In 1877, Tchaikovsky’s favorite pupil, Vladimir Shilovsky, married suddenly. The wedding may have spurred Tchaikovsky to consider such a leap himself. He entered into a brief, disastrous marriage to a former student, Antonina Miliukova. The marriage, which lasted fewer than three months, drove him to a state of despair.
This bleak period is framed by two periods of great creativity. Before the crisis, he had written many of his most famous works, including his first three symphonies, the ballet Swan Lake and his Romeo and Juliet overture. After a period of recovery in Switzerland, he completed his Fourth Symphony and the opera Eugene Onegin.
He and Antonina remained legally married but never lived together again. The episode probably forced the composer to face the truth about his homosexuality, although he never lived an openly gay life.
In 1884, Tchaikovsky entered a final productive period, completing his last three symphonies and the ballets Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. His final work, the Sixth Symphony, deals with the ideas of life, struggle and death. Nine days after its premiere, Tchaikovsky died. The circumstances and cause of death are still a mystery.