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State-sponsored Russian film claims Tchaikovsky wasn’t gay

Yuri Arabov, a veteran Russian screenwriter, has just finished work on a biopic of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Journalists were eager to know how this state-sponsored film would handle the delicate subject of the composer’s sexual attachments at a time when Russian law prohibits the promotion of homosexuality. Arabov replied: ‘It is absolutely not the case that Tchaikovsky was homosexual… I am opposed to the discussion of such themes, particularly in the arts.’ Read the full blinding interview here (in Russian).

President Putin will be pleased.



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  1. It seems one more in the series of negationist positions in Russia. Anyone, creator, artist, attempting to make homosexuality a normal part of society is ostracised. We all know how neurotic Shostakovich became at the premiere of any work Stalin was to attend. He knew not only his career but his personal fate along with his family’s was at stake.
    With such premises a potential great story is flawed from the outset. Hopefully some free-thinker will make some justice and be faithful to history.

  2. Louis Blois says:

    Mr Arab’s article, no doubt a put-up job, was necessary in order to dispel the hypocrisy of Russian orchestras performing the work of a homosexual composer in light of Putin’s fear campaign against homosexuals. What we now need is a probe of what exactly Putin is afraid of.

  3. Pete Scott says:

    I live in Russia, am a musician/English teacher and have gay friends and relatives. That said, I do not believe homosexuality is right, nor do I believe they should be ostracized. Some clarity regarding the new Russian law, it is illegal to promote homosexuality at minors. Too many journalists are forgetting that part and broadening to include “general promotion of homosexuality and I believe that is wrong. People do not need to agree with the law, but they shouldn’t misrepresent the actual wording.

    • Gray Hunter says:

      “I do not believe homosexuality is right,”

      Right about what?

      What if I don’t believe being Russian is right?

      Look, here’s a clue…. No one has ever made anyone else gay. There is no way to make a child or teenager gay. They either already are or they are not. There’s no recruiting or coercing. All the laws and restrictions in the world will not make any less…or any more gay people. No amount of good or bad parenting or role modeling will make less or more gay people. Period. Homosexuality is merely a part of human sexuality and that is all there is to it. You may not want this to be true, but nature does not care what you want. It simply is what it is. Deal with that.

      • Dan Savage, a well-known gay advice columnist has raised a child with his male partner. This child has grown up with a gay couple as his parents and so recently he came out to them…
        …as straight. Yup, Dan’s son was raised by two dads, no mom but likes women… There goes that theory!

      • Pete Scott says:

        I understand your point. I was speaking from a Biblical moral standpoint. God does not condone this behavior just as he doesn’t condone adultery. Neither is worse than the other. Someone may be “naturally homosexual” but that doesn’t mean he must act on those desires just as someone doesn’t have to act on the desire of sleeping with someone other that your spouse. As I said, I have both friends and family members who are gay, and I accept them as they are. I am no better than they when it comes to my view on sin as it were. I strive to be better every day, as most people do.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          I’m sorry, but your comparison with adultery is wrong. Adultery involves at least three persons and a betrayal of at least one of them. Homosexuality is about consenting adults, essentially two (in fact as many of them as they wish, and if my readings didn’t lie, it can mean quite a lot of them….).

          • Gonout, in real life that happens rather less than some might like to think.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            Now, that’s one finely polished phrase… “some might like to think”! Bravo.

            I just hope everyone is happy, their numbers notwithstanding.

          • Pete Scott says:

            My point is regarding the act of sin (as I believe God has described), numbers have nothing to do with that, nor consent. I can get drunk, God has said that’s a sin. But I’m old enough and not hurting anyone. Regarding God’s position on homosexuality, see: Sodom and Gomorrah. Wait, nothing to see anymore. So sorry, I don’t believe my comparison is wrong at all. I do respect your opinion to differ with me.

          • Gonout Backson says:

            I’m sorry for this misunderstanding. I thought it was your comparison. Since you believe it was God’s, there is no place for discussion indeed. I’d rather believe that God created homosexuals, and watches over them – while watching them, one by one, as He does with all of us. At the Last Day, He will judge them for their individual behaviour and check (He has his ways) whether and how they loved. I strongly believe He won’t waste His time on checking the gender of the beloved.

        • @Pete Scott – “God does not condone this behavior just as he doesn’t condone adultery.”

          Hm. Might be better to say that the Church, or your religion, or your faith, or at least the God of your understanding, does not condone homosexuality or adultery.

          We are flawed human beings, all of us – including those who found, establish and govern religions and religious bodies. None of us can truly know God; it’s as beyond our capabilities as it’s beyond the capabilities of my cats to understand how my computer works (and why walking across its keyboard messes things up).

