by Maille Halloran
Perhaps the ability to sit at a desk for a long period of time was a transferable skill that saw many of history’s most famous composers make the professional switch from law to music. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was of primary school age when his parents withdrew him from small-town piano study to enrol at preparatory school in St. Petersburg. Tchaikovsky joined the prestigious Imperial School of Jurisprudence to begin his legal studies before he even reached his teenage years.
Tchaikovsky graduated in 1859 with the rank of titular counselor, giving the young lawyer the equivalent status of a military captain. Tchaikovsky rose quickly in the legal hierarchy at Russia’s Ministry of Justice and was a well-paid senior assistant within a year of graduating.
Meanwhile, Anton Rubinstein was working under Royal instruction to foster native musical talent in Russia’s capital city. In his spare time, Tchaikovsky began classes with the Russian Musical Society, eventually abandoning bureaucracy to study at Rubinstein’s St. Petersburg Conservatory.
Though poverty threatened to draw the musician back to civil service, Tchaikovsky did not return to the law. Instead, the composer created some of the world’s most recognised and loved music.