"I am made up of contradictions, and I have reached a very mature age without resting upon anything positive, without having calmed my restless spirit either by religion or philosophy. Undoubtedly I should have gone mad but for music. Music is indeed the most beautiful of all Heaven's gifts to humanity wandering in the darkness. Alone it calms, enlightens, and stills our souls. It is not the straw to which the drowning man clings; but a true friend, refuge, and comforter, for whose sake life is worth living" - Letter to Nadezhda von Meck, 1877
Tchaikovsky is among the very few composers who can write music that sounds sweet, bombastic, and soul-cleansing at the same time. Schoenberg and Stockhausen lack the sweetness. Mahler comes close, but to me, his fascination with metaphysical motifs sometimes makes his music less consistent and direct than Tchaikovsky, whose works are always filled with emotions rooted in personal relationships, and driven by such longing to "express something fully" (what Tchaikovsky thought Brahms failed to deliver). In my early 20s I loved Mahler zealously and thought Tchaikovsky was for the fainthearted. As I grow older I still adore Mahler, but also start to find more strength in Tchaikovsky.
This playlists collects Tchaikovsky's Op.1-80, with notable (i.e. findable on Spotify) works without opus number, the latter includes a student work for flute and strings, an early string quartet, Overture in F, Coronation March, two versions of the Romeo and Juliet Overture, operas: The Oprichnik, The Maid of Orleans, Mazepa, and The Enchantress. All suites from the ballets are also included. Unnumbered works are inserted to their approximate chronological positions, but Op. 1-80 were not published in the order of completion, so this playlist is not strictly chronological. Unauthentic works like Symphony No.7 or Leopold Auer's version of the Violin Concerto are not included, except for Kreisler's 1904 recording of his arrangement of Souvenir de Hapsal.
Here's the Spotify playlist: Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky: Complete Works (736 tracks, total time: 2 days) Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. Only a handful of tracks are not available on Spotify USA. You can hear Bernstein discuss Pathétique from his Music Lectures, and find out more about the Life And Works of Tchaikovsky from Naxos Educational.