Cher Public

Queer canard

“That [Tchaikovsky] committed suicide cannot be doubted, but what precipitated this suicide has not been conclusively established…. Two days later the composer was mortally ill, almost certainly from arsenic poisoning. The story that he died of cholera from drinking unboiled water is pure fabrication.” (Debunked here.)

  • alejandro

    As long as people don’t start claiming he was straight as the Russian government is trying to do.

  • Camille
    • alejandro

      That movie made me ill.

      • Camille

        Me too.
        In fact, it took me years to regain my eyesight after having been blinded by Miss Glenda Jackson’s unspeakable nude scrawniness hurtling around on the night train with her trajectory aimed at poor, poor Piotr. The Horror.

        I shall try watching the R. Strauss film below. Thanks for that one. I wonder as well if Russell was pulling a prank with the J. Strauss ending or he just plain dien’t realise.

        The one I would really like to see is the Liszt-o-Mania! Isn’t Ringo the Pope, or some such lunacy!?!?!???

    • SF Guy

      You may find The Music Lovers uncomfortable to watch, but Russell’s earlier take on Richard Strauss (Christopher Gable, up for anything Russell throws at him) is far more provative:

      • SF Guy


        • rysanekfreak

          I don’t understand. During the final credits, we hear a song about Johann Strauss, not Richard Strauss.

          Is this some kind of inside joke that has gone over my head? Or did Ken Russell think Johann and Richard were the same person?

          • Sempre liberal

            Because of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I learned that Also Sprach Zarathustra and The Blue Danube were by Strauss. It was not until I was in college that I realized that these were 2 different composers.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    When is the new BBC TV series based on Alex Ross’s recent book going to be aired?

    • Henry Holland

      Is this what you were thinking of:

      It’s already aired in the UK, no idea of a US airing.

  • There is a very interesting book of Dominique Fernandez on the subject: “Tribunal d`honneur“. I had the pleasure of meeting the author during a presentation and chating with him, but unfortunately I lost the book, changing houses and countries aver since.

  • Tenorfach
    • alejandro

      She sounds and looks amazing. I love the incredible specificity she brings to the acting and how big and lush her voice sounds. Her Russian album is my favorite by her. I hope she adds more Russian and Slavic rep--I think Lisa should be sooner rather than later. And how about Rusalka?

    • LittleMasterMiles

      Yes by all means, let’s listn to some music and not talk about politics or human rights.

      I wonder if Anna will be this passionate when she gets arrested for her recent comments about not discriminating against gay people?

      • DonCarloFanatic

        Oh, lighten up.

      • Is anyone stopping you from talking about politics or human rights? Or is your point that Anna Netrebko must be forced to talk about politics and human rights against her will?

      • Feldmarschallin

        Well LittleMasterMiles this site is predominantly for opera and opera related topics. Now when at times we talk about other things that is fine but if you are looking for sites that mainly talk about politics may I suggest I am a member althought now non-active, and have found a lot of great information and people. They are basically pretty liberal but nothing wrong with that and they also talk about other things at times like gardening on Sunday mornings.

  • Ilka Saro

    There was a book that came out many years ago that presented this thesis: Tchaikovsky had worked hard on his business/political connections, and had eventually become a member of a very influential and exclusive men’s club. Words like “political” or “business” here are very tricky, but the truth of the matter is that Pyotr Ilyich was very astute about his own self-promotion, he was a Russian in Moscow at St Petersburg, and a composer’s — even a very good composer’s — personal connection to the elite were critical to getting big commissions and staying before the public eye.

    The book presented the notion that a conspiracy of hostile aristocrats were going to “expose” Tchaikovsky’s “immorality”, oust him from the club and effectively end his career in Russia. He saw his position as inescapable, and killed himself. There was some speculation that he might have been murdered.

    Pardon the unfortunate phrase “a conspiracy of hostile aristocrats”. I am embarassed to say I can recall neither the author nor the title of the book. It came out sometime in the 80s.

    Netrebko and Gergiev attach themselves to figures of power in order to have their careers. Those careers will built in Russia, admittedly not the Russia of the Romanov’s, but still a Russia where power is absolute and you do not advance yourself by opposing authoritarian will. Should Netrebko use her fame and influence to advocate against Putin’s laws?