          Seems to me that to say categorically what God does or does not want or condone is hubristic. Some might even argue that doing so – thereby arrogating unto oneself God’s prerogative – is blasphemous.

          • Pete Scott says:

            Point well taken. However, in the Bible, God destroyed the Sodom and Gomorrah for their sinful acts, including homosexuality. In this case, I think I’m safe. However, I agree with your point about “speaking for God”.

      • You are going on a slippery slope with your argument. It could be argued that rape and murder are also part of human nature. That something is part of human nature does not make it acceptable behavior necessarily. There are other arguments, why being gay should not be treated as an offense, but “part of human nature” is not one.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          Same as before: the raped one and the murdered one didn’t sign for it.

        • Pete Scott says:

          I suspect this is directed at Grey, as I never said it was human nature, I only said that I could see his point and that argument could be taken.

      • Homosexuality is an abnormality that science has not yet figured out the causes. it is irksome to witness how the gay community is trying its utmost to convince all that it is normal. Leave it alone. Talent and creativity has nothing to do with the issue.

    • “Some clarity regarding the new Russian law, it is illegal to promote homosexuality at minors.”

      You are absolutely right. However, it is the interpretation and execution of this law in Russia itself which is frightening, to say the least. As you are living in Russia, I am sure you understand exactly what I mean.

      • What do you exactly mean?

      • Pete Scott says:

        Yes, the interpretation could be tricky.

        • the “promotion” of homosexuality is a misnomer.
          If you don’t have those instincts you’re not going to be persuaded otherwise. If you *do* have those instincts i’d say they’re worth exploring as it’s an expression of love.
          Sexual orientation isn’t the equivalent of a political viewpoint, or type of music.

  4. Thanks for the report, Norman. I just wanted to mention that there are a couple of distracting typos in your post that make it hard to read. Is it possible to fix ‘em?

  5. I’ll stick with Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers if I want to see a film about Tchaikovsky

  6. Ironically, Arabov has written several screenplays for Sokurov, various of which have a homoeroticism which, despite the director’s protestations (seeing such things in his films is Western ‘sickness’), is more than an undertone.

    As anyone who has spent any time with Russians will know, the West often misunderstands their physical relations. Hence, the glee in reporting Ryzhova’s and Gushchina’s ‘gay kiss’, forcing them to deny that it was either gay or politically motivated.

    There is a mixture of innocence, open-ness and prudery that is, to the West, almost impenetrable. Young Russians, for instance in the military, may walk arm-in-arm and kiss, but deny being gay. At the same time there are violently macho hazing rituals and Pussy Riot’s police-kissing was clearly designed to un-nerve the recipients. Meanwhile Putin’s riding around the countryside bare-chested is making him something of a gay icon, though that’s clearly not the intent.

    To try to judge all this by Western standards is to be doomed to fail.

    • PR Deltoid says:

      “Young Russians, for instance in the military, may walk arm-in-arm and kiss, but deny being gay” – this is also true in many other parts of the world, such as the Middle East and Indian subcontinent. Perhaps these places still have the notion of “romantic friendship” that used to exist in the West but died out sometime in the 19th or 20th century.

      “To try to judge all this by Western standards is to be doomed to fail” – indeed.

    • Gray Hunter says:

      So Russians are touchy-feelly. This does not make any more or less gay people in Russia.

      And it certainly is easy to recognize the Orthodox church’s neanderthal and oppressive hand in all this prejudice and fear mongering.

      • I’m not aware that I said anything about the percentage of the Russian population that’s gay: I don’t imagine it’s significantly different from that of any other country. Nor did I touch on the role of the Orthodox church: my post was not exhaustive and it wasn’t relevant to what I was saying.

        To abstract my post: I pointed out the irony that the screenwriter has penned a few works which have been very widely seen as homoerotic. I went on to comment on a Western view whereby physical contact is more commonly seen as having a sexual connotation.

        I’m sorry that my 200-odd words didn’t touch on the the topics you wish I had, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

        Looking into this some more, Arabov seems a bit confused himself. While he makes the ludicrous claim that “it is absolutely not a fact that Tchaikovsky was homosexual”, the interviewer did get that impression from the script. Arabov claims the composer’s feelings for Davydov were platonic which, in the context of what I said, might actually be his belief (even in the face of all the evidence!)

        However, he also implies that the composer’s sexuality was at least discussed: (“In the last version of the script there was no homosexuality. It’s absolutely not about that”), leaving the question open as to whether it was in the earlier ones. He hopes his intentions on that won’t be misunderstood (though if his scripts for Sokurov are anything to go by it looks like he’s in for a disappointment!)

