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Tchaikovsky and the Nutcracker Ballet

Pyotr Tchaikovsky, composer for the Nutcracker Ballet, was born in the Ural mountain region of Russia in May 7, 1840.  The Ural Mountains are located approximately 600 miles east of Moscow.  He was the born the second child of Il’ia and Aleksandra Tchaikovsky.  Tchaikovsky had an elder brother Nikolai, a sister Aleksandra, and three younger brothers, Anatolli, Modest, and Ippolit. Tchaikovsky’s was raised in a middle-class family.  His father was a mining engineer and a career civil servant and his family had a long history of military service.

Tchaikovsky was a very bright child.  When he was 5 years old he began to learn how to play the piano.  Within three years he was able to read music as well as his instructor. His parents supported his musical endeavor at first and provided him with a barrel type organ called an orchestrion, and were pleased with his piano lessons.  Eventually his parents tired of his interest in music and wished to prepare him for a proper career.  In 1850, they sent him to the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in Saint Petersburg.  The school was designed to educate the lesser nobility and would provide him with an education necessary for a career as a civil servant.  He first spent two years at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence’s prep school where he lived approximately 800 miles from the rest of his family.  In 1852, he transferred to the Imperial School of Jurisprudence and began his seven year educational program.

On June 25, 1854, his mother died from Cholera.  Tchaikovsky never got over the death of his mother and he claimed that her death had a large influence on his music and the remainder of his life. 

On May 25, 1859, Tchaikovsky graduated and began his career as a clerk in the Ministry of Justice.  He remained there for 4 years, a position which he found himself to be suited for.  During these four years, he found himself spending time with the cultural set.  His desire for fun and his love of music caused him to resign from his position in the Ministry of Justice in April 1863 and devote his entire life to music.

Although Tchaikovsky was prolific in producing music, he will always be best known for his providing the music for the Nutcracker Ballet.  In 1891, choreographer Marius Petipa commissioned Tchaikovsky to compose music for an adaptation if E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Tchaikovsky was not excited and had a less than positive attitude about creating a Nutcracker Ballet.  However, he had great admiration and a strong liking of E.T.A. Hoffman’s fairy tale, and this was the reason he ultimately agreed to compose the music. Tchaikovsky traveled a great deal during the time he composed the Nutcracker Ballet and dealt with the death of his sister as well which caused him great torment and pain. Upon his completion of the music used in the Nutcracker Ballet, he often compared it to Sleeping Beauty and other well known works.  Tchaikovsky was never pleased with his composition and despite rave reviews and much acclaim, he never thought it to be one of his best works.

On November 6, 1893 Tchaikovsky died in Saint Petersburg at 53 years old.  His death was attributed to Cholera.  Over one hundred years later families all over the world continue to enjoy the music that Tchaikovsky provided us for the Nutcracker Ballet.


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