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New book reveals Tchaikovsky’s unseen letters about his gay lovers

Ella Braidwood June 3, 2018

Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893). (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A new volume has revealed a number of letters written by Tchaikovsky – published in English for the first time – detailing his sexual exploits with other men.

The letters of composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky contain never-seen-before passages revealing his same-sex desires, which had previously been deleted by Russian censors.

But, now, these sensitive extracts have been restored – providing an insight into Tchaikovsky’s homoerotic thoughts and feelings.

In one letter, which has never been published before in English or Russian, Tchaikovsky describes a young servant “with whom I am more in love than ever.”

He adds: “My God, what an angelic creature and how I long to be his slave, his plaything, his property!”

And, in another passage, the composer describes a “a torment of indecision.”

“My rendezvous had been arranged for this evening,” his letter reads. “A truly bitter-sweet dilemma! Finally I decided to go. I spent two absolutely wonderful hours in the most romantic circumstances; I was scared, I was thrilled, I was afraid of the slightest sound.

“Embraces, kisses, an out-of-the-way apartment… tender talk, what delight!”

Tchaikovsky

Marina Kostalevsky, co-editor of the new book, called The Tchaikovsky Papers: Unlocking the Family Archive, told the Guardian: “In our book, all texts are presented in their entirety and hence are not distorted by either prudish censorial cuts or selective cuts.”

She added that, although Tchaikovsky’s sexuality is accepted in the west, “it is still a subject of heated and often ugly public debate” in his home country of Russia.

In another passage, which was previously censored, Tchaikovsky discusses a gay friend, acknowledging how their homosexual desires were forbidden.

He writes: “Petashenka used to drop by with the criminal intention of observing the Cadet Corps, which is right opposite our windows, but I’ve been trying to discourage these compromising visits – and with some success.”

Solo-dancer of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet Artemij Beljakov as the Nutcracker Prince during the premiere of ‘The Nutcracker’ at AUDI Arena of Gyor in Hungary, December 2016. (ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images)

The new book is published in the UK and US by Yale University Press.

The letters have been taken from the archives of the Tchaikovsky State House-Museum in Klin, a town to the northwest of Moscow.

Tchaikovsky resided in Klin from 1892 until his death the year after, aged 53, when there was a cholera epidemic.

The composer wrote a number of world-famous ballets, including Swan LakeThe Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.

He is also known for his opera Eugene Onegin, four concertos and six symphonies.

In another extract published in the book, Tchaikovsky writes to his brother: “At nine o’clock I felt like going for a walk and went out. Some ruffiani [pimps], you know the kind, guessed what I was looking for, and wouldn’t leave me alone. The bait they were using to hook the prey (ie me) was a delightful young creature.

“I had to put up some fierce resistance because the bait was working. But I didn’t let it get the better of me. I don’t know whether they wanted to blackmail me, or just screw some money out of me, but I didn’t let myself get taken in.”

Tchaikovsky left behind more than 5,000 letters.

More: Europe, Russia, Russia, Tchaikovsky

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