TCHAIKOVSKY by Anthony Holden


A Biography
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 A popular biography of Russia's most famous composer, with particular emphasis on Tchaikovsky's sexual orientation and the controversy surrounding his death. How can you actively dislike a book honest enough to refer the reader on page one to the current ``standard survey of Tchaikovsky's work . . . David Brown's monumental `critical and biographical study' ''? Nonetheless, anyone fortunate enough to have access to the four-volume Brown study or even Brown's slighter Tchaikovsky Remembered will not need this new effort. Biographer Holden (Laurence Olivier, 1988, etc.) weighs in on the side of those scholars who assess the composer's guilt over his homosexuality as the dominant theme of his emotional life. Convinced that his death at age 53 was the result not of cholera (the official explanation) but of suicide brought on by fear of official exposure as a sodomist, Holden even sides with those who believe that Tchaikovsky was condemned to self-destruction by the verdict of a ``court of honor'' made up of his old law school classmates. This may be, although the biographer admits that the evidence is not conclusive and that even if Tchaikovsky's conduct had become known to the tsar, the sort of punishment and ruin that befell Oscar Wilde cannot be automatically assumed. What, if anything, all this tabloid-worthy detail adds to a listener's appreciation of Tchaikovsky's ravishing music or the prodigious quantity of his artistic output is unclear. Despite the author's stated desire to connect the music to the composer's suffering, little of real intellectual nourishment is offered. A list of ``Recommended Recordings'' is so lacking in cogent annotation as to be virtually worthless. The basic facts are here and it's not badly written, but this is not the kind of artist's biography that fulfills its primary function: sending the reader back to the music with eager ears and new insight.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-42006-1
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1996


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