Born in 1840 in the Ural Mountain town of Votkinsk, Russian Empire, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was the second of six children. From his early years he showed a different quality than his siblings. He maintained an unusual charm and sensitiveness, which caused a sense of vulnerability.
Musically, his talents became apparent during these formative years. When he was eight years old, he was known to reproduce on the piano arias from W. A. Mozart’s Don Giovanni that he had heard from an orchestration of the work. He became passionate about music, but his family, particularly his father Ilya Petrovich, did not believe music represented a respectful profession. Petrovich, went so far as to enroll his son in boarding-school in Saint Petersburg when they moved there following his Governmental appointment as a mine manager.
It is believed that the young Tchaikovsky, having received tender caring by his family, was treated more sternly by his teachers. This treatment supposedly created the low spirit that pervaded the composer throughout his life.
After his boarding-school education, his parents placed him in School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg. Soon thereafter, Peter’s mother passed away suddenly from a cholera attack. The event traumatized the young Peter. He responded to her death by attempting his first musical composition in her honor. The early portion of Peter’s life provides a glimpse into his later musical works. His melodies reflect his depression and pessimism that remained evident throughout his life.
An outwardly shy and reserved individual, Tchaikovsky became capable of strong inner strength and maintained a powerful conviction to compose masterful music. He most likely would have provided a psychologist with a rather compelling subject and his distraught nature is reflected throughout his music.
Next week: In part 2 of Tchaikovsky 101, we will examine the opera Eugene Onegin and the turbulent stage of Tchaikovsky’s life that surrounded the work. The composer’s mental state around the time reflects a change in the opera’s tone compared to his earlier operas. Eugene Onegin represented a desire to escape from his depression.
 Alexander Poznansky. “Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man” (New York: Maxwell Macmillan, 1991), 3-17.
 Edwin Evans. Tchaikovsky (London: Temple Press, 1935), 53.
Part 1: Tchiakovsky’s Life
Part 2: Eugene Onegin
Part 3: The Nutcracker
Part 4: Symphony No. 6