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Thread: Tchaikovsky's heterosexuality

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    Tchaikovsky's heterosexuality

    I apologize if this digs too far into the personal life for any lover of music, but I'm looking for a bit of help with regards to Tchaikovsky's sexual orientation. In Russia, he's straight, in the West, very much gay. As I understand, the claim for his homosexuality has virtually no support, is based purely on speculation. So if you could let me know of any concrete evidence, as it exists here (in the West), of his homosexuality, I'd very much appreciate it.

    I think it's important to mention that the Russian stance isn't at all due to any homophobic motives (even gay.ru ridicules the composer's homosexuality). The country isn't any more homophobic, with openly gay and transvestite pop stars, and a Mon Lewinsky in the politics arena.

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    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Just a quick quote from Wikipedia to start:

    "The composer's homosexuality, as well as its importance to his life and music, has long been recognized, though any proof of it was suppressed during the Soviet era. Although some historians continue to view him as heterosexual, many others--such as Richard Norton and Alexander Poznansky--conclude that some of Tchaikovsky's closest relationships were homosexual, (citing his servant Aleksei Sofronov and his nephew, Vladimir "Bob" Davydov.) Evidence that Tchaikovsky was homosexual is drawn from his letters and diaries, as well as the letters of his brother, Modest, who was also homosexual."

    I'm no expert on Russia or the Soviet Union, but my guess is that maybe Russia isn't homophobic NOW, but it surely was in Tchaikovsky's day (just as everyone else was) and I think it was especially so during the Soviet years. I think the Soviet leaders did not like Tchaikovsky being known as the GAY composer.

    How about this--what is the evidence that he was NOT homosexual? I believe most of it points to him BEING gay. In those days, as even here in the US when I was a teenager, no public person in their right mind would leave any conclusive evidence that they were gay. Even recently, people have been murdered simply for being gay, and it was much worse in Tchaikovsky's day. So one has to surmise based on circumstantial evidence, most of which, in Tchaikovsky's case, points to him being gay. What evidence is there that he was not? Certainly not his marriage. . .

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    Yes, I've come across that same paragraph, and I've looked at the citation, which is a terrible source for Wikipedia; the Encyclopedia of Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender and Queer Culture, with no author or citation of its own. And I've also looked at the Russian version, which states that there's little support for his homosexuality. Where does the idea that Soviets destroyed some of his letters and diaries come from? As far as I know, those letters and diaries have been published in 1936, in a rare edition that is still available. The original diaries and correspondences still exist. You may say that by that time, 1936, there had been enough censure to get rid of any suggestive material, but allegations of his homosexuality are taken from what remains.

    And this is what's strange, the Western authors, Holden, Poznansky, are feeding on tip offs and rumors to analyze those personal letters in search of anything that would suggest sexual innuendos. There's very weak support for their accusations from those letter, and none at all of you read them in original language.

    I'm looking for anything concrete.

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    Russia THEN is another topic that contradicts the assumption of homosexuality since there was no reason for him to suffer any turmoil; many other prominent figures lived openly as homosexuals.

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    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    I'll have to leave this to someone who knows more about Tchaikovsky than I. You're correct--I did some searching and found that Russia was extremely tolerant of homosexuality during the 19th century, so my argument is not strong.

    Someone else might have some answers. But one has to wonder when looking at the events of his life. . .why?

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    I think that the mystery of the great composers’ lives, their music, and most importantly how it is that their music is shaped by their lives and personal characters in one way or another interests us all. I found certain incongruence with Tchaikovsky, his music, and the relationship that he had with his nephew as it is portrayed by certain biographers.

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    Captain of Water Music Ouled Nails's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bilbo47 View Post
    I think that the mystery of the great composers’ lives, their music, and most importantly how it is that their music is shaped by their lives and personal characters in one way or another interests us all. I found certain incongruence with Tchaikovsky, his music, and the relationship that he had with his nephew as it is portrayed by certain biographers.
    I do not know if this question of sexual orientation is relevant in my mind but I appreciate your curiosity and desire to understand why/how labels of this nature attract so much attention. One observation I wish to express, for the sake of discussion, is that Tchaikovsky's letters (those I have read) mainly reveal a desire to express feelings and emotions to his nephew. In the autumn of his life, based on this little evidence, there is little expression on his part of a need for female companionship. Maybe that's the reason why assumptions of this nature have been attributed the weight of hard evidence.
    best regards.

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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    Sorry, I have no clue. Kind of obvious, but have you tried contacting, say, members of any of the societies that bear Tchaikovsky`s name?

    Good luck in your quest for truth.
    Last edited by rojo; Feb-05-2007 at 18:12.
    ''Music, I feel, should be emotional first and intellectual second.'' - Maurice Ravel
    ''The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.'' - Michael Jackson


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    Commodore con Forza Sybarite's Avatar
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    First, it shouldn't matter.

    Second, a brief article on the subject from the BBC.

