Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born May 7, 1840 in Votkinsk, Russia. He was the son of a mine inspector and a half-French mother. He started piano studies at five and soon showed to have a remarkable gift. By the age of six, he could read not only Russian, but also French and German. After hearing a piece by Mozart played on a music box, he asked his parents for piano lessons. The piano upset his nerves, though. The music going through his mind kept him awake at night. When Tchaikovsky was ten, his mother took him to St. Petersburg, to a school that would prepare him to study law. He was very attached to his mother and had a hard time saying good-bye to her. She died when he was 14, an event that may have stimulated him to compose. Tchaikovsky began writing music while in school. One of his first pieces is called "Anastasya Waltz" and was named after a favorite governess from his childhood. While attending law school, Tchaikovsky also took singing and piano lessons.
Tchaikovsky graduated from law school in 1859 and got a job with the government. He was evidently a good worker but had much more fun after work going to the opera, ballet, and theater. In 1860, the Russian Musical Society started offering music classes to the public, and Tchaikovsky was one of their first students. He kept working for a while, but in 1862, when he was denied a promotion, he quit his job and enrolled as a full-time student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. There he studied music theory, composition, flute, piano, and organ. When he graduated in 1865, he had learned everything he needed to be a good composer. Soon after his graduation from music school, he moved to Moscow to teach music theory at the Moscow Conservatory. This teaching position allowed Tchaikovsky to earn a living while he continued to compose music. .
Rather less successful was his first opera, The Voyevoda, given at the Bol'shoy in Moscow in 1869; Tchaikovsky later abandoned it and re-used material from it in his next, The Oprichnik.