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Film / Tchaikovsky

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Tchaikovsky is a 1970 film from the Soviet Union, directed by Igor Talankin.

It is a biopic of—well, no prizes for guessing. After Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) is seen briefly as a child, the film skips forward to the 1860s and the composition of his first symphony. He forms a friendship with pianist/composer Nikolai Rubinstein, who criticizes some aspects of Tchaikovsky's work but later becomes his foremost advocate. Tchaikovsky becomes the foremost composer of his day despite unending hostility from contemporary Russian music critics. He marries, but the marriage is a disaster and ends almost instantly. Far more significant is his 13-year relationship with his admirer and patron, rich widow Nadezhda von Meck, who financially supports him as he climbs to the top of the music business—but never meets him.



  • Ambiguously Gay: Tchaikovsky's sexuality, which in Real Life appears to have caused him quite a bit of angst, is only obliquely dealt with in this film made under Soviet censorship. He seems oddly reluctant to marry his wife, who may be loud and brash but who is also quite attractive and seems like a lot of fun. And there are hints of an attraction to Rubinstein, most notably the Pietà Plagiarism scene when Rubinstein is cradling Pyotr after the latter faints following a failed suicide attempt. On the other hand, he's apparently in love with a soprano singer, Desiree Artôt (in Real Life they were briefly engaged).
  • As You Know: Some dialogue from Rubinstein to Pyotr in their first scene establishes that Pyotr has composed two operas and ten love songs, and that none have made much of an impression.
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  • Bookends: After Tchaikovsky conducts his Sixth Symphony, and a title notes that he died nine days later, there's a repeat of the A Minor Kidroduction scenes of young Pyotr playing the family piano, running around the house, getting dumped at boarding school. Then a shot of adult Pyotr walking through a field, then the movie ends.
  • Eureka Moment: Pyotr is standing on a bridge, gazing despondently at a river after breaking up with Desiree. He sees the ripples of the water and the way the light glints off it, and gets the idea for Swan Lake.
  • Headbutt of Love: Pyotr and Desiree do this as they break up. Rubinstein basically strongarms him into ending the relationship in the belief that a great composer would be held back by being married to an opera singer.
  • It Will Never Catch On: In an early scene Rubinstein criticizes the diverging octaves in Tchaikovsky's first symphony, saying "No one will ever play this."
  • Match Cut: From the horses pulling Madame von Neck's carriage, to the stone horses that are decorative sculptures outside the opera house.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: Opens with a brief scene of a young Pyotr banging away on the family piano, before running around the family mansion howling in distress, clutching his head and shouting that there's too much music in there and it wants to get out.
  • Missed Him by That Much: In one scene Von Meck and her daughter pass by a road in a carriage, while Pyotr is no more than 20 yards away, facing the other direction, walking in the woods. Neither sees the other.
  • Mononymous Biopic Title: Tchaikovsky
  • Music Stories: Genius composer overcomes a lonely personal life and financial difficulties to become the greatest man in his profession.
  • Parental Abandonment: His parents dump him at a boarding school when he was 10.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Surprised? Tchaikovsky pieces are heard throughout the film. There are also lengthy scenes from performances, such as a long scene from The Queen of Spades.
  • Silence Is Golden: Pyotr's disturbed frame of mind after the marriage he instantly regrets is demonstrated when he pounds on a piano, and no sound is produced.
  • Slow Clap: Pyotr, who is not in the best of moods, does this after seeing the director bawling out the performers rehearsing his new opera.
  • Time Skip: 15 years or so between Pyotr getting dumped at boarding school and the next scene, when he's working full-time as a musician; his brief career in Russian civil service is omitted.
  • Voiceover Letter:
    • One from von Neck asking about Pyotr, after her declining fortune has made her unable to support him.
    • Then Pyotr's own as he writes it out, inviting her to see his new show. The weasel Pakhulsky, who wants Madame von Neck all to himself, intercepts Pyotr's letter and destroys it.

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