    Third, Soviet and post-Soviet society is not exactly good on the issue of sexuality. The current Russian state is quite homophobic, often supporting (certainly at regional level) various ultra-nationalist and religious leaders in their homophobic statements and actions, as has been seen in the last few years in refusals for the Russian LGBT community to hold a Pride march in Moscow and attacks on LGBT activists, which have been ignored by the police etc.

    Report from the BBC last year.

    Some support from the Russian president may help, but here's some information on the LGBT community in today's Russia.

    Against this background, it's hard to imagine the Russian musical/academic establishment openly agreeing that such a national icon was gay.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sybarite View Post
    First, it shouldn't matter.

    Against this background, it's hard to imagine the Russian musical/academic establishment openly agreeing that such a national icon was gay.
    Problem is, nobody can agree on anything without reasonable evidence. And there is none in Tchaikovsky's case, as far as I know.

  11. #11
    Commodore con Forza Sybarite's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by crina View Post
    Problem is, nobody can agree on anything without reasonable evidence. And there is none in Tchaikovsky's case, as far as I know.
    The article that I linked to from the BBC – which is not prone to writing fantasy on such matters – suggests that there is evidence.

    It says that:

    Quote Originally Posted by BBC
    He now resigned himself (with some relief) to the life of a discreet homosexual, forming a long-lasting relationship with his servant Alyosha Sofronov, while from time to time he had temporary relationships with men of his own social class, like the violinist Josef Kotek, and while abroad he would sometimes seek the services of male prostitutes.
    This suggests known facts.

    Later, it notes that:

    Quote Originally Posted by BBC
    The exact nature of his profound love for his nephew Bob Davydov, the dedicatee of the Sixth Symphony, may never be known.
    In other words, it is quite clear that there is not the same amount of knowledge about that relationship. Which in turn supports the belief that it clearly cites the rest of the information as fact.

    It is, however, a very brief article, which doesn't give space for expansion or explanation of sources. But that isn't its job. And the author is hardly an amateur: Dr Marina Frolova Walker is a university lecturer in the faculty of music and Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and has taught at the Moscow Conservatoire. Again, I would suggest that isn't playing fantasy games.

    Since she suggests that Alexander Poznansky's Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man is a work of "serious scholarship", perhaps you might to check that out if you're interested.

    But, as I said in my initial post: does it matter? And if so, why?

  12. #12
    Seaman, Mezzoforte
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    ^^;; i actually care-less about his sexuality, i love his music very very very very much!
    his pieces sounds like magic for me, morelike fantasies!!

    i think i kinda think he's somewhat homosexual from what i've read so far about him..
    also the fact that most of his pieces somewhat feminine..

  13. #13
    Commodore con Forza Sybarite's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Miz_ai View Post
    ^^;; i actually care-less about his sexuality, i love his music very very very very much!
    his pieces sounds like magic for me, morelike fantasies!!

    i think i kinda think he's somewhat homosexual from what i've read so far about him..
    also the fact that most of his pieces somewhat feminine..
    All of which raises some interesting questions.

    For instance, if Tchaikovsky's music is "feminine", and that is indicative of his sexuality, then what does that say about, for instance, Mozart, whose music could hardly be called macho? Is Benjamin Britten's music particularly "feminine"?

    Indeed, once we get into such realms, we start having to define 'masculine' music. Would that be the same as 'heterosexual' music? And what would bisexual music (or any other art) be like?

    Personally, I don't think that the sexuality of an composer/artist/writer is the most important aspect of their work. If you're particularly interested in an artist, then understanding something of their life can be of help to understanding their creative output better (the author Thomas Mann is a perfect example, to my mind), but it isn't crucial.

  14. #14
    Commander, Assistant Conductor
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    Don't you feel that people sometimes out of appreciation, want to feel like they know something about the person? I heard Tchaik 4th symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas was conducting San Francisco symphony. I never saw him conduct before, but I enjoyed the video. (got it from Netflix).He did a commentary on the symphony and it was interesting. Now MTT is decidely gay, and he comments that part of the 4th is due to Tchaik I guess finding out he was gay? I don't know. I think he appreciated women too though if you read Tchaikovsky's bio though.
    Jan

  15. #15
    Commodore con Forza Andrew Roussak's Avatar
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    Hi Bilbo47,

    I can't judge about your reasons to find out whether Tschaikowsky was a gay or not - but as I myself was born in Russia, I can tell you it is just a commonplace between the musicians there. I have never met anybody who would say Tschaikowsky was not a gay, though it might be a little bit difficult to prove this fact in any court. But everybody knows it - as well as nobody raises the like question concerning Bach or Chopin.

    But - should it really matter???

    As for me, I DON'T LIKE TSCHAIKOWSKY and, say,David Bowie. I like ( and very much ) Elton John and Freddie Mercury. If the music is good - then the sexual orientation of the composer is not that important, isn't it?

    Am I wrong??

    All the best
    Andrew

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