeste. The first performance of the work, given at St. Petersburg on October 28, 1893, under the composer's direction, was indifferently received. Nine days later, November 6, Tchaikovsky died of cholera, according to official records. Modern scholarship, however, is inclined to credit the story that he committed suicide on the orders of a group of former law school classmates, who feared scandal because an aristocrat had complained to the czar about Tchaikovsky's homosexuality.


Many Tchaikovsky compositions—among them The Nutcracker (ballet and suite, 1891-92), the Piano Concerto no. 2 in G Major (1880), the String Quartet no. 3 in E-flat Minor (1876), and the Trio in A Minor for Violin, Cello, and Piano (1882)—have remained popular with concertgoers. 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. Composed in close collaboration with the choreographer Marius Petipa, they represent virtually the first use of serious dramatic music for the dance since the operatic ballet of the German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck. Tchaikovsky also extended the range of the symphonic poem, and his works in this genre, including Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, are notable for their richly melodic evocation of the moods of the literary works on which they are based.

"Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilich," Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.

Nicholai Pavlovich ( Nicholas I )
Nicholas I was born on May 25, 1796, in Gatchina near St. Petersburg, the
third son of Emperor Paul I. Nicholas I came to throne after the death of his older
brother Alexander I and the refusal of the second brother, Grand Duke Constantine,
to accept sovereignty. He was crowned on August 22, 1826.

He introduced military discipline into the civil service, tried to prevent the spread of revolutionary ideas by
rigid censorship and strict state control of universities, and sought to promote the Russian language and religion among his non-Russian subjects. He waged war successfully against Persia (1826-28) and Ottoman Empire (1828-29). During 1830-31 Nicholas crushed Polish revolts against Russian authority and abolished the Polish constitution. In 1849 he aided Austria in the suppression of uprisings in Hungary. His schemes to add more Turkish territory to his domain alarmed the Western European powers and led to the Russian defeat in the Crimean War.

He married Frederica Louisa Charlotta Wilhelmina (Alexandra Feodorovna), daughter of King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia, and had seven children. Nicholas died on February 18, 1855. Many researchers believe he poisoned himself after receiving news of the defeat of Russian forces at Evpatoria. He was buried
in the Cathedral of the St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.

Alexander Nikolaevich ( Alexander II )
1818 - 1881

Eldest son of Emperor Nicholas I, Alexander was born in Moscow on April 17, 1818, and came to the throne on February 19, 1855, after the death of his father. He was crowned on August 26, 1856.

After his accession to the throne, Alexander II implemented important reforms, notably the abolition of serfdom, as well as changes in national, military and municipal organization. He also rethought foreign policy: Russia now refrained from overseas expansion and concentrated on strengthening its borders. In 1867, he
sold Alaska and the Aleutian Islands to the United States. His greatest foreign policy achievement was the successful war of 1877-8 against the Ottoman Empire, resulting in the liberation of Bulgaria and annulment of the conditions of the Treaty of Paris of 1856, imposed after Russia's defeat in the Crimean War.

In 1841, Alexander II married Maria of Hessen-Darmstadt (Maria Alexandrovna). The marriage produced seven children. On March 1, 1881, in St. Petersburg, he was mortally wounded by a bomb thrown by a student, I. Grinevitskii, a member of the revolutionary organization "The National Will.'' The Cathedral of the Resurrection on Blood was erected on the site of the murder.

Alexander Alexandrovich ( Alexander III )


The second son of Alexander II was born in St. Petersburg on February 26, 1845. Alexander III became official heir to the throne after the death of his elder brother, Nicholas, in 1865. He came to the throne on March 1, 1881, at the age 36 after the assassination of his father and was crowned on May 15, 1883.

His reign coincided with an industrial revolution in Russia and the strengthening of capitalism. His domestic policy was particularly harsh, directed not only against revolutionaries but other liberal movements. He tried to impose the Russian language on all of his subjects, persecuted the Jews, and restricted education. His foreign policy was marked by a close union with France in opposition to the Triple Alliance. Fearing an attempt on his life, he refused to live in the Winter Palace; instead, he lived away from St. Petersburg in Gatchina, the palace of his great-grandfather, Paul I, which was designed like a medieval fortress surrounded by ditches and watchtowers.

He married the Danish Princess Dagmar (Maria Feodorovna) and had six children. Alexander III died on October 20, 1894, in Livadia, Crimea. He was succeeded by his son, Nicholas II, who was the last of the Russian czars.