Thursday, December 3, 2009
Who's That Queer
Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer of the Romantic era whose music has made an indelible impression on the world, yet many things seemed to have been stacked against him. The importance of Tchaikovsky's homosexuality and its consequences on the personal expression in his compositions cannot be underestimated. Tchaikovsky's gayness in itself has been known to the West for at least 75 years, gathered from the composer's own writings as well as those of his brother Modest, who was also gay. More debatable is how well he accepted his sexuality or was comfortable with it.
His mother died from Cholera when Tchaikovsky was only 14 years old and this great loss affected the boy deeply. As a boy and also in later life, he suffered from various neuroses and experienced periods of deep depression. Although he learned the piano as a boy, Tchaikovsky was initially to study law and his first profession was as a clerk performing administrative functions. It was only at the age of 23 that he made a career change and decided to study composition at the new St Petersburg Conservatory.
Undoubtedly a major contributor to the composer's bouts of depression was his homosexuality. This is not surprising since at that time in Russia, the state considered certain acts to be crimes carrying the death penalty. At one stage Tchaikovsky married a female admirer, perhaps to conceal his true nature, but the marriage was a disaster. It broke up within a short period of time, and Tchaikovsky suffered a breakdown and attempted suicide.
Tchaikovsky has left us a wealth of great music including Symphonies and Concertos, some Operas and many shorter works. He is particularly remembered for his story-telling music, including Romeo and Juliet and the evocative free-flowing ballet music for Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty.
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