The Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed some of the most familiar classical music in many genres, including opera, ballet, orchestral and chamber music. He had an outstanding ability to write music that features memorable tunes and strong emotional content. At a young age, he showed great skill at the piano. Tchaikovsky’s mom died when he was 14 – a very unfortunate trauma for the young composer who had already displayed symptoms of a nervous condition.
When he was a young man, Tchaikovsky was sent to St. Petersburg to learn law, but his gifts and passion for music were greater than family expectations. In 1962, he joined the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he studied composition with Anton Rubinstein. Tchaikovsky made amazing progress, and just five years after, he was given a professorship of harmony at the new Moscow conservatory. Even though he had a nervous breakdown, he persevered to complete his first symphony, and during the course of the ensuing eight years, he composed three additional symphonies, two operas, the ballet Swan Lake (1875) and a few chamber music works.
Tragedy struck again in 1877 when Tchaikovsky, a well-established composer, wedded Antonina Ivanovna Milyukova, who was one of his biggest fans. Although the marriage only lasted a few months, it was upsetting enough that the composer unsuccessfully attempted suicide. Tchaikovsky worked through his distress and personal instability to continue composing brilliant works, such as the Serenade for Strings (1881), the 1812 Overture (1882), The Nutcracker (1890), Sleeping Beauty (1892) and more symphonies. He was also very successful as a conductor, performing tours all over Europe. Tchaikovsky passed away in October 1893, not long after his tragic sixth symphony, Pathé tique, was performed. The official cause of death was cholera, but it is rumored that he took poison to avoid a scandal regarding his homosexuality.
Album for the Young
With the goal of enriching children’s musical literature, all of these lovely pieces inwere written during April and May 1878. All pieces in Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young are very short, except for two less than a minute in performance. Styles were different, and a lot of the works were influenced by Russian, Polish, Italian, German, and French folk music.
Poetic epigraphs for each of the pieces appeared in the Russian edition of The Seasons. These took the form of quotes by Pushkin, Tolstoy and other writers. Tchaikovsky was asked to compose these 12 pieces in a collection called The Seasons by the publisher of a monthly music magazine called “Noveliste”. The composer needed to give an appropriate work for every dozen issues of the magazine. The work that resulted became very popular, and the whole ensemble was published along with the wonderful G major sonata, Op. 37.