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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky 1840to –1893

Renowned Russian composer, known for the 1812 Overture, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and many other symphonies, concertos, operas, and ballets. When he first began showing a musical aptitude at a young age, there was little opportunity in Russia to make a living as a musician, and so he studied to become a civil servant. Luckily, the chance to formally pursue music came in 1862, with the founding of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. At the start of his career, Tchaikovsky was criticized for incorporating too many Western principles into his music, but later came to be regarded as an essential cultural bridge between Russia and Europe, and one of Russia’s greatest composers. There is debate over the influence his homosexuality might have had on his music, but it certainly had an impact on his personal life. He socialized openly with other gay men, and had a number of same-sex affairs, which he detailed in letters to his (also gay) brother Modest. Yet he strived to keep his sexuality hidden, at one point entering into a disastrous and short-lived marriage. He remained a confirmed bachelor after that, eventually dedicating his final work—his Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique—to the nephew with whom he had fallen in love.

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