The Music Lovers
Ken Russell made five of these musical sort-of “biographies” of composers: this one, and Mahler, Liszt, Delius, and Elgar. This is the only one I’ve seen. They are hard to find, and/or expensive to buy. He freely admitted that they often had little to do with the men’s actual lives, they were more “meditations” on their music, with themes added that appealed to Russell. With this one, with Richard Chamberlain as Tchaikovsky, deals mostly with what Russell thought the man’s life must have been like as a closeted homosexual in the late nineteenth century … even though all evidence seems to point to the fact that Pyotr Ilyich was not all that troubled by it. (It’s a swell irony now, I think, that Chamberlain was a semi-closeted gay man at the time!) Here, he is tortured by it, and with Russell’s usual flamboyance, we see visions of the things that haunt him, including the horrible death of his mother. He did make a marriage of convenience to a lower class woman named Nina, played wonderfully by Glenda Jackson, who gradually goes mad through being unable to satisfy the great man. (In reality, she was not put into the madhouse until after he was dead.)
Here, Nina’s mother pimps her out by pretending that her gentleman callers are guys like Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin. She eventually works her way through most of the Moscow Conservatory, on her back. He did have a very strange patroness who insisted on never seeing him. She did cut him off eventually, but by then he was making big money by writing popular shit (in Russell’s view, anyway) like the 1812 Overture. When that is performed here, we are treated to various aristocrats with their heads being blown off to each cannon shot! The chief pleasure here is the wonderful, glorious music, some of the best Romantic music ever written, in my opinion. With me, it’s usually a dead heat as to whether I think Tchaikovsky or Beethoven is the greatest classical composer, depending on who I’m listening to at the time. And I love the 1812 Overture! My high school band played it once on the football field, with Tommy Romero dropping cherry bombs into oil drums. What a night!