Russian composer Peter (Pyotr) Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote some of the most-recognized melodies in classical music, and his ballet The Nutcracker endures as a winter holiday favorite. Peter Tchaikovsky began composing in St. Petersburg in the 1860s, while studying and teaching music at the Conservatory there. By the 1870s he was gaining public notice, and after 1878 he devoted himself to composing full time. Tchaikovsky's expressive melodies and orchestrations made him an audience favorite in Russia and beyond; his international travels included an American tour in 1891. Many of his works are part of the canon of classical music of the Romantic era, including the opera Eugene Onegin, the ballet Swan Lake, the overtures Romeo and Juliet and the 1812 Overture and his Sixth Symphony, known as Pathtique.
Peter Tchaikovsky had a personal reputation for being emotionally fragile. His brief 1877 marriage to a woman he barely knew is now considered an ill-fated attempt to mask his homosexuality, and possibly led to what has been called a nervous breakdown. The issue of his sexuality is also considered by some modern scholars to have played a part in his untimely death. Originally it was held that Tchaikovsky died from cholera, a result of drinking tainted water. Further research a century later led to the suggestion that he may have deliberately poisoned himself, having been forced to do so by a "court of honor" as punishment for his relationship with a young male aristocrat.
From 1877 to about 1890, Peter Tchaikovsky received financial support from Nadezhda von Meck, a wealthy widow who admired but did not know him? Cambridge University made him an honorary Doctor of Music in 1893? Transliterations of his name include Petr, Piotr and Peter, and Tschaikowsky and Chaikovsky.
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