Tchaikovsky:: A Biography

Anthony Holden, Author Random House (NY) $35 (16p) ISBN 978-0-679-42006-4
There have been biographies galore of the great Russian composer, beginning with the massive but highly selective one by his brother Modest, published less than a decade after Pyotr Ilyich's mysterious death in 1893. Holden's effort does not attempt to duplicate others in detail or in musicological insight. It is, rather, the work of a skilled journalist, author most recently of The Tarnished Crown: Crisis in the House of Windsor.The biography is well proportioned, clearly and often colorfully written and depends, as far as is possible a century later, on personal observation of places and re-checking of previous sources. It delves more deeply than most studies into Tchaikovsky's homosexuality--its causes, manifestations and profound effect upon his life--and offers a carefully reasoned examination of his death, in which Holden comes down tentatively in the recently propounded ``Court of Honor'' camp: the theory that the composer was offered by his old schoolmates a choice among suicide (made to look like a foolish accident), permanent exile or exposure of his sexual activities. Holden convincingly shows that Tchaikovsky lived in abject terror of such exposure all his life and failed to divorce his pathetic wife only because he feared she would ``out'' him. The bizarre relationship with Nadezhda von Meck, the wealthy widow who supported Tchaikovsky for much of his life, though they never met, is also tellingly set forth. This is an ideal first biography for readers who want more of the man than of the music. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/29/1996
Release date: 02/01/1996
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 978-0-517-31769-3
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