The Music Lovers


2h 2m 1971

Brief Synopsis

Unconventional account of composer Tchaikovsky's life and loves.

Film Details

Also Known As
Ken Russell's Film on Tchaikovsky and The Music Lovers, Tchaikovsky, The Lonely Heart
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Musical
Biography
Release Date
Jan 1971
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 25 Jan 1971; Los Angeles opening: 24 Feb 1971
Production Company
Russfilms, Ltd.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Windsor, England, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the book Beloved Friend by Catherine Drinker Bowen and Barbara von Meck (Moscow, 1934).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 2m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In 1875, Moscow Conservatory music teacher Peter Tchaikovsky frolics at a snow festival in Moscow, and then passes out in bed with his lover, foppish Count Anton Chiluvsky. The next day, Peter's brother Modeste warns him to protect his reputation or the music he composes will never get played. Although colleagues gossip about Peter's relationship with his copyist Alexei and other male admirers, he retains the loyalty of Rubenstein, the head of the school. During a preview in which he performs his new piano concerto at the conservatory, Peter captivates his audience with his artistry and musical ideas. Among the listeners are the enraptured student Nina Milyukova and the wealthy and reclusive, middle-aged widow Madame von Meck, neither of whom he has met; and his unusually close sister, Sasha Davidova. As Peter plays, he envisions an idyllic summertime with family and friends. Nina daydreams that a barouche ferries her and an army officer to their wedding. Sasha feels transported to a woods where she and Peter dance and kiss, until his attention is diverted by Anton, who, in the auditorium, meets Peter's eye as the piece closes. Afterward, at the lively Rubenstein mansion where he resides, Peter inadvertently walks in on a woman singing in her bath. The sight of her recalls painful memories of how his mother died from the "hot bath cure" prescribed by her physicians for treating cholera. Reliving the trauma, he screams, frightening the woman and causing a scene, and later is consoled by Sasha. Meanwhile, through Rubenstein, von Meck offers to provide Peter with an income and house, but stipulates that she does not wish to meet him in person. After Peter writes von Meck a beautiful letter of thanks, they commence an exchange of letters, sharing their ideas about music. While never meeting, their relationship becomes emotionally satisfying for both of them and when Peter sends her copies of the music he has written, von Meck claims it is "real love." Meanwhile, Nina writes love letters to Peter, in which she admires his music, and secretly describes fantasies in which he asaves her from her abusive lover. Her letters resonate with Peter, who is working on his opera Eugene Onegin , in which a woman writes a letter to the hero. Claiming he wants to avoid the fate of the hero, who rejects the woman's love, Peter begins a hasty courtship and soon marries Nina against the advice of everyone close to him. Warning that not all women are satisfied with spiritual relationships, Anton begs Peter to accept what he is. Upon hearing the news, Sasha cries, and von Meck, also upset, predicts that Nina will ruin Peter. On their honeymoon in St. Petersburg, Peter is unable to make love to Nina, who agrees to be patient with him. Grateful, Peter tells her cryptically that there are things in his past she may not understand, but that he believes he can live a "normal, good life." At an outdoor performance of Peter's ballet Swan Lake , Anton joins the couple, despite Peter's disapproval, and nudges Nina, who is ignorant of their past, into revealing her naïveté about Peter's life and music. After the performance, Peter dissuades Anton from remaining with them, but soon he and Nina are bored of walking and shopping, and begin to quarrel. When he suggests that they return to Moscow, she anticipates a romantic train ride in a private cabin, but instead, they get drunk and, to his horror, she tries aggressively to seduce him. At home, her constant presence annoys him and he confides in a letter to von Meck that "the only good part of him has perished forever." When Nina's conniving mother arrives unannounced, Nina tries to send her away, but Peter invites her to stay and offers to sleep on the couch, allowing the women to share the one bedroom. To von Meck, he claims that his marriage is a "dreary, unbearable comedy," but he cannot find fault with Nina, who loves him and yet is repulsive to him. Confused by Peter's rejection, Nina fights her growing panic over losing her husband. Anton tries to ingratiate himself with them by taking Nina's mother to the opera, leaving Nina alone with Peter. Toasting their "sad, pathetic marriage," Peter asks forgiveness for marrying her, saying that she wanted a husband and he wanted marriage without a wife. Claiming that he cannot change and that everyone warned him against marrying her, Peter reminds Nina that Rubenstein tried to bribe her into quitting the marriage. Disturbed, she scratches at the floor with her hands as she talks and then, in desperation, tries to tear off their clothes and kiss Peter. In their struggle, she scratches Peter, who runs from the house to the cold river, where he attempts to drown himself, but refrains when a woman dressed in white walks by. When he returns home, he tries to choke Nina, but Alexei intervenes. Later, Rubenstein tells von Meck that a doctor ordered Peter to spend time away from Nina. Von Meck, increasingly infatuated with Peter, offers to let him live in a lodge on one of her country estates. When Peter moves to the lodge, Modeste and Alexei accompany him, although Alexei is ashamed of Peter's treatment of Nina. Von Meck moves into the country manor on the estate but remains connected to Peter only through their letters, which become more passionate and, for von Meck, erotic. Wanting to share more with Peter, yet maintain privacy, von Meck writes him to visit her house while she is away. Peter sits in her rooms, smokes and eats fresh fruit, and when she returns after he is gone, she eats from his leftover fruit and imagines she is lying chastely on a daybed beside him. Still not comprehending Peter's sexual orientation and burdened by her mother's presence, Nina believes she can get her husband to return by making him jealous. Taking advantage of Nina's mental fragility, her mother procures men who pay to have sex with her daughter, introducing them as famous composers. Nina's sanity collapses into nymphomania and she becomes pregnant. For Peter's birthday, von Meck throws an elaborate party in his honor in the gardens of the estate, and watches from a distance. Anton attends and tries to resume his relationship with Peter, but, deceiving himself, Peter claims he is "a respectable married man." Spurned by Peter, Anton has a private audience with von Meck. As Peter cavorts with young boys on the grounds below, von Meck becomes infuriated at the information Anton shares with her. When Nina's child dies at birth, Nina's mother sends for Sasha and, hoping to extract money from her, tells Sasha that her daughter needs special care. After seeing Nina, Sasha urges Peter not to abandon his wife and Peter claims he is helping financially as much as he can, but that he can never return to her. Upon arriving at the lodge with his companions after visiting Sasha, Peter finds the grounds around the building on fire and discovers a letter from von Meck attached to the door, which is chained shut. In the letter Peter is told that his allowance has been stopped and the estate put up for sale. At Modeste's suggestion, Peter begins conducting to earn a living. Modeste and Alexei remain with him, but Sasha refuses to see him. In his loneliness, Peter tells himself that he really loved Nina. Although Nina's mother claims that her daughter is well cared for, she spends Nina's money on herself and places Nina in an asylum. There, Nina pretends that the inmates are her many lovers and that Peter loved her. However, even in dementia she realizes the truth and screams out, "He hated me!" thrashing about until the attendants restrain her. Later, a cholera epidemic reminds Peter of his mother's death and Modeste suggests that the new symphony Peter has finished is so sad that it should be called "pathetic." As he and Modeste dine, Peter intentionally drinks water contaminated with cholera and becomes ill. In his consequent delirium, Peter cries that he tried to love Nina, but at last claims, "I cared for nobody." As a last resort, his doctor prescribes the hot water treatment that killed Peter's mother. After Peter dies from the treatment, Nina remains in the sanitarium, imprisoned by her madness.

