Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–93) engendered a new style of Russian music that incorporated developments of the Western European musical tradition while remaining integrally Russian. His three full-length ballet scores Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker are the masterpieces of the Classical tradition. His instrumental works are regularly adapted for dance. His operas combine a gift for lyricism with a sensitive response to words and sophisticated dramatic structure, with Eugene Onegin, Mazepa and The Queen of Spades among his greatest works.
Tchaikovsky was born in rural Russia and began studying the piano aged four. Aged ten he entered the St Petersburg School of Jurisprudence and studied there 1852–9. He graduated into the Ministry of Justice and worked there for two years before dedicating himself to music. He studied at the newly opened St Petersburg Conservatory 1862–5 under Nikolay Rubinstein and moved to Moscow early in 1866 to teach there at the Conservatory. His 1877 marriage to former student Antonina Ivanovna Milyukova was a disaster; they separated after two months but never divorced. The separation precipitated a period in which Tchaikovsky travelled around Europe, aided by the financial support of his patron Nadezhda von Meck. In 1885 Tchaikovsky settled in Klin, where in addition to composing he began his conducting career. He died of an unknown illness nine days after conducting the premiere of his Sixth Symphony.
With music both melodically rich and brilliantly structured, Tchaikovsky was a pioneer both for ballet and Russian music.
News and features
The exact authors of Swan Lake are unknown – but the ballet shows the influence of a variety of different fairytales.
Our quick guide to Tchaikovsky’s soaring ballet masterpiece.
Ballet choreographers have long loved to craft swirling floral patterns for the corps de ballet, set to a waltz's gentle lilt.
Much more than just a bit of local colour, national dances were key to the development of ballet throughout the 19th century.
How and where choreographers find stories has changed throughout the art form's history.
Dance has long been inspired by myths and folk tales, with Deloitte Ignite offering extracts of classics and new works on one bill.