    I am all for anti-homophobia campaigns. I was part of ACT UP and Queer Nation back in the 80s and 90s. We have before us a very gifted artist whose political connections are obnoxious to us, but we want to believe that her prominence and her influence are based entirely on her true artistic gifts. And we want to believe that because true art is never separate from the highest humanitarian goals, surely her artistic prominence is answerable to that humanity.

    The problem with this is that it assumes a kind of morality about the political positions of artists, that their artistry is all that is happening when we see them on the stage, or listen to them. But alas, we are also listening to the might and power of corrupt governments and financial powers, corrupt and predatory military powers. Tchaikovsky, Netrebko — ourselves — are not outside of these interlaced systems. Their genuine artistry doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The fact that they are famous is not merely because of the passions they stir in our hearts, but because of systems of power which directed our attention to their gifts.

    As activists, we are driven to advocate. I’m all for campaigns that challenge public figures, or expose hypocrisy. But if the target is Putin, we must remember the extent of his power. If the book I mentioned was correct, then Tchaikovsky’s suicide offers a horrifying example of how systems of power hold artists answerable. In some ways, a lot has changed here in the US and in Europe since those times. In some ways little has changed in Russia.

    I make no great conclusions. This is the advocacy conundrum as I see it. I think it is important to keep organizing and keep advocating, but to recognize that we don’t have a perfect target or a perfect critique of the system we are challenging. We want to single out homophobia. But homophobia is incidental to the Russian system, even to the American system. Our advocacy here in the US gives us an edge more for ourselves, and that is no small thing. But I question whether our advocacy here has much impact on Putin’s strategies.

    • Camille

      A very astute assessment of the situation, for which I thank you very much, Ilka Saro.

      As well, I seem to remember the book of which you are speaking but have no idea what its title might be. Perhaps someone will.

    • Camille

      Here is some due diligence I dug up which gives more on the information you cite re Tchaikovsky and his supposed suicide:'s_Suicide.pdf

      • Ilka Saro

        Although I got the data totally wrong, it may be the biography by Anthony Holden (from 1996). I admit that I don’t recall when I read it, just that I did.

        • Anthony Holden’s “biography” of Chaikovsky cannot any longer be considered a reliable source for the composer’s life. Alexander Poznansky’s biography, which debunks the “suicide” myth, is, for the time being, a much more solid English-language work. Poznansky’s other biographical works on Chaikovsky are also (still?) the only things in English worth reading about the composer’s life.

          For a short review demonstrating and debunking a lot of the absurd logic, groundless speculation and not-so-covert homophobia in Chaikovsky biographies, including those of David Brown (cited by La Cieca above) and Anthony Holden, see the sixth chapter of Richard Taruskin’s essay collection “On Russian Music”. Summary quote: “What Holden, Brown and the rest are looking for is the proper artistic genre in which to cast the life of music’s token gay: a tragic finale in which the hero perishes in consequence of his flaw, or a parable of redemption in which, by accepting the verdict of the honor court, the pervert shows himself upstanding in the end. Either way, the appeal of the suicide story is not that it happened, but that it ought to have happened.”

          • Scratch “any longer” written above. Was Holden’s biography ever taken seriously? Does he read Russian?

  • Tristan_und

    I try to avoid movies about creative artists or performers. Their work is really the important thing, whether he was an anti-Semite like Wagner or gay like Tchaikovsky or a confused bi-sexual like Bernstein. I’m disappointed in Gergiev but Putin is the one who signs his checks and could even have him arrested if he wanted to. Netrebko’s statement was lukewarm and meaningless and she does have other options (isn’t she an Austrian citizen now?), but she wouldn’t want her Russian career destroyed either. It looks to me as if Russia is trying to destroy itself already and anything we say or do will just be icing on the cake. Certainly, it’s a PR disaster and there goes any hope Russia had of joining the E.U.

  • Camille

    Speaking of fanciful fictitious composer’s lives, I saw a real humdinger in the past week—Copying Beethoven, which takes the proverbial cake for bullshit of invention. It happens. Amadeus, anyone?

    As Richard Roeper said, paraphrasing that is, ‘I may someday see a great movie about Beethoven but up until now, the best one has starred a Saint Bernard.’

    Um, yeah.