Of course you know Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) – a Russian composer, whose nearly 80 works included numerous symphonies, concertos, 10 operas, chamber music and a choral setting of the Russian Orthodox Divine Liturgi. His three ballets –“Swan lake”, “Sleeping beauty” and “Nutckracker”- are timeless masterpieces. They are the most performed and most successful works which swept the world, reaping standing ovations to full sell-out theatres.
But do you know that Pyotr Ilyich descended from an Ukrainian Cossack family with the surname Chaika and also had French roots?
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, a small town in Vyatka gubernia (present-day Udmurtia, Kirovskaya oblast’).
His father, Ilya Petrovich Tchaikovsky (1795-1880), was an engineer who served as a lieutenant colonel in the Department of Mines and became one of the foremost metallurgists in Russia.
After graduating from St Petersburg Mining College, from 1818 to 1821, Ilya Petrovich served as a mining engineer at the Perm iron works, and between 1821 to 1831 in the Department for Iron and Salt Affairs, where he enjoyed a broad authority within the Yekaterinburg region — from governing local factories to repealing the decisions of local courts. Over the next few years he served as administrator of the Onezhsky Salt Board (1831–1837) and director of the Kamsko-Votkinks Iron Works (1837–1848).
Tchaikovsky’s mother, Alexandra Andreyevna née d’Assier, the second of Ilya’s three wives, was 18 years her husband’s junior and of French ancestry on her father’s side.
Once step further into his ancestry and we have Pyotr Fyodorovich Chayka (1745, near Poltava- died 1818) , paternal grandfather, who was the first family member to adopt an “ennobled” version of the surname Chaika- “Tchaikovsky” and “chaika“ is translated in Russian as “seagull”.
Pyotr Fyodorovich studied in a seminary in Kiev, but later received medical training in St Petersburg. From 1770 to 1777 he served as a physician’s assistant in the army, became a medical officer in Kungur (Perm Region), before transferring to Vyatka in 1782. Three years later he was included (as a member of the landless gentry) in the register of nobility instituted by Catherine the Great. He resigned from his medical service, and became a member of Vyatka City Council in 1789, governor of Slobodskoy from 1795 and later a governor of Glazov.
His records are located in Kirovskaya oblast’ archive in fund 583 –http://www.kirovgako.ru/
Tchaikovsky’s maternal grandfather was Michael Heinrich Maximilian Acier, known in Russia as Andrey Mikhaylovich Assier, who was brought to Russia in 1795 as a teacher of German and French for the St Petersburg Military School by the Russian general Pyotr Melissino.
In 1800, by an oath of allegiance, Heinrich officially became a subject of the Imperial Crown and adopted the Russian name “Andrey Mikhaylovich Assier”. The same year he has applied to Petrograd consistory for the permission to marry Ekaterina Mikhailovna Popova (1778-1816), his first wife.
St Petersburg archive has a record of this marriage in its electronic database (fund 19 – Petrograd Spiritual Consistory , inventory 2, file 4424). The heading of this file says “The permission to marriage between a teacher of Page Corps, Hendrich Assier, of Catholic religion and the daughter of a deacon of Naval Cathedral of Ephipany, Ekaterina Mikhailova, of Orthodox religion”.
The couple had five children — Mikhail (born 1802), Ekaterina (1805–1882), Nikolai (born 1809), Andrei (born 1811) and Aleksandra (1812–1854), mother of the composer.
The youngest son Andrey became a nobleman in 1844.
Record of this event also is in St Petersburg archive –fund 536, inventory 6 – Entries into Noble Genealogical Book, 1791-1918. According to Russian Nobility Law, every member of each generation with the inherited nobility had to be registered in one of six parts of the provincial Noble Register (Noble Genealogical Book).
Composer’s great-grandfather, a Cossack in the Omelnitsky Division of the Mirgorodsky Regiment named Fyodor Afanasyevich Chayka (1695 – 1767), distinguished himself under Peter the Great at the Battle of Poltava in 1709.
Maternal great-grandfather of the composer was Mikhail Ivanovich Popov (1751 – 1792) , at first a student at the Kiev Academy and then the Aleksandr Nevsky Seminary in St Petersburg and later became the priest and was appointed a Deacon at the Nikolayevsky Cathedral in St Petersburg in 1774, and at the Church of Saint Sergiev from 1790.
Paternal great-grandfather, Michel Victor Acier (1736- 1799) was from the French petite bourgeoisie and , even so a sculptor, the first traced artist in the family.
The musical predisposition in the family was evident. Both of Tchaikovsky’s parents were trained in the arts, including music. Tchaikovsky took piano lessons from the age of five. He could read music as adeptly as his teacher within three years. His parents were initially supportive, hiring a tutor and encouraging his study of the piano for both aesthetic and practical reasons. Nevertheless, the family decided in 1850 to send Tchaikovsky to the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St Petersburg (more). The record of Pyotr Ilyich studying there survived the time.
St Petersburg Historical Archive -Fund 355, inventory 1 – Imperial College of Jurisprudence – has the files of students for the period from 1830 to 1917.
If you want to learn more about Tchaikovsky’s full family tree, look no further
and endless number of books written about his extraordinary personality.