The Russians are now trying to “in” Tchaikovsky

As part of Russia’s ongoing cultural and physical pogrom against gay people, the country is now trying to “in” one of its greatest gay cultural icons: Pyotr Tchaikovsky.

Tchaikovsky is the composer of the Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and the 1812 Overture, among many other well-known works.  (Little known fact: “the nutcracker” was Tchaikovsky’s Grindr screen name.)

The man was also seriously gay.


But you wouldn’t know Tchaikovsky was gay from the way the Russians are talking nowadays.  The latest step by official Russia-dom in annihilating gay people is to take away our history.  That’s why the Russians are now censoring books, and attempting to remove famous gays, like Tchaikovsky, from Russian history all together.

Fat chance.

Sadly, for the Russians, the world is a bit more interconnected today than it was during the heyday of Soviet propaganda.  Brezhnev and Stalin never had to deal with the Internet.  Putin does.  And as we’re quickly finding out, the old KGB hand isn’t quite as adept at lying online as his state apparatus was when Pravda ruled the day.


Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s not just merely gay, he’s really most sincerely gay.

The NYT reports that a prominent Russian screenwriter, Yuri Arabov, is making a movie about Tchaikovsky, with state funding, and he’s announced that he won’t be mentioning that Tchaikovsky was gay because, get this, “it is far from a fact that Tchaikovsky was a homosexual.”  Good try, Boris.  It’s generally acknowledged that Tchaikovsky was flamingly gay.

I did a lot of googling on this, and there’s a lot of source material proving Tchaikovsky was gay, including an autobiography by Tchaikovsky’s brother, Modest (who was also gay), and letters in which Tchaikovsky himself acknowledges that he was gay.

Interestingly, the Soviets used to play the same trick Putin’s Russia is now playing, trying to deny that Tchaikovsky was gay.

Sadly, the NYT reporter leaves the lie just sitting there, unrebutted.  Well, it’s time for some butt.

Let’s hear a little bit from a letter Tchaikovsky wrote to his brother:

I am now going through a very critical period of my life. I will go into more detail later, but for now I will simply tell you, I have decided to get married. It is unavoidable. I must do it, not just for myself but for you, Modeste, and all those I love. I think that for both of us our dispositions are the greatest and most insuperable obstacle to happiness, and we must fight our natures to the best of our ability. So far as I am concerned, I will do my utmost to get married this year, and if I lack the necessary courage, I will at any rate abandon my habits forever. Surely you realize how painful it is for me to know that people pity and forgive me when in truth I am not guilty of anything. How appalling to think that those who love me are sometimes ashamed of me. In short, I seek marriage or some sort of public involvement with a woman so as to shut the mouths of assorted contemptible creatures whose opinions mean nothing to me, but who are in a position to cause distress to those near to me.

Yeah, that’s not gay.

More from Wikipedia:

Tchaikovsky had clear same-sex tendencies; some of the composer’s closest relationships were with men.[92] He sought out the company of other same-sex attracted men in his circle for extended periods, “associating openly and establishing professional connections with them.” Relevant portions of his brother Modest’s autobiography, where he tells of the composer’s sexual orientation, have been published, as have letters previously suppressed by Soviet censors in which Tchaikovsky openly writes of it.

More debatable is how comfortable the composer felt with his sexual nature. There are currently two schools of thought. Musicologists such as David Brown have maintained that Tchaikovsky “felt tainted within himself, defiled by something from which he finally realized he could never escape.” Another group of scholars, which includes Alexander Poznansky and Roland John Wiley, have more recently suggested that the composer experienced “no unbearable guilt” over his sexual nature and “eventually came to see his sexual peculiarities as an insurmountable and even natural part of his personality … without experiencing any serious psychological damage.”

Both groups agree that Tchaikovsky remained aware of the negative consequences should knowledge of his orientation become public, especially of the ramifications for his family….

In any case, Tchaikovsky chose not to neglect social convention and stayed conservative by nature. His love life remained complicated. A combination of upbringing, timidity and deep commitment to relatives precluded his living openly with a male lover. A similar blend of personal inclination and period decorum kept him from having sexual relations with those in his social circle.[102] He regularly sought out anonymous encounters, many of which he reported to Modest; at times, these brought feelings of remorse. He also attempted to be discreet and adjust his tastes to the conventions of Russian society. Nevertheless, many of his colleagues, especially those closest to him, may have either known or guessed his true sexual nature. Tchaikovsky’s decision to enter into a heterosexual union and try to lead a double life was prompted by several factors—the possibility of exposure, the willingness to please his father, his own desire for a permanent home and his love of children and family. There is no reason however to suppose that these personal travails impacted negatively on the quality of his musical inspiration or capacity.

