Slanted Tchaikovsky Bios

I’ve been doing some research on Tchaikovsky lately — mainly the period in the mid 1870s, which many of his biographers call the “crisis years,” when he was in his mid to late thirties composing Swan Lake among other masterpieces, marrying unsuccessfully, and having a subsequent nervous breakdown. Some biographers accuse others of trying to blacken his name and make him out to be “over-emotional” by “insinuating” that he was gay, which I find interesting that people consider such a suggestion an “insinuation” or an attempt to dirty a reputation, and assume that emotionalism and sexuality have anything to do with each other.

Anyway, here is a paragraph from a 1946 book on him and several other Russian composers by British writer Donald Brook that I find particularly amusing:

“There can be little doubt that if Tchaikovsky had married Desiree Artot (an opera singer who impassioned him), and if she had abandoned her travels and made him a good wife, he could have lived a normal sex-life, for there is every reason to believe that she did attract him physically. In the life of a homosexual there is often one woman who could bring the offender back to the paths of normality, though, alas! he is often unaware of the fact, or never ventures to make the experiment.”

Just shows you how unobjective nonfiction can be. Also, throughout the book, I don’t think I’ve seen so many exclamation points.


  1. wow.. Granted I’ve never studied Tchaikovsky, (I got only Bach, Beethoven, and later Debussy) but I’ve never heard the thought that he was gay (not that it matters). Interesting.

    That’s one thing I was not happy about with my history degree in that there were no Russian historians in my department (they hired one right after I left). I find Russian history from about 1700 on fascinating.

  2. I know — I find Russian history fascinating too! Perhaps that’s why I’m so into dance 🙂 … Tchaikovsky’s life seems to be such the melodrama, Katrina — too bad you didn’t study it! From most of what I’ve read, it seems to be generally accepted that he was gay (but tried to marry and be “normal”) but what is more controversial is how he died. Apparently he drank water from a Russian well, which was well-known as a surefire way to contact cholera. Or maybe he poisoned himself with something further, in order to avoid an Oscar Wilde-type situation. Or maybe he had no idea that drinking Russian water was going to lead to certain death. Or maybe authorities suggested suicide as a way to escape punishment for his Oscar Wilde-like behavior (ie: being brought to trial for homosexuality. Apparently he’d been found — maybe — having sex with one of his male servants — or someone; I forgot exactly who and have to look it up — maybe it was someone from the ruling classes, which is how the authorities got involved. I’ve been focusing more on his earlier life; he died in the early 1890s). And of course maybe he just tragically died from cholera, which he didn’t try at all to contract. It’s like a 19th Century soap opera!

  3. hum I may have to go check out some books 🙂 The only piece of his that I ever learned to play was Trepak…I think that’s why as a singer, I don’t really like singing “classical” type pieces… forced to learn classical pieces of the same type, Bach…

    I found out the topics for the senior seminar classes for my history department and there are two that I would have loved to take: Russian Imperialism and Overland travel in the 1800’s. *sighs* why do they have all the good classes after I leave. Also unfortunately the music department at my school doesn’t really do a music history class.. they do one for Jazz and Rock but nothing really like this!

  4. Didn’t Tchaikovsky have a nephew or younger cousin that he was supposedly in love with? I seem to vaguely recall some story that it was the death of (or maybe a rejection by) this younger relative which drove Tchaikovsky to “suicide” or at least to carelessly drink contaminated water as he had lost any reason to live.

    I think the notion that the ‘right’ woman can turn a gay man straight is wishful thinking on the part of many females. I’ve known of a few (gay men) who’ve tried, but ultimately failed, causing much pain on the part of the woman…and sometimes there were children of these couples involved, too. I think it’s possible that a truly bi-sexual man could be happy settling either way, but I am not sure that truly bi-sexual males exist. “Bi-sexual” is so vague, really, and I think some gay men like to describe themselves that way since they feel insecure (or less-that-masculine) about their true sexuality.

    Of course it’s a fascinating subject. It is always interesting to read about these ‘religious’ programmes which attempt to turn gay people straight. If it is possible to alter sexual desire that way, then would it not also be possible that a totally heterosexual person who never felt any attraction to his/her own sex could be ‘trained’ to be gay?

    Did you ever see the STAR TREK episode where the Enterprise landed on a planet where same-sex relationships were the norm and conventional, and where ‘heterosexuals’ lived in secrecy and were persecuted if discovered?

  5. No, I never saw that episode, Philip — it sounds great! Yeah, that’s right — I did read Tchaikovsky had a very close relationship with his sister’s son; I forgot his name, but he was in love with that nephew, I think all throughout his life. Well, I think it may be wishful thinking for some women, but at least it’s a personal wish in those situations. I feel like when men (like Brooks) make ridiculous statements like this it’s more political — and dangerous — because it leads to the thinking that well, society can deny people the freedom to have sex with or marry who they want because it’s only a choice; they can change. The question is why it’s politically desirable that anyone change at all. The history of sexuality is very interesting… I need to re-read Foucault at some point (or read him I should say, since I only pretended to in grad school 🙂 )

  6. I think the whole melding of religion and politics has created this atmosphere where people’s personal lives and desires become ‘issues’ and the simple pleasures of sexual activity and the desire for romantic attachments are analyzed, categorized and voted upon by people who merely wish to impose their own prejudices on the populace in general.

    Of course the fun thing is when these far-right gay-bashers turn out to have Senate page-boys on their private e-mail lists and get caught in bathroom stalls trying to get some action. Self-loathing so often leads to extremism.

    One of the most interesting things in my experience has been the number of self-identified heterosexuals who have confided to me their curiosity about – and indeed their desire to have – same-sex experiences. And so often, people’s fantasies tell us more about them than their actions.

    Yes, it’s a huge and truly fascinating topic.

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