Music Lovers, The (1970) C+
“The Music Lovers,” Ken Russell’s excessively flamboyant biopic of the legendary musician Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, was a follow-up to “Women in Love, “ the biggest critical and commercial success of his career (as it turns out).
The title refers to the associates and parasites that surrounded the composer. Based on the 1937 book “Beloved Friend,” by Catherine Drinker Bowen and Barbara von Meck, the screenplay was written by Melvyn Bragg.
The Tchaikovsky biopic, to put it bluntly, is about a homosexual married to a nymphomaniac. That’s the impression you get from Russell’s unfair and biased treatment.
Russell goes all out with the music, which is a good thing, and with the debauchery, which is not, though by standards of his later pictures (“Lisztomania”), “The Music Lovers’s is tame.
The handsome Richard Chamberlain plays Tchaikovsky with intensity, conveying the passion and anxiety that dominated the composer’s art and life, to the point where his romantic and sexual attachments become irrational and senseless.
With no exception, all of the composer’s relationships are troubled, and even demented. First, he falls in love with Nina (Glenda Jackson), the hysterical trollop he marries with dire consequences. For sensationalistic reasons, and to exploit the star status of Glenda Jackson (who won an Oscar for “Women in Love”), the film focuses on the musician’s relationship with Nina (Glenda Jackson), though the marriage lasted only months.
As he explodes emotionally, his public performance of Piano Concerto in B flat minor becomes a cue for flashbacks to a series of discomforting childhood events that imply incestuous relations with his sister.
Back in real time, Tchaikovsky has to deal with Nina’s outbursts, while juggling his homosexual urges and his desire for Count Anton Chiluvsky (Christopher Gable).
The film also details the curious relationship between Tchaikovsky and his rich patroness, the middle-aged widow Madame Nadedja von Meck (Isabella Telezynska), who loves Tchaikovsky deeply, but refuses to meet him; their only communication is through letters, though he lives on her estate.
Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra perform Tchaikovsky’s striking music.
Tchaikovsky was guilt-ridden later in life, after taking to Russian Orthodoxy. He died at 53, apparently of cholera. In one scene, he is shown drinking unboiled water during the cholera epidemic.
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