Tchaikovsky wrote these 12 pieces at the request of the publisher of a monthly music magazine, “Novelliste”. The composer was to provide an appropriate piece for each of the 12 issues of the magazine. The resulting work became immensely popular, and was later published in its entirety together with the great G major sonata, Op. 37.
The Russian edition contained poetic epigraphs for each of the pieces, in the form of quotes from Pushkin, Tolstoy and other writers.