Today’s GLBT History Month Icon: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Today’s GLBT History Month icon is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840 – November 6, 1893). Tchaikovsky is one of the most popular composers in history, and is known for works such as “Swan Lake,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” and “The Nutcracker.”

From Equality Forum:

Tchaikovsky was born in Votinsk, Russia, a small industrial town. Pyotr’s father was a mine inspector. His mother, who was of French and Russian heritage, strongly influenced Pyotr’s education and cultural upbringing.

At age five, Tchaikovsky began piano lessons. His parents nurtured his musical talents, but had a different career path in mind for their son. In 1850, the family enrolled Pyotr at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, where he prepared for a job in civil service.

After working in government for a few years, Tchaikovsky pursued his passion at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. After graduation, he taught music theory at the Moscow Conservatory and worked on new compositions. Tchaikovsky created concertos, symphonies, ballets, chamber music, and concert and theatrical pieces. His passionate, emotional compositions represented a departure from traditional Russian music, and his work became popular with Western audiences.

Tchaikovsky’s outstanding works include the fantasy-overture “Romeo and Juliet,” “the 1812 Overture,” his three ballets, and the operas, “The Queen of Spades” and “Eugene Onegin.”

Despite his career success, Tchaikovsky’s personal life was filled with crises and bouts of depression. After receiving letters of admiration from a former student, Tchaikovsky married her. Historians speculate the marriage took place to dispel rumors that Tchaikovsky was gay. The marriage was a disaster and Tchaikovsky left his wife after nine days.

Tchaikovsky began an unconventional relationship with a wealthy widow, Nadezhda von Mek, who agreed to be his benefactor on one condition – they were never to meet face to face. The couple exchanged more than 1,000 letters, until von Mek abruptly ended their 13-year liaison.

The famed composer died suddenly at age 53. The cause of his death, believed by some to be suicide, remains a mystery.

Below, Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty”:


  • “Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Biography.” 9 June 2010.
  • “Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Ilyich.” 9 June 2010.

Videos of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky:



Sheri P.
Sheri P7 years ago

HUH! I don't think I'd ever heard about his 9-day marriage or the relationship with von Meck...interesting!

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman7 years ago

Wonderful and informative post on Tchaikovsky.

ewoud k.
ewoud k7 years ago

Ignored his personnel life and history, but like his works a lot.

Happens quite often: like their work, and later I discover that the man/woman was/is gay. Coincidence?

Sarah Solaban
Sarah Solaban7 years ago

Diana S.: When it was first performed, the 1812 Overture consisted of the orchestra, an adult choir, a children's choir, cannons aAND EVERY CHURCH BELL IN MOSCOW WITHIN A MILE OF EVERY DIRECTION FROM RED SQUARE! (Emphasis mine) The adult choir performed the vocal parts of the overture that were based on La Marseillaise (the french national anthme) and the children's choir sang "The Prayer of Russians" (national anthem of Imperialist Russia under the Czars) least inthe later parts of the pice. At the beggining, it is the adult choir which sings "The Prayer of Russians."

And that's my history lesson.

David P." I agree. I;m not thinking less of a favored composer just because he may have been gay.

Michele G.
Past Member 7 years ago

Wonderful, brilliant composer! I don't care what his orientation was :)

Diana S.
Diana S7 years ago

Thank you Steve! I thought I'd take this opportunity to add a few more musical geniuses to your list - Samuel Barber, Giancarlo Menotti, Leonard Bernstein, just to name three off the top of my head.

I LOOOVE the 1812 Overture - especially when it's done with real cannons! That and the fireworks in New York Harbor, that's my perfect 4th of July!

David P.
David P7 years ago

Marilyn L ~

When you learn to read, you will discover that there's much in history--not to mention Tchaikovsky's own diaries and letters to let us know--for certain--that he was gay.

David M.
Eva Daniher7 years ago

You know it's not that I'm surprised that he's included in this list, but that it simply doesn't matter to me what a person's private life is. Am I seriously going to think any less of his achievements based on his sexual preferences either way.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L7 years ago

There is nothing in history that tells us for sure he was gay. Why is he even in this group Steve?

Krasimira B.
Krasimira B7 years ago

The best of Tchaikovsky: "1812 Overture".