What or who killed the famous Russian composer Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky? Was it cholera, as his doctors recorded at his death in 1893 and most historians have since believed? Or was it self-administered poison, the enforced exit from a scandalous homosexual affair with a member of the Russian royal family? Versions of this latter account, which began as a swirl of rumors immediately after the composer's death, have had a long and curious afterlife, through the Czarist and Soviet periods into the heated sexual-political debates of our own time.
In an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery, Alexander Poznansky's Tchaikovsky's Last Days shifts carefully through a wealth of documentary evidence, including Russian archival material formerly inaccessible to scholars. His conclusion comes by way of a fascinating look at the sexual life of 19th-century Russia and a reflected glance at the sexual mythmaking impulses of the present.
From Library Journal
Intended primarily to refute several recent publications (e.g., Anthony Holden's Tchaikovsky: A Biography, LJ 3/1/96) that attribute Tchaikovsky's death to suicide in order to cover up an illicit homosexual liaison, this study concentrates on the last 20 days of the composer's life. To tell his version, Poznansky, librarian at Yale University Library's Slavic and East European Collection, presents numerous quotes from a variety of sources. His analyses, summaries, and conclusions are delivered with occasionally impassioned, sometimes pompous, often pedantic prose, while the documents provide a series of tiny, colorful snapshots of the artistic society in Russia during the late 19th century. Effective, if not overwhelming, the specialized text should be considered only by larger libraries that already possess Holden and other Tchaikovsky biographies.?Timothy J. McGee, Univ. of Toronto
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