The Soviets were so good at lying, it’s almost pathetic what a bad job Putin is doing with this entire affair.

If I were a Russian, I’d be looking for another leader, because the current one is making that country a laughing-stock.  After all, I wouldn’t have even known that Tchaikovsky was gay (I honestly didn’t know), had the Russians not made such a big deal of it.

So thanks, Vlad.  And see you, and Pyotr, at the tea dance.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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68 Responses to “The Russians are now trying to “in” Tchaikovsky”

  1. Bill_Perdue says:

    As usual.

  2. olandp says:

    Oh well, I was wrong.

  3. Bill_Perdue says:

    I got the part about liberals and Democrats being for the people who gave us DOMA and DADT, mad dog warmongering, austerity and union busting quite awhile ago.

    Some never do.

  4. olandp says:

    What do you know, Bill Perdue may finally be getting it!

  5. olandp says:

    Check out Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man. Carmen updated with homo-eroticisim.

  6. olandp says:

    “Meantime, till the rehabilitation is complete, shouldn’t Tchaikovsky’s music be completely banned as gay propaganda that might “infect” the children?”

    That is what I was thinking. When Colorado passed its unconstitutional anti-gay promotion (really isn’t that the same as propaganda?) law, Pytor Ilyich would have been banned. I think the line from E. M.Forester’s Maurice was, “Sweet water form a foul well.”

  7. cole3244 says:

    so sorry your whiteness.

  8. caphillprof says:

    but not so generous of you to ignore the white blue collar and working class

  9. Webster says:

    No, one doesn’t do “justice” to a great composer (who also happened to be a great, warm, loving, and generous man) with a “mad, camp fantasia.” He deserves much better than that.

  10. jamesnimmo says:

    There’s also a concert hall named after Tchaikovsky as well as the quad-annual competition.

  11. Joehio says:

    You are so full of your own disinformation on Latin America. Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico now have marriage equality. Costa Rica and Ecuador have civil unions. Colombia has equal rights for gays written into their Constitution. Does the US have any of this? No, only about a dozen out of 50 states do.

    And, RWG, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen you throwing out some disparaging false crap about Latin America totally out of context, as in this article which has nothing to do with Latin America. Just admit that you’re ignorant and it’s probably your racism and stereotyping that is preventing you from educating yourself about Latin America.

    Oh, and if you think India or Latin America is the only place where gay men enter into cover marriages, you are seriously deluded. I can’t count how many married men I had sex with over the decades here in the good old U.S. of A.

  12. And I hate cats too.

  13. karmanot says:

    One word: Nuremberg.

  14. cole3244 says:

    thanks for acknowledging the accomplishments of minorities that’s very generous of you.

  15. I remember when I used to buy the Catholic comic “Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact” (some of which is available from 1946-63 on the internet). They produced a piece on Tchaikovsky and covered over any mention of sexuality. They were also good at concealing Ty Cobb’s racism. Perhaps we should razz Putin to try covering up like that, until the truth comes out.

  16. RWG says:

    “such as India”…and all of Latin America.

  17. Thom Allen says:

    The Russians will have a lot of work ahead of them. After all, there are lots of Russian gay artists, leaders, poets, politicians, scientists to “rehabilitate.” Of course, just cause they get rehabilitated doesn’t make them less gay. And people will still know that they were gay. Meantime, till the rehabilitation is complete, shouldn’t Tchaikovsky’s music be completely banned as gay propaganda that might “infect” the children? Here are a few other Russians that will need “inned.”

    Philip Vigel, Nicholai Przhevalsky, Konstantin Leontiev.
    Sergei Diaghilev, some members if the Imperial Court, many in the dance and art movements: Somov, Badalov, Tchelitchew.,Mogutin, Nijinsky, Peter the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Nuryev, Gogol, Diaghilev, Bakst, Erte and many others.

  18. caphillprof says:

    I won’t disagree with the need to acknowledge the accomplishments of American minorities, but many white folk built the railroads, working westbound in the north, not just Irish either, Germans as well. Many homesteaders in the plains arrived by “working on the railroad.”

