Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tchaikovsky Uncensored

Many people know of the famous Romantic era Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский) who lived from May 7th 1840 to November 6th 1893. His most widely known compositions include such famous ballets as “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker”. No patriotic American could forget his 1812 Overture, played at every 4th of July extravaganza (its original intended purpose to celebrate Moscow's successful defense against Napoleon's advancing troops at the Battle of Borodino in 1812). His western oriented training at the St. Petersburg Conservatory set him apart from the contemporary nationalistic music written during his time, earning him wide acclaim and success. Many people are unaware, however, of Tchaikovsky's severe personal struggles and the argued circumstances of his death. It is largely believed that the composer was a homosexual (as researched most extensively by author Alexander Poznansky). In fact there are letters available today, previously censored by the Soviets, in which Tchaikovsky himself openly discusses his sexual preferences. Nevertheless, in 1877 he entered into a disastrous marriage with Antonia Miliukova that ended unofficially in 6 weeks (although divorce was never filed and Tchaikovsky died a married man). As he rose to the top of the composing scene between 1877-1890, Tchaikovsky corresponded with another woman, Nadezhda Von Meck, who supported his composition monetarily under the stipulation that they never meet in person. The letters between them deeply affected the composer and he professes in one particular excerpt that her contact seemed to him “the hand of fate itself, watching over me and protecting me”. This relationship too, proved devastating when in 1890 her correspondence abruptly ended, allegedly due to her filing for bankruptcy (a few music historians postulate that the cut was made in her discovery of his homosexuality). The real mystery lies in how the composer died. Despite that a true diagnosis may never be possible due to unreliable accounts at the time of his death and the lack of knowledge of effects of certain lifestyle habits such as drinking, there has been much research as too what may have caused his unexpected (and relatively young) death. Most musicologists attribute his demise to cholera by contaminated water. The question that is debated is whether or not the contamination was purposely executed by Tchaikovsky in suicide. There have been rumors that his former classmates urged him to commit the act to avoid being exposed as the lover of a nephew of a member of the Russian aristocracy. Others claim that the poisoning may have been the result of his bitterness over the loss of his contact with Von Meck. Regardless his passing occurred just nine days after the premier of his now famous and emotionally charged Symphony Pathetique (No. 6). He was interred in the Tikhvin Cemetery next to fellow composers Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korakov, Glinka, and Balakirev (a.k.a. The Five). -Posted by Courtney E. Van Cleef

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