Film Details

Also Known As
Ken Russell's Film on Tchaikovsky and The Music Lovers, Tchaikovsky, The Lonely Heart
MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Musical
Biography
Release Date
Jan 1971
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 25 Jan 1971; Los Angeles opening: 24 Feb 1971
Production Company
Russfilms, Ltd.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Windsor, England, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the book Beloved Friend by Catherine Drinker Bowen and Barbara von Meck (Moscow, 1934).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 2m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Working titles of the film were Tchaikovsky and The Lonely Heart. The title card reads: "Ken Russell's Film on Tchaikovsky and The Music Lovers." The explanation was necessary to differentiate the picture from a Russian-made film, titled Tchaikovsky, being produced around the same time. The names of the property buyer and assistant cameraman for the film were not discernable in the viewed print.
       During the conservatory scene of The Music Lovers in which "Tchaikovsky" performs his newly composed piano concerto, the camera intercuts shots of Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain) at the piano and other important characters in the film who are seated in the audience with slow-motion sequences that are either idealized flashback memories or daydreams of each character. A camera obscura is featured during a sequence set during the honeymoon of Nina and Tchaikovsky.
       As described in the Hollywood Reporter review, a sequence featuring Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture was staged as "a series of outrageously stylized scenes...[in which] cannons are set off, blowing off head after head" of the people in the composer's life. Much of the film is without dialogue and presented in flashbacks, nightmares and fantasy sequences set to Tchaikovsky's music. As noted in several reviews, among the many disturbing sequences is one set in an asylum, in which "Nina" (Glenda Jackson) sits spread-eagled over a grating while the hands of men locked below reach through and grope her.
       As noted in Films and Filming, the screenplay remained faithful to many of the known details in composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's life (1840-1893), although many events were condensed, and obscure points of history were conjectured. As depicted in the film, the pianist-composer Nicholas Rubenstein, who was the director of the Moscow Conservatory, was a mentor, supporter and critic of Tchaikovsky, who did not always agree with the younger musician on musical matters, but helped to get his music performed. Wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck, whom Tchaikovsky never met in person, provided him with an annuity for the last fourteen years of his life. The 1,200 letters they exchanged between 1877 and 1890, in which Tchaikovsky discussed his work, were the basis of Beloved Friend, the book that was the inspiration for The Music Lovers. Beloved Friend was written by Catherine Drinker Bowen and Barbara von Meck, the wife of Nadezhda's grandson. Modern sources speculate that von Meck May have discontinued her support after discovering Tchaikovsky's sexual orientation, as the film suggests, but May also have been due to her dashed hope to marry him to one of her daughters.
       As depicted in the film, Antonina "Nina" Milyukova gained Tchaikovsky's attention by writing him passionate letters admiring his music. He married her hastily and not for love. Various sources report that the marriage was an attempt to subdue his homosexuality (as the film suggests), but also to please his father or gain money, which Nina was due to inherit. As related in the film, the marriage was an immediate disaster, causing Tchaikovsky a near nervous collapse. He found himself unable to compose and, as shown in the film, half-heartedly attempted suicide. Although the couple separated after a few weeks and never saw each other again, they remained married. Milyukova died in an insane asylum, but unlike what is presented in the film, she was not committed until a few years after Tchaikovsky's death. Cholera was stated as the official cause of Tchaikovsky's death, although some historians claim he was ordered to poison himself with contaminated water in order to avoid scandal concerning his homosexuality.
       Glenda Jackson also appeared in a minor role in Ken Russell's 1971 production, The Boy Friend. Chris Gable, who portrayed "Count Anton Chiluvsky," was a member of the Royal Ballet. Russell's wife Shirley served as costume director for The Music Lover and four of their five children appear in the film.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1971

Released in United States on Video September 25, 1991

Re-released in Paris December 19, 1990.

Released in United States 1971

Released in United States on Video September 25, 1991