  19. zorbear says:

    Unfortunately, heroine is illegal in this country…

    (Yes, as a matter of fact, I DID mean to spell it that way!)

  20. zorbear says:

    uh…I was just following orders?


  21. karmanot says:

    Most of the royal heads of the IOC would fit perfectly on a guillotine.

  22. Houndentenor says:

    They can’t do that. Just like the Nazis couldn’t ban Heine’s poetry (although much of it was published as “anonymous” during that era. Tchaikovsky is too central to the Russian repertoire. They can simply ignore that he was gay. He was married after all (briefly and disastrously, but they can always leave that part out).

  23. Wilberforce says:

    It reminds me of the way Hollywood has written us out of history for some fifty years. But the Russians have always tried to re-do history. They are still so seventeenth century. It’s pathetic.

  24. Bill_Perdue says:

    That must be what they mean by homoerotic.

  25. Ninong says:

    He served only 3-1/2 years of house arrest because the day after his conviction Nixon had him transferred from Leavenworth back to his quarters at Ft. Benning. Nixon gave him a limited pardon.

    Anyway, he served only 3-1/2 years and it was under house arrest at Ft. Benning, not in a prison.

    That was such a horrible event that it’s hard to remember it without shaking. I was working with a West Point graduate who refused to believe it had happened until after the pictures were plastered all over the media.

  26. That was pretty good. I am waiting for someone to put him up on a fake Grindr account.

  27. karmanot says:

    How about Lt. Calley, who personally murdered several dozen children, elders and woman at Mai Lai and participated in the slaughter of apx 500 innocent villagers. He served 7 years. How does that fit into your skewered sense of justice?

  28. karmanot says:

    Count me out of your group. Manning is a patriotic heroine!

  29. Bruce says:

    I am trying to be a little more optimistic about the state of the world( truly forcing the attitude on myself,, as hard as it is) Putin can not live forever, and maybe (and don’t miss maybe) the Russian people can find a better leader. I was in Russia and met quite a few people, they really wanted to part of the western world. many even wanted Russia to join the EU. Doesn’t look like that is going to happen anytime soon. I am hoping that the young citizens in Russia will help to move them away from the hateful nature of the people in power. But in the mean time we need to keep the pressure on.

  30. karmanot says:

    I am Irish, pro Irish and when it comes to the English, definitely part of the problem.

  31. karmanot says:

    One of the more interesting cases in the 19th cen. was one of the wealthy heiresses of the SInger fortune who was a lesbian and married a gay French prince. The were the focus of high society and patrons of the arts. The lived a long life together and were dear friends.

  32. Ninong says:

    I wouldn’t compare Albert Speer with Manning but Speer did the entire 20 years. Manning will only do 1/3 of that 35 year sentence and with credit for time served as well as extra credit for the way he was treated while in the custody of the USMC, he will be out in just under 8 years from now, when he will be only 33.

    Anyway, I don’t agree with what Manning did but I believe he was struggling with issues at the time. The Army was irresponsible for keeping him in the service after the brigade psychiatrist strongly recommended that he be discharged immediately. His first sergeant even disabled his weapon so that he wouldn’t hurt himself or others. Yet the Army kept him in as an intelligence analyst. It boggles the mind!

  33. karmanot says:

    Hilarious and very, very good!

  34. karmanot says:

    “That’s why the Russians are now censoring books, and attempting to
    remove famous gays, like Tchaikovsky, from Russian history all together.” Hmmmmm, that reminds me of something….Oh, why of course—the Texas schoolbook commission, which removed Thomas Jefferson from its history books.

  35. Vicky says:

    Indeed. And yes, I saw it a few years back when it came to NYC. I might get to see it again next year as it’s going back on tour (in the UK). My mum and I saw his version of Sleeping Beauty earlier this year too and enjoyed it very much (in fact we far preferred it over a more traditional version we had seen previously by a touring Russian company).

  36. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    We saw the touring company when it was in Minneapolis about five or six years ago. We were impressed, and ordered a DVD. An interesting fact, a part of Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” is seen at the end of “Billy Elliot.”

  37. mirror says:

    I’d drop an LOL here, but the possibility is just a little too real…

  38. mirror says:

    Really like the letter excerpt, particularly: “Surely you realize how painful it is for me to know that people pity and forgive me when in truth I am not guilty of anything.”

