Jurisprudence, School of
In 19th-century Russia it was common for the professional classes to send their children to specialist schools that provided a rounded education while steering their pupils towards a particular career path. After Tchaikovsky and his family moved to the provincial town of Apalayevsk in 1849, where his father had secured a job managing the mines, his parents needed to find suitable schools for their older children. The eldest, Nicholai, was sent to his father's alma mater, the School of Mining, but they decided in the end to send their second son, Peter, to the prestigious School of Jurisprudence near St Petersburg to prepare him for a career in the Civil Service.
Too young to start straight away, the ten-year-old Tchaikovsky endured a particularly traumatic parting from his mother on being sent away to take a two-year preparatory course as a boarder. He entered the senior school proper in August 1852.
Fortunately music and the other arts played an important role in school life. Pupils received vocal and instrumental lessons and had easy access to theatre, concerts and opera in St Petersburg. In the choir, which was led by Gavriil Lomakin, eminent choral conductor and later co-founder with Balakirev of the Free School of Music, Tchaikovsky led the second treble section, as it contained the less able boys, who needed good support. He also sang solos for important church services and even conducted though, according to a school friend, 'he showed neither an ability nor a will to command'. He enjoyed improvising on the harmonium and composing songs, and even penned a 'History of Literature in our Class'. Reasonably well-behaved and well-liked, though notoriously disorganised and absent-minded, he graduated in 1859 and five days later started as a clerk at the Ministry of Justice.
His shift into a musical career was gradual, a not uncommon situation for young musicians at that time who often combined 'day jobs' with composing (Glinka had worked in the Ministry of Communications, Borodin was a chemist, Cui a engineer and Rimsky-Korsakov a naval officer). Luckily for Tchaikovsky, the Russian Musical Society started up the year he left school, offering him and other members of the public a musical education. The classes soon transferred to the St Petersburg Conservatory and by 1863 Tchaikovsky was able to resign from his job to study music full time.
© Madeleine Ladell/BBC
References: Fyodor Maslov in David Brown: Tchaikovsky Remembered (London: Faber & Faber, 1993), p.11.
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