Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

On this date in 1840, Pyotr "Peter" Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, Russia. A musical prodigy, he started piano lessons at age 5. Although he was initially educated as a civil servant, studied law and was appointed to the Ministry of Justice in 1859, Tchaikovsky jettisoned that career, studying music for three years at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with Anton Rubenstein, Nikolai Zaremba and other teachers.

This prolific and most lyrical of the classical composers wrote "Romeo and Juliet" (1869), "Swan Lake" (1876), "The Sleeping Beauty" (1890), "The Nutcracker" (1892), "Piano Concerto in B Flat Minor" (1875) and "Pathetique Symphony." His letters show an interest in religious questions, which, according to freethought encyclopedist Joseph McCabe, gravitated toward agnosticism by the end of his life. Tchaikovsky's homosexuality, which made him a "transgressor" in the 19th century, may have played a role in his religious migration. D. 1893.

"I have found some astonishing answers to my questioning as to God and religion in his book."

—Tchaikovsky letter to his brother Modest about reading freethinker Flaubert, "Life and Letters of P.I. Tchaikovsky" (ed. Rosa Newmarch, 1906)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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