Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky has denied that composer Peter Tchaikovsky was gay, discarding what has long been regarded as historical fact.
Medinsky said there was no evidence to suggest the 19th-century composer was anything other than a lonely man who failed to find a suitable woman to marry.
Medinsky was asked about the composer’s sexuality after news emerged that a film biopic of Tchaikovsky being made with Russian government funding would ignore the composer’s sexuality. The script was apparently revised to remove references that could have made it vulnerable under Russia’s controversial new “gay propaganda” laws.
The film’s screenwriter, Yuri Arabov, denied that Tchaikovsky was gay, and told the newspaper Izvestiya that the composer of Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty was “a person without a family who was stuck with the opinion that he supposedly loves men.”
“Arabov is actually right — there is no evidence that Tchaikovsky was a homosexual,” said Medinsky, when asked by the Interfax news agency if the climate of homophobia in Russia was forcing filmmakers to censor the issue.
However, historians say there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary.
“In the case of Tchaikovsky his homosexuality is so well documented by his own writings and the writings of others that it is simply ludicrous to suggest otherwise,” said the author Konstantin Rotikov, who has written a history of gay Saint Petersburg.
“It’s a historical fact. History doesn’t change just because we are trying to push a certain agenda today,” he said.
Russia’s parliament this summer passed a law that outlaws “gay propaganda” among minors. Essentially, it means any positive portrayal of homosexuality, or any claim that gay relations and straight relations are equally valid, is illegal.
Medinsky said the film should be about Tchaikovsky’s life as a “genius” and “a great Russian composer” and not focus on “rumors” about his private life.
Others say the evidence amounts to far more than rumors.
“Suggesting he was not gay is similar to suggesting he wasn’t a good composer,” Rotikov said.
“You could try, I suppose, but it would be quite hard to get people to believe you,” he added.