Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally. His career, however, started unusually. Tchaikovsky was trained for a career as a civil servant, as there were few opportunities for musicians in Russia at the time and no system of public music education. After the founding of the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1862, Tchaikovsky enrolled to study composition with Nikolai Zaremba, graduating three years later.

Throughout his musical career Tchaikovsky managed to reconcile the Russian musical influences of his upbringing with the Western musical forms learnt during his time in musical education, creating a thoroughly original style. Tchaikovsky soon achieved international acclaim, and was honoured by Tsar Alexander II in 1884 and granted a lifetime pension. Despite his successes, Tchaikovsky’s personal life was often troubled; his homosexuality, kept private, is believed to have been a factor, and the cause of his sudden death at the age of 53 has long been disputed with some suggesting that it could have been suicide.

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