Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky|
(May 7, 1840 - November 6, 1893) Russia
Also spelled Peter, Petr, Piotr, and Ilich, Iljits, and also Cajkovskij, Tsjaikowsky, Tchaikovski...
Born at Kamsko-Votkinsk, Tchaikovsky was the first Russian composer to gain international fame. While his symphonies, like the well known 1812 Overture, operas, and concertos are widely played and loved, it is his ballets that have become world classics. Considered the master composer of classical ballet, Tchaikovsky's work remains some of the most beloved music ever written.
His ballet The Nutcracker is a perennial favorite, performed all over at Christmas time, though he considered it inferior to his Sleeping Beauty which Disney adapted for the animated feature of the same name. Swan Lake, and Romeo and Juliet are among the best-known staples of "classical" music, enjoyed by concert-goers the world over.
He died in St. Petersburg, shortly after completion of his Pathetique Symphony. His brother Modest, who was also gay, claimed the composer had died of cholera after drinking unboiled river water. There was uproar galore in Russia over Tchaikovsky's death, as cholera could have been treated if diagnosed in time.
But recently discovered documents from the former Soviet Union indicate Tchaikovsky committed suicide on orders from some high authority, because his relationship with a young nobleman might have subjected the Imperial establishment to disgrace. The "panel of honor" that demanded Tchaikovsky's suicide included one of his earliest lovers, attorney Vladimir Gerard.
In recent years, have surfaced large volumes of documentary evidence which record beyond doubt the composer's homosexuality.
Here is the young Thcaikovsky at a military school, called the School of Jurisprudence, where they apparently make men out of boys....
Tchaikovsky's "Life And Letters" and his diaries revealed many male loves. As a professor at the Moscow Conservatory, Tchaikovsky met 14-year-old Alexei Sofronov. They became lovers and lived together from then on, Sofronov acting as the composer's valet.
Other lovers included the violinist Joseph Kotek, pianist Vasily Sapelnikov, and Tchaikovsky's nephew Vladimir Davidov. Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, dedicated to Davidov, was called "the homosexual tragedy" by Havelock Ellis.
Tchaikovsky's affair with a black man in Paris in 1889 is also detailed in his diary.
No one seems to doubt today that Tchaikovsky was gay, yet many have put a homophobic spin on his homosexuality. See, for example, the Encyclopaedia Britannica article, which states -
"His abnormal love for his now-deceased mother and the ineffectualness of his father did nothing to hinder his latent homosexuality, and the disciplinary regime of the all-male School of Jurisprudence cannot have helped. There is, however, no evidence of his having given any active outlet to his secret desires."
In fact, there's a lot of evidence! See also his Classics World Biography. Both repeat the persistent rumors to the effect that Tchaikovsky's death was a suicide forced by mates who were appalled at his homosexuality. Karlinsky and Poznansky have shown these to be homophobic drivel based on hearsay and pure speculation.
Tormented by his homosexuality, that was a source of great conflict to him, Tchaikovsky's life was full of emotional crises, nervous breakdowns, and bouts of heavy drinking.
Alternating between periods of elated composition and nervous breakdowns, Tchaikovsky finally married a student of his.
His brief marriage was a total disaster, and much of his life he was troubled with depression. She was a nymphomaniac and he tried to kill himself.
Somehow he got out of it, and secured an annuity from a wealthy patroness which enabled him to give up teaching and spend his life composing and traveling.
Despite his problems, he composed some glorious music, including six symphonies, a violin concerto, three piano concerti, operas (Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades), and ballets. His last symphony, Pathetique, was dedicated to his young nephew "Bob" (Vladimir) Davydov, with whom he had fallen hopelessly in love.
This symphony evokes feelings of tragedy and pathos, especially in its last movement. Within a week of its first performance, Tchaikovsky was dead.
Tchaikovsky's diaries described his "darling" Bob (pictured here with him) as "incomparable, enchanting, ideal." Some evidence indicates that as Bob grew older, their relationship became more than platonic; Bob was named as Tchaikovsky's sole heir in his will. Tchaikovsky's younger brother, Modest (1850 - ?, librettist), was also gay.
"Only now, especially after the story of my marriage, have I finally begun to understand that there is nothing more fruitless than not wanting to be that which I am by nature."
(letter to his brother, February, 1878)
The next time you hear the U.S. Marine Band playing the incredibly stirring and victorious 1812 Overture, with its booming cannons, you might recall the fact that it was written by a gay man.
We don't know if you'd want to mention it to the Marine boys in the band or not. Don't ask, don't tell... just do it.