    There is some pride there. Bet these kind of statements are what bothers them most.

  39. Monoceros Forth says:

    I’ve come across a different story about Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saens performing a ballet together, Saint-Saens playing Galatea to Tchaikovsky’s Pygmalion: (third paragraph).

    And I could have sworn that some while ago I’d read that the two had danced with each other unknowingly at a masquerade but that sounds a bit urban-legendary.

  40. AnitaMann says:

    I suppose we should be grateful the Putin regime isn’t declaring the music degenerate art. Though that may be the next step.

  41. Vicky says:

    So we have to presume that he (Tchaikovsky, not Putin!) would have approved of this production then: (Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake with all male swans) (it’s really very good!)

  42. BeccaM says:

    Brilliant, John. And I love the humor and satire throughout.

    It’s fascinating to get a glimpse into the heart and mind of a man who knew he was gay, in a period when there was really not a public name for it, as well as near universal condemnation in society. Pyotr’s approach to his sexual orientation is not unlike that of gay men in other countries, such as India, where many of them know and accept they prefer the company of men, but out of a sense of family and social responsibility, force themselves to find some woman and marry anyway.

    Anyway, we do live in interesting times…

  43. Eric Leventhal says:

    A copy of Rimsky-Korsakov’s autobiography fell into my hands one day, and i opened it to a random page. What i read was (paraphrasing) “We heard that Chaikovsky got married, and we were all like ‘seriously? to a woman? what the hell is he thinking…?'”

    And then there’s the report (read in Opera News) of Petey and Camille Saint-Saens doing their own version of the Dance of the 7 Veils on the stage of the Paris Opera between rehearsals of Samson et Dalila.

  44. cole3244 says:

    true, i left out the irish which i am myself because the color of their skin has allowed them to assimilate into society and get their just desserts.
    also some irish because of their pro irish attitude are part of the problem and not part of the solution.
    ps – they used to say the irish were white on the outside and black on the inside, how that opinion has changed but our black & brown citizens can never have that advantage and their journey into fav status is a much longer and violent road.
    thanks for the input.

  45. jomicur says:

    THE MUSIC LOVERS is based on a (formerly) respected biography of Peter T. by Catherine Drinker Bowen. Subsequent scholarship has debunked a lot of what Bowen wrote, and some of it had been debunked by the time Ken Russell made the film. But I’ve never had the impression (I saw the film on its original release) that it’s trying to be a meticulously accurate biography. Rather, it strikes me as a mad, camp fantasia on Tchaikovsky’s life; the 1812 Overture sequence alone moves it into that category. When you think about it, a mad, camp fantasia is really the only form that could do him justice.

  46. Monoceros Forth says:

    Ugh. This would all be almost comical if it weren’t for all the misery that’s come out of this. What’s next, pretending that Pushkin’s black great-grandfather never existed?

  47. Indigo says:

    And the Irish (building the railroads). Don’t forget the Irish.

  48. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    They played fast and loose with his biography, but it was a typical movie biopic. They did every thing possible to attract viewers. The young, sexy Richard Chamberlain was enough to attract me.

  49. Jim Olson says:

    That is truly an elegant way to measure your own success. I have learned not to read A-Blog or Gay-Blog and drink anything at the same time.

  50. Webster says:

    Unfortunately “The Music Lovers” is rife with errors and disproved myths and legends that have attached themselves to Tchaikovsky’s life over the years…

  51. cole3244 says:

    putins group seems similar to the young nazi indoctrination and as is always the case its the non intellectual and ignorant that are the ones most likely to be fed this hateful nonsense.
    movements like this in any nation ours included need to be called out for what they are by people of conscience and all peace loving people no matter the political perspective, to remain silent is to condone such activities.

    as far as tchaikovsky being gay is concerned its similar to how the whites in america take credit for building america when it was the chinese and minority labor that built the railroads and did the heavy lifting creating americas infrastructure as much as the white ruling class.

    but just as gays get no credit for accomplishments so don’t the non whites that helped build america get their just due for their labor and sweat that was necessary for america to become the force it became because of them not in spite of them.

    generally all nations honor their heros of minority (non majority) status when the time to honor them is long past and is more likely done for political reasons and not the right reasons.

    history is repeating itself because mans bad side far outweighs the good side and as always hate is an easier emotion than love and that is a trait specific to our species and ours alone.

    again, imho!

