glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilich (1840-1893)  
page: 1  2  

Two months after the wedding, while the composer recuperated in Switzerland, a separation was announced. Mulykova never divorced Tchaikovsky, and she demanded money from him thereafter. In 1896, after Tchaikovsky's death, and after having borne three illegitimate children, she was confined to an insane asylum.

From the trauma of 1877 came the great Fourth Symphony, as well as the opera Eugene Onegin, whose plot--a worldly young man spurning a girl who declares her love in a letter--has parallels in his own life. Several scholars have argued that the anguish expressed in the autobiographical Fourth Symphony reflects the composer's despair at his homosexuality. It may additionally (or alternatively) express his despair at the complications of his ill-advised marriage.

The Middle Period

In 1878, with the financial patronage of von Meck, Tchaikovsky left teaching to devote more time to composition. The works that followed included his major sacred works, the 1812 Overture and the Serenade for Strings (1880), the Manfred Symphony (1885), and various orchestral suites. His final operas included The Maid of Orleans (1878-1879), whose story of Joan of Arc had fascinated him since childhood, and Mazeppa (1881-1883).

Accolades came late to Tchaikovsky. He received recognition in 1881 from the new Tsar Alexander II, who ascended the throne that year. In 1888, his successor Alexander III, for whom Tchaikovsky wrote the Coronation March, awarded the composer a generous lifetime pension.

Freed from teaching, Tchaikovsky traveled extensively. He undertook a series of European tours in the late 1880s and an even more successful American tour in 1891, where he conducted his own work at the opening of New York's Carnegie Hall.

In the 1890s, Tchaikovsky's works began being performed regularly at home and abroad. Indeed, he became a cult figure, especially among homosexuals, who discerned in his music a tragic yearning that they found particularly resonant.

The Final Works

Tchaikovsky's final works were composed abroad, among them orchestral suites, the magnificent Fifth Symphony (1888), the ballet score The Sleeping Beauty and the opera The Queen of Spades (1890), the ballet score The Nutcracker (1891), and the final Sixth Symphony Pathétique (1893), lovingly dedicated to his gay nephew Vladimir ("Bob") Davidov, to whom he was extremely close.

Symphony Pathétique almost immediately became the subject of intense speculation, especially among homosexuals, who felt that this mysterious work depicts a homosexual's search for love. It has been suggested that the symphony was inspired by Tschaikovsky's passion for Davidov.

His Final Years and Death

After years of travel, Tchaikovsky returned to Russia. He first rented various houses around Kiln, near Moscow. His final year was spent in St. Petersburg, where he died in 1893, a victim of a cholera epidemic that swept the city. He was surrounded by Davidov, his servant "Aloysha," his bother Modest, and a retinue of young men.

Although Tchaikovsky's death from cholera is well documented, some biographers--largely on the basis of scurrilous rumors--have suggested that the composer was forced to commit suicide rather than be exposed in a sex scandal involving a member of the Imperial family. The biographical works by Alexander Poznansky have attempted to rescue Tchaikovsky from such sensational scandal, but the circumstances of the composer's death continue to be debated.

Sexuality and Music

The importance of Tchaikovsky's sexuality to his music is also a matter of considerable debate. In general, heterosexual musicologists tend to downplay or deny its importance, while historians and biographers highlight it in two ways. They argue that events in the composer's life are reflected in his music and that specific musical elements found in his scores are typically "gay."

Because music is perhaps the most purely objective of the arts, the level to which a composer casts his own life into his compositions is very much a matter of subjective opinion. However, it is certainly true that many gay men and lesbians have found in Tchaikovsky's music emotions that seemed to speak directly to their own experience. Hence, he has been an important presence in gay and lesbian history and culture.

While discussion continues as to the significance of Tchaikovsky's homosexuality to his music, there is now general agreement that he was in fact homosexual. This itself represents an enormous change in musicological scholarship, which has tended to be cautious and conservative in matters of sexuality, especially when it comes to composers as important as Handel and Tchaikovsky, whose achievements are central to classical music and to the Western cultural tradition.

Robert Kellerman

  <previous page   page: 1  2    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about The Arts

   Related Entries
arts >> Overview:  Ballet

The enduring and persistent connection between ballet and male homosexuality is undeniable and may be related to the art's remarkably masculine provenance.

arts >> Overview:  Music: Classical

Classical music is an important component of Western culture to which glbt people have contributed significantly.

social sciences >> Overview:  Russia

A cultural crossroads between Asia and Europe, Russia has a long, rich, and often violent heritage of varied influences and stark confrontations in regard to its patterns of same-sex love.

social sciences >> Overview:  St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg, Russa was once the crucible of one of history's liveliest and most articulate homosexual cultures.

arts >> Cliburn, Van

American pianist Van Cliburn became a national hero when he won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958, at the height of the Cold War, but his brilliant career as a performer stalled in the 1970s.

literature >> Fernandez, Dominique

A member of the Académie française, novelist and academic Dominique Fernandez pioneered the "psychobiography" and explores the complex question of the outlaw nature of homosexuality.

arts >> Handel, George Frideric

Around George Frideric Handel, one of the towering figures of Western classical music, was constructed the first biographical closet, of many to come, for a major composer in the West.

arts >> Horowitz, Vladimir

Russian-American pianist Vladimir Horowitz is widely regarded as among the greatest musicians of the twentieth century; his legendary artistry, preserved on recordings, remains a source of inspiration and delight.

arts >> Saint-Saëns, Camille

One of the most highly honored French figures of his day, composer Camille Saint-Saëns reputedly declared--perhaps sardonically--that he was not a homosexual but a pederast.

literature >> Sendak, Maurice

An important voice in children's literature over the past half century, Maurice Sendak wrote and illustrated books that both acknowledge the fears faced by children and celebrate the imagination with which they cope with them.

arts >> Smyth, Dame Ethel

The most important female composer in early twentieth-century English music, Dame Ethel Smyth enjoyed a class privilege that allowed her to be an unapologetic lesbian.


Henry, Seán. "Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky." Gay and Lesbian Biography. Michael J. Tyrkus, ed. Detroit, Mich.: St. James Press, 1997. 427-429.

Holden, Anthony. Tchaikovsky: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1995.

Jackson, Timothy L. "Aspects of Sexuality and Structure in the Later Symphonies of Tchaikovsky." Music Analysis 14.1 (March 1995): 3-25.

McClary, Susan. Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

Karlinsky, Simon. "Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilich." Gay Histories and Cultures. George Haggerty, ed. New York: Garland, 2000. 865-866.

Poznansky, Alexandre. Tchaikovsky's Last Days: A Documentary Study. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

_____. Tchaikovsky: The Quest for the Inner Man. New York: Schirmer, 1991.

Wiley, John Roland. "Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Stanley Sadie, ed. London: Macmillan, 2001. 25:144-183.


    Citation Information
    Author: Kellerman, Robert  
    Entry Title: Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilich  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 16, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright ©2002, glbtq, inc.  


This Entry Copyright ©2002, glbtq, inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.