Doubts Greet Stravinsky Claims ; Confidant of Composer Asserts He Had Several Gay Sexual Relationships

By Woolfe, Zachary | International Herald Tribune, July 19, 2013 | Go to article overview

Doubts Greet Stravinsky Claims ; Confidant of Composer Asserts He Had Several Gay Sexual Relationships


Woolfe, Zachary, International Herald Tribune


A confidant and literary collaborator writes that the composer had sexual relationships with prominent men, but many experts are dubious.

Did Igor Stravinsky sleep with men? Does it matter? Those questions have been percolating through the worlds of music and dance since the publication of a quietly inflammatory essay by the writer and musician Robert Craft in the June 21 issue of The Times Literary Supplement.

Mr. Craft, 89, was Stravinsky's confidant and literary collaborator in his final decades and has for many years written his own accounts of the composer's life and work. His essay appeared on the heels of his latest book, "Stravinsky: Discoveries and Memories," which repeats its most provocative assertions, blending the artistic, historical and personal.

Mr. Craft contends first that Stravinsky's creative influence over the epochal 1913 ballet "The Rite of Spring," particularly its choreography, was far greater than has been assumed. And then there's the gay thing.

"It will come as a surprise to most people," Mr. Craft writes in the book, "that in the early Diaghilev period" -- the years following 1909, when Stravinsky began collaborating with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes -- "Stravinsky was exclusively in an ambisexual phase while writing 'Petrushka' and 'The Rite of Spring."'

A surprise to most people, indeed. While Stravinsky was loud and proud about his heterosexual affairs, and was immersed in gay artistic circles in Paris, there has never before been any talk about gay behavior of his own.

But Mr. Craft identifies several sexual relationships with prominent men. In addition to an extended liaison with the composer Maurice Delage, he said Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel were apparently "time-to-time lovers." Most tantalizing is an alleged affair between Stravinsky and Diaghilev, which would cast an entirely new light on their important and productive collaboration, and on their many quarrels.

Proof of Stravinsky's gay behavior would also lead scholars to re- evaluate the role of the gay audience for the Ballets Russes and the reasons for Stravinsky's intense antipathy to Vaslav Nijinsky, the choreographer of "The Rite of Spring" and Diaghilev's longtime lover. It would encourage new interpretations of the "Rite," whose plot of male elders watching a girl dance herself to death has generally been understood as entirely heterosexual.

If Stravinsky had sexual or romantic relationships with men, we would and should care. But did he? "The evidence he has is extremely poor," Tamara Levitz, a Stravinsky scholar at the University of California in Los Angeles, who has done research on the composer's relationship with early-20th-century gay Paris, said of Mr. Craft's assertions in a telephone interview.

What evidence Mr. Craft musters comes from new readings of letters published long ago in the three-volume collection -- edited by Mr. Craft -- of Stravinsky's correspondence. They reveal ... not much. Delage lived for a time with the Stravinskys, and one letter from Stravinsky says, "Delage is with me every day."

Delage sometimes closes his letters to Stravinsky with "kisses and hugs." One letter from Stravinsky to Delage expresses his "desire to come to your house to spend a few autumn days with you again." It is signed "Forever, your Igor." None of this strongly suggests sexual consummation. The tone and content intimate instead the kind of close yet platonic male friendships that Stravinsky had throughout his life, including with Mr. Craft.

Other bits of substantiation are even less plausible. In the book Mr. Craft says that Stravinsky sent a nude photograph of himself with an erection to Delage. ("I think he's making that up," Ms. Levitz told me. "I'll believe it when he reproduces it.")

In 1912 Delage was living with Stravinsky, his wife and his children in Switzerland when Diaghilev asked Stravinsky to come to Budapest for a performance of "The Firebird. …

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