        There’s then some drivel about discussions of homosexuality having no place in art. He also decries the fact that the Ministry of Culture is trying to become the Ministry for Education, implicitly questioning any propagandistic role that it may be attempting to take on, and comparing it to Soviet discussions of morality.

      • Pete Scott says:

        The Orthodox church (all Orthodox churches) is trying to stay true to their beliefs. However, I would agree that the Russian Orthodox church is starting to stray from the teachings of Christ in my opinion. I have been to many (I am Orthodox) and have become disappointed in the way the Russian Orthodox church is being run and operated.

        • All Christian churches stray from the teachings of Christ, not only the Orthodox kind. All big organized religions – except for Buddhism – are nothing but a plague and fatal disease for the progress of mankind, since they are abused for manipulating and ruling people, for spreading hatred, not for bringing peace and humanity to mankind.

  7. Robt. Switzer says:

    And Russians wonder why the Western medical community considers their science second rate.

  8. Tchaikovsky may not have been the only Gay Russian composer.
    Apart from the youthful dalliances of Stravinsky (hotly debated on this site)and Markevich it will come as a surprise that there’s some speculation about Mussorgsky:

    • PR Deltoid says:

      “Speculation” is the right word: “the handsome, young, and straight architect and painter Viktor Hartmann, with whom Mussorgsky was hopelessly and painfully smitten.” We know they were friends, but “hopelessly and painfully smitten”? Where did he get that from?

    • Wasn’t Mussorgsky generally too drunk to function with anybody of either gender?

      • there’s a lovely photo of Mussorgsky as a 17 year old cadet which reminds us that what he was like before drink problems impaired him.
        Also Borodin gives a telling account of the young composer:

        “His little uniform was spic and span, close-fitting, his feet turned outwards, his hair smoothed down and greased, his nails perfectly cut, his hands well groomed like a lord’s. His manners were elegant, aristocratic: his speech likewise, delivered through somewhat clenched teeth, interspersed with French phrases, rather precious. There was a touch—though very moderate—of foppishness. His politeness and good manners were exceptional.”

  9. “Arabov replied: It is absolutely not the case that Tchaikovsky was homosexual”
    That’s not a correct translation.

    Arabov said it is not a “fact” that Tchaikovsky was homosexual. Which is a true statement, since we don’t know for fact. It’s all speculation.

    I also find following excerpt from the interview interesting, since he draws an analogy to the Soviet era, where private issues of morals were forced into the public realm.
    “I am opposed to the discussion of homosexual themes, particularly in the arts. … I am completely indifferent to the subject. Let the people in the bedroom do anything they want, there is just no need to pull out their private life to the public, because such discussion is similar to the discussion of moral character in the Soviet era.”

    • Gonout Backson says:

      Speculation? Bob – speculation? Kotek – speculation? How satisfied, my lord? Would you, the supervisor, grossly gape on behold him topp’d?

    • “Arabov said it is not a “fact” that Tchaikovsky was homosexual. Which is a true statement, since we don’t know for fact. It’s all speculation.”

      At best you’re being overly cautious with regard to Tchaikovsky’s orientation. What kind of concrete evidence are you looking for?
      Short of a photographic record, letters would tend to bear out that he was gay.

      • I have no problem with Tchaikovsky being gay and do myself believe, that he was. But I also have no problem with this Russian chap, pointing out that it’s not a fact, since that is true.

    • Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality was recently questioned on the internet forum of the Tchaikovsky Research website, and his biographer Alexander Poznansky rebutted all arguments presented beyond reasonable doubt (see ).

      Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality can surely be an embarrassment to the self-image of the average homophobic Russian. “-One of our national icons, gay? Not at all.” Denial may work. Unless you look at the vast evidence. Here, certain seemingly Russian commenters did not even touch the question of Tchaikovsky’s sexuality being wrongly contested (is it too painful a topic?). Pointing out the specificities of Russian costumes, laws, etc. is just a diversion from the real issue: in Russia LGBTs are emphatically marginalized. And whoever is unable to see that that is wrong has a problem. But denial may work. Religion will help.

  10. Graciebeaux says:

    Having an exhibitionist misogynist for a President… who is promoting homosexuality again? Arabov is saving his ass, desperately lying and propagandizing so he can earn the money: the real money over there, apparently are not in movie theaters, but in being accepted as a propaganda movie. So he made a propaganda movie denying homosexuals exist. Let him, he has to earn a living, and doesn’t need our approval. He doesn’t have a conscience. End of the story. Russia is full of people like this. Think Mikhalkov. Think Stalin times.

    Homosexuality of Chaikovsky is suspected, never proven unless he is here in the room with us telling ‘yes, I had sex with men’. This is not going to happen. IT’s like proving that G’d exists. There is no proof to either side.

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