  52. chrislib says:

    What if Arabov were to rewrite/remake “Lawrence of Arabia?”

  53. Webster says:

    I’ve studied the life and work of Tchaikovsky for over 30 years now. His being gay is well-known and documented by scholars–and obvious in his letters and diaries. You can’t “in” someone who is internationally out–and has been for years. His musical reputation has been tarnished by years of critical homophobia (he died shortly after the Oscar Wilde trial and that clouded his reception by musicologists for decades afterward). Anyone interested in reading about him, his life and music should read Roland John Wiley’s recent superb biography. (Also, check out any of the terrific books by Alexander Poznansky.)

    One letter, uncovered by Wiley, before this recent spate of virulent Russian homophobia, written to his gay brother Modest, says “Cursed buggermania forms an impassable gulf between me and most people. It imparts to my character an estrangement, fear of people, shyness, immoderate bashfulness, mistrust, in a word, a thousand traits from which I am getting ever more unsociable.”

    Tchaikovsky is out–and there’s nothing Putin or Russian re-writers of history can do about it.

  54. Hue-Man says:

    He sought out the company of other same-sex attracted men in his circle for extended periods, “associating openly and establishing professional connections with them.””

    This reminds me of the people who want to travel back in time but only to hobnob with Julius Caesar not live like the 99%. Modest wrote his biography, Pyotr’s letter were not destroyed but in the meantime, there were all these “other same-sex attracted men” who mysteriously were just there for him to seek out.

    The Music Lovers has been mentioned here. I still have random nightmares of Glenda Jackson’s body rolling on the floor of the train as it sways back and forth (and I don’t think I’ve seen it since it was released in the early 1970s). Here’s a link with an overhead shot; I would post the picture but it’s not PG.

  55. Indigo says:

    I’m not persuaded that Chelsea’s a hero but she’s a sweetheart anyhow. Poor thing.

  56. Indigo says:

    Tchaikovsky? He was queenier than Quentin Crisp!

  57. If you haven’t spewed your coffee once a day, I haven’t done my job.

  58. Odd that Speer only got 20 years. But that only suggests to me that Speer should have gotten more.

  59. nicho says:

    Well, maybe Chelsea should have just murdered a lot of people — say six million. She would have gotten off easier.

  60. Houndentenor says:

    There may be a new push, but this isn’t new. The Russians have never acknowledged Chaikovskii’s homosexuality. The published literature on the composer’s life and serious study of his work in English is embarrassingly inadequate (and often prudish and condescending). Russians will not allow access to his papers by anyone who might write that he was gay ( meaning, any serious scholar) and even the circumstances surrounding his death are still controversial. No other major composer is so underserved in musical scholarship and the only reason for that is homophobia. So yes, they want to “in” him. But they always did.

  61. Anonymous says:

    Putin’s Kiss trailer

    Scary documentary about Putin’s youth group, Nashi. Also shows how some of the skinheads are produced. These are the kids that beat up anti-Putin journalists in the middle of the night. And Putin supports this group?

  62. Chelsea Manning is not a hero to me. So I personally don’t buy the comparison. I know a lot of you respect what she did, and that’s fine. But a lot us don’t. I’m one of the latter.

  63. 2patricius2 says:

    And if the Russian authorities don’t get to it, maybe the heads of the IOC will get to it….

  64. nicho says:

    Rewriting history is not restricted to Russia. The corporatists in the US are quite good at it too.

    Just look at he massive effort — pretty successful, by the way — to paint Ronald RayGun as the savior of America.

    OT: Thought for the day. Albert Speer, architect of the Third Reich and convicted Nazi war criminal, was sentenced to only 20 years in prison — 15 years less than Bradley Manning.

  65. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    First things first, I loved the Grindr remark.

    John, you really need to see “The Music Lovers”. Richard Chamberlain played a very gay and a very sexy Tchaikovsky.

  66. I was surprised thy hadn’t gotten to it yet

  67. StraightGrandmother says:

    LOVE the accompanying pic, Ty with the Gay Pride flag. Nice Touch.

  68. goulo says:

    I wonder if there will start being edit wars at Wikipedia as anti-gay Russians start trying to eliminate mentions of famous Russians who were gay.

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