Pyotr Ilyich

Written by Adin Dalton
Review by Steve Donoghue

The tempestuous and controversial life and career of great Russian composer Tchaikovsky is the subject of Dalton’s long and ambitious new novel, which follows Pyotr Ilyich for many years as one after another of his great works flow from his pen. The dramatization of these creative processes is one of the strongest threads running through the book, at times quite thrilling to read. Even more compelling is Dalton’s most potentially controversial choice, which is to take the reader into the long-censored and still-controversial homosexual life of the composer. Dalton liberally mixes extensive research into Tchaikovsky’s daily life with a sensitive equally well-researched understanding of the musicology of the composer and his peers in 19th-century St. Petersburg.

The confident sweep of the novel includes dozens of secondary characters, with the result being one of the best treatments of Tchaikovsky, fiction or nonfiction, ever written in English. The intelligently-handled theme of pre-20th-century homosexuality will come as a revelation to many readers. Enthusiastically recommended.