Rarely did Tchaikovsky talk about anything as harshly and with such clear distaste as about his own teaching career. Even his letters to Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck, which are generally written in a lofty literary style, abound with passages where the composer characterises the loathsome teaching profession in a purely vitriolic, even crass manner. Tchaikovsky was certainly not shy with his choice of colourful epithets: 'unbearable', 'profound disgust', 'I abhor working a a teacher', 'how this work sickens me', 'draining, irritating classes at the Conservatory', 'I find myself in the throes of unfathomable malice' etc. This utterly negative reaction was, in many ways, caused by the composer's own deep-seated belief that he was incapable of teaching anything to anyone. Tchaikovsky himself said as much, and quite often too, whenever he looked back on his many years of teaching at the Conservatory. But there was another, no less important reason behind the composer's bleak outlook on teaching: the very atmosphere and student body of the Moscow Conservatory during the first few years of its history. The students are described very vividly in one of Tchaikovsky's letters to von Meck: 'When I sit and teach men's classes, I at least have to deal with a crowd of youths that, while very underdeveloped, still have some manner of future as musicians <...>. Here, I can make myself useful. But women's classes? Dear God, what nonsense is this? Out of the 60 or 70 little ladies that study harmony in my class, there are 4, or 5 at the most, that will grow into real musicians. The rest enrolled at the Conservatory to pass the time, or for some other purpose that has nothing to do with music'.
To make matters even worse, Tchaikovsky's work as a teacher happened to coincide with a period of his own exceptional creative growth and intense activity as a composer. Just think of it: between 1866 and 1877, when he taught at the Moscow Conservatory, Tchaikovsky created approximately one half of his entire heritage. This was the period when he composed five operas, a ballet, four symphonies, Piano Concerto No. 1, several orchestral pieces, three string quartets and countless piano miniatures and romances. While he longed with all his soul to fully immerse himself in creating music, Tchaikovsky was forced to dedicate the larger, better portion of his time to gruelling and inefficient work that, by his own firm conviction, he had no natural inclination for.