Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Trivia

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky public domain

It’s Nutcracker season, and you probably know that the composer of that famous ballet is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky — or as we more often refer to him, Peter Tchaikovsky. How about some trivia on the great composer?

  • Tchaikovsky wrote three of the world’s most famous ballets: The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. He also wrote Peter and the Wolf.
  • Pyotr always had a melancholy demeanor (this seems to be common among artistic types). As a child, he was so distraught when his mother dropped him off at boarding school that he would not let go of her carriage as it pulled away.
  • In contrast to many musical geniuses who were giving concerts at age five (I’m looking at you, Mozart), Tchaikovsky wasn’t especially precocious as a child. He took piano lessons, but was not considered special. He became a civil servant (what exactly is a civil servant? I’m never quite sure), but when he was denied a promotion, he began studying music at a St Petersburg conservatory at age 22.
  • While at the conservatory, he met Antonina Ivanovna Milyukova (and people think German names are bad!). Tchaikovsky proposed to Antonina, who was a student of his, also telling her that he did not love her (what a romantic — this surprises me since his music is so passionate). The couple was married for six weeks before Pyotr’s friends arranged a separation for the sake of his mental health. Pyotr and Antonina never formally divorced. Of his marriage, Tchaikovsky said, “There’s no doubt that for some months on end I was a bit insane and only now, when I’m completely recovered, have I learned to relate objectively to everything which I did during my brief insanity.” Hmmm. He sounds very similar in this regard to King Ludwig II
  • Can you image the the twinkling tones of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from The Nutcracker? Tchaikovsky wrote this piece for the celeste — an instrument that looks like a piano but produces a twinkly sound. The celeste was invented in 1886, just 6 years prior to The Nutcracker’s debut. It was one of the first performances using the instrument.
  • Tchaikovsky died at age 53, probably of cholera. Cholera, like consumption, is one of those things that seemed to claim many lives in past centuries. It’s usually caused by drinking tainted water, and Tchaikovsky’s mother died of the same thing.

Are you planning to see The Nutcracker this year?

4 thoughts on “Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Trivia

  1. I’m not sure if I have ever seen The Nutcracker all the way through. I know I have never seen it in person. I’m familiar with some parts of it and I think I have seen performances of parts of it on TV. I didn’t know that about his brief marriage. My favorite piece of his is the Romeo and Juliet Overture. I was introduced to it in my music appreciation class in college as a way to listen for themes in classical music. There is a theme for the lovers, a theme for the conflict, and theme for the friar. Listening to those and hearing how they were woven together was a marvelous exercise for someone like me who didn’t grow up listening to classical music.

  2. Barbara, that’s interesting about your music appreciation class. Even though I know quite a bit about music, I think a class like that would teach me a lot. Kind of like the way I enjoy reading classic books, but then when my kids tell me some insights about the books that they learned in class, it’s interesting. So many things to learn …!

  3. Oh, my. What a tragic life. His compositions are so amazing! I would have thought he was a child prodigy. Thanks for the interesting post!

  4. You teach us so much about so many things! Thank you! I love classical music and I love reading classic books. And yes, there is always lots to learn. I’ve never seen The Nutcracker but am familiar with the beautiful music.

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