Tchaikovsky, composer of the world’s most uplifting ballets, had crippling problems…

January 24, 2022, 4:51 p.m. | Updated: January 24, 2022, 5:07 PM

Tchaikovsky’s letters give us insight into his personal life.

Photo: Aliyah


Tchaikovsky’s personal life did not always match the magical, joyful world of his music.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is often considered the first Russian composer to make a lasting impression on the international stage with his music.

His music is remembered for being joyful, energetic and uplifting; but Tchaikovsky’s life did not always reflect his music. What many listeners are unaware of is the composer’s long-term struggle with his mental health.

Born in 1840 in the small Russian industrial town of Votkinsk, Tchaikovsky came from a family with a long history of military service.

During the first broadcast of Dr. Alex George’s Inner Harmony, Dr. Alex discusses Tchaikovsky’s childhood saying, “Although [Tchaikovsky] was extremely talented, he was many affected by an early separation from his parents.

Tchaikovsky was sent to boarding school at just 10 years old to prepare him for a career as a civil servant, and this early separation from his mother specifically caused young Tchaikovsky severe mental anguish, which only escalated. ‘after his sudden death just four years ago. years later.

Read more: 10 of Tchaikovsky’s best musical masterpieces (and why)

Tchaikovsky became a first-class member of the St. Petersburg Conservatory at the age of 21, giving him the tools to abandon his three-year civil service career and flourish as a composer.

The composer’s first musical setback came when he was freshly graduated from the conservatory. Tchaikovsky presented his First Symphony for performance by the Russian Musical Society in St. Petersburg.

His former teachers, Rubinstein and Zaremba refused to consider the work unless substantial changes were made, which deeply distressed the composer, as he felt he had been treated as if he were still their student , and subsequently withdrew the symphony. The work was not performed in public for another three years, but notably without changes by Rubinstein and Zaremba.

Tchaikovsky’s long battle with crippling insecurity can be traced back to this moment as a starting point, and it plagued him throughout his career.

Dr. Alex references these insecurities in his first episode of Inner Harmony, adding that Tchaikovsky also struggled with his “sexuality and low self-esteem”.

Tchaikovsky was gay at a time when it was illegal in Russia. Even today, despite the legalization of sexual activity between same-sex couples in 1993, homosexuality is frowned upon by the majority of the population. Sexuality was only declassified as a mental illness in the country in 1999.

Living in Russia in the 19th century meant that Tchaikovsky had to hide his true attractions, and assertion of the composer’s sexuality was suppressed by historians during the Soviet era.

In order to quell rumors of his sexuality during his lifetime, Tchaikovsky married Antonina Miliukova in 1877, a disastrous partnership that was a source of misery for both parties. Tchaikovsky however found love, but not with his wife. Instead, with Vladimir Davydov (aka Bob), the composer’s nephew.

Love letters first published in English in 2018 also show a secret relationship between Tchaikovsky and a young servant girl. Tchaikovsky wrote that he was “more in love [with the servant] than ever”, adding: “My God, what an angelic creature and how I want to be his slave, his plaything, his property! “.

Hiding his sexuality had a huge impact on Tchaikovsky’s mental health and it ultimately led to the composer’s death in 1893; which historians have long suspected to have been by suicide.

A letter Tchaikovsky wrote as a child

A letter that Tchaikovsky wrote as a child.

Photo: Aliyah


Along with his crippling insecurities and being forced to hide his sexuality, Tchaikovsky’s self-esteem was incredibly low, even for a composer.

While many composers and musicians often lament the quality of previous performances or works, Tchaikovsky is notorious for actively disliking compositions in retrospect.

Tchaikovsky once wrote of his 1812 Overture, that it was “very loud and noisy and completely without artistic value, evidently written without warmth or love”.

Read more: The 1812 Overture: the hit that Tchaikovsky hated

As Dr. Alex concludes in his first episode of Inner Harmony, Tchaikovsky faced many setbacks and obstacles during his career, “but despite this he wrote some of the most recognizable classical melodies.”

An incredible composer with a difficult personal life, Tchaikovsky is to be remembered for his wonderful music, but also for his tenacity in overcoming some of life’s greatest obstacles.

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