Brava Favourites | Tchaikovsky Files: Confessions of a Composer

By: HitskeThu, 11/02/2017
Features | Brava Favourites | Tchaikovsky Files: Confessions of a Composer

On November 17, 2017, at 21:00 CET, Stingray Brava will broadcast a new Brava Favorite: the ECHO award-winning documentary “Tchaikovsky Files: Confessions of a Composer” in which director Ralf Pleger discovers an entirely new side and sketches a very different profile of the man whose mind and talent brought us Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.  

Tchaikovsky, the first graduate of the composition class at the newly founded St. Peterburg Conservatory (in 1865), is regarded as Russia’s first professional musician. He was also the first Russian composer to be celebrated in Western Europe and the United States, which he regularly visited as a guest conductor. 

The documentary draws an emotional portrait of the personal struggles endured by Russia’s most celebrated composers. It mainly focuses on what it meant for Tchaikovsky, as a gay man, to live in a homophobic environment and how it affected his career. In 19th century Russia, homosexuality had to be kept secret for a person not to be rejected from society.

The composer felt like an outsider his whole life. His music and the art of composition expressed his agitation and frustrations about his sexual orientation.

Tchaikovsky Files - Confessions of a Composer is based on the composer’s letters and diaries. It features voice-overs in scenes where an actor portrays Tchaikovsky as if he was living in the 21st century. Musicologists and Tchaikovsky biographers, including famous organist Cameron Carpenter, shine their light on the subject. The fictitious scenes and interviews alternate with ballet scenes and music by the composer.

According to the letters of Modest Tchaikovsky, the composer’s brother and librettist, Tchaikovsky was a flamboyant figure who entertained himself and friends by imitating female singers and dancers, and addressing people with by feminized versions of their names.

Tchaikovsky’s biggest fear was that his popular image would be damaged if his sexual orientation was revealed to the public. He was aware that he played a key role as one of Russia’s cultural ambassadors and foremost composers. Therefore, Tchaikovsky decided to sacrifice a part of himself to safeguard his career.

A Russian Orthodox, Tchaikovsky married an older female student named Antonina Miliukova in 1877. This union was mainly a cover-up of his secret life to assuage the public’s doubts about his sexuality.

Tchaikovsky quickly regretted the decision, realizing that he had vastly underestimated the realities of married life and cohabitation with a woman. Although deeply aware that the mistake was of his own making, Tchaikovsky expressed hatred for his wife in his letters. According to the composer, Antonina talked too much, wasn’t particularly bright, and showed no interest in his music. The composer fled the house a few weeks after the wedding and would never live with Antonina again. However, a divorce was not granted until 1890.   

Tchaikovsky wrote a few of his best works in 1877, including the opera Jevgeni Onegin, the Rococo Variations, and his Fourth Symphony. Tchaikovsky poured all his emotions into music. After the failed relationship with Antonina, the composer finally accepted who he was and realized that he would not change. This realization sent him into a depression.

Towards the end of his life, Tchaikovsky lost many friends and family members including his friend and colleague Nikolai Rubinstein, his sister, and both his parents. These losses left him feeling very lonely.

Tchaikovsky died in 1893, only a few weeks after the premiere of his famous Sixth Symphony. Musicologists still speculate about the cause of his death. The documentary Tchaikovsky Files: Confessions of a Composer labels Tchaikovsky’s music not as classical Western music or Russian music, but as the music of humanity.

Intrigued by Confessions of a Composer?  Watch it on Stingray Brava on November 17, 2017. For more information about Stingray Brava and this production visit