The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Was composer Igor Stravinsky gay or bisexual, as a new book by Robert Craft claims? And if he was, how much does it matter? Did it affect his music? Were New York Times critic Zachary Woolfe and other writers even-handed and fair in exploring the “issue”? | July 28, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

With the rising social and political acceptance of marriage equality, or same-sex marriage, it is hard not to imagine that there will also be even more interest in gay history and whether great and important figures from the past will be “outed” as gay, lesbian and bisexual.

That is especially true of the pioneering 20th-century Russian modernist composer Igor Stravinsky (1881-1972, below top) -– 2013 is the centennial of his landmark ballet score “Rite of Spring” – who has been “outed” in the new book “Stravinsky: Discoveries and Memories” by 90-year-old Robert Craft (below bottom, on the right with Stravinsky on the left), who was the composer’s longtime friend and assistant.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

Robert Craft (right) with Igor Stravinsky

Specifically, Craft says, Stravinsky – who was married to women three times and was said to have been proud or even boastful of his heterosexuality  — had affairs with Andrey Rimsky-Korsakov (below top), the oldest son of Stravinsky’s teacher, the famous Russian composer and orchestrator  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov; with French composer Maurice Ravel (below middle, with Ravel on the left and Stravinsky on the right); and with Belgian composer Maurice Delage (below bottom).

andrey rimsky-korsakov

ravel and stravinsky

maurice delage

Perhaps the most comprehensive and careful or even conservative treatment of the questions raised by Craft and his book (below), which was published by the thriving Naxos Records, came in The New York Times through the treatment by reporter and critic Zachary Woolfe.

Robert Craft old w book NAXOS

Here is a link to that story by Zachary Woolfe (below):

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/18/arts/music/doubts-greet-claims-about-stravinskys-sexuality.html?_r=0

zachary woolfe ny times critic

Other writers and media outlets also covered the controversial story, which was bound to get attention, given the “virility” of Stravinsky’s most famous scores and the wide influence he had on modern music. Be sure to read the Comments sections, since you will there find many other points of view and debate from the “consumers.”

Here is a link to an excellent story on the radio website for the New York City radio station WQXR-FM. Be sure to read the many reader comments:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/blogs/wqxr-blog/2013/jun/25/was-stravinsky-bisexual-if-he-was-so-what/

Here is another fine story from the Los Angeles Times:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-stravinksy-craft-20130721,0,6906602.story

And here is how famed critic Norman Lebrecht (below) first treated the matter:

http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/06/was-stravinsky-ambisexual-while-writing-rite-of-spring.html

And then here is how Lebrecht later got pretty dour about Woolfe and the Times as well other critics  or questioners of Craft’s claims:

http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/07/the-new-york-times-gets-sniffy-about-stravinskys-retrosexuality.html

norman_lebrecht

One thing is for sure: Craft’s contentions and the validity of his proof as well as the effect of the claim will surely be analyzed and talked about a lot at the special Stravinsky festival in August at Bard College near New York City.

What do you think of the claim? True or false?

And if true, how much do you think it matters?

The Ear — who thinks almost all great art and great artists involve a real or symbolic transgression of sexual taboos — wants to hear.

So check out the sheer transgressive sensuality and even sexuality of the music and dance, with choreography by the famed PIna Bausch, and the dancers’ bodies in the YouTube video below:


1 Comment »

  1. The story as presented here is pretty unconvincing. I really do not care whether people are gay or straight; it is their character and talents and how they use them that is important. I have both gay and straight friends and believe I treat them the same. I say this because it irritates me when gay people try to claim famous personages as gay based more on their desire than on evidence, as the contrary would be: “Walker Evans wasn’t really gay, he was misrepresented . . . ” You get the picture. Having said that it seems to me to make little difference and that little might be a nuance on how we interpret the work.
    In the face of all we have known and believed about Stravinsky it will take more evidence than this to pursuade most unbiased people. The RITE OF SPRING is magnificent either way. Daryl Sherman

    Comment by Daryl Sherman — July 28, 2013 @ 9:44 pm


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