Though Tchaikovsky's name conjures the dancing sugar plum fairies of The Nutcracker, pirouetting ballerinas of Swan Lake or strident themes of his violin concerto, it's the Russian composer's bitterly pessimistic final symphony that lends insight into the distressed emotional state which plagued him throughout his life and led to his rumored suicide.
Born in 1840, he was a prodigiously talented child performer and taught music as a young man. Due to the fervent nationalism popular with his early peers, his compositions took longer to catch on, though his First Symphony was well received in Moscow in 1868. By incorporating Ukrainian folk tunes, his Second Symphony faired better, and, bolstered by its success, he wrote a daring piano concerto. In 1875 he produced the careful Third Symphony and Swan Lake, before battling mid-life depression stemming from his sexual identity. He produced the monumental violin concerto in the late 1870s and two important ballets, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, a decade later. He died nine days after the performance of his Sixth Symphony in 1893.