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Craft pushes Stravinsky out of the closet

Features - Classical Music

Craft pushes Stravinsky out of the closet

by Hallam Fulcher on June 21, 2013 (June 21, 2013) filed under Classical Music | Comment Now
Russian composer is 'outed' as bisexual by his former assistant.

Igor Stravinsky was a man who had more than his share of extra-marital affairs, but a new book by Robert Craft – Stravinsky Discoveries and Memories – questions whether all of them were with women.

Craft, who was Stravinsky's assistant for almost three decades up until his death in 1971, describes the composer as going through an "ambisexual phase" during the period he wrote three of his greatest works: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).

In his book, Craft suggests Stravinsky was interested in several men during this "phase", including fellow student at the University of St Petersburg, Andrei Rimsky-Korsakov – son of the famous composer. Craft writes that Stravinsky said "he was in love with Andrei" while the pair lived together in a forest retreat 70 miles south-east of St Petersburg in 1910. But after Stravinsky dedicated The Firebird to him, the composer was "bitterly disappointed" by his friend's absence at the work’s premiere later that year in Paris.

After being jilted by Rimsky-Korsakov, Craft believes Stravinsky developed a romantic attachment to the French composer Maurice Delage. In the Spring of 1911 he spent a three-week holiday at Delage’s home near Paris accompanied by "the notoriously homosexual Prince Argutinsky".  This holiday was shortly followed by Stravinsky sending Delage a nude photograph of himself.

These bisexual revelations also place Stravinsky’s relationship with the openly gay ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev into question. Responsible for commissioning and staging many of Stravinsky’s most well-known works, Diaghilev was someone with whom the composer had a close relationship throughout his early career. Whether Stravinsky and Diaghilev shared anything but friendship is not commented on by Craft, but now seems up for speculation.

The online response to Craft’s claims has been largely judicious. While Stravinsky’s alleged homosexual forays bear no relevance to the genius of his music, they may have had far-reaching effects upon his composition. Certainly, works like The Firebird could now be enjoyed quite differently – perhaps as a tribute to Stravinsky’s lost love.