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Posted by on Jul 22, 2013 in Articles, new articles | 0 comments

Which 20th Century Composer was Posthumously Outed?

Which 20th Century Composer was Posthumously Outed?

by Zachary Woolde (via The New York Times) - Did 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” (Naxos), 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 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 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, Los Angeles, who has done research on his 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.” Delage wrote in a subsequent letter, “I hope you have regained your good humor in the arms of that horrible fiend Diaghilev.”

Mr. Craft writes in the book, “The reference to Diaghilev was apparently intended literally.” Well, maybe. Or maybe not. But it is inadequate on its own to confirm, or even imply, such a significant liaison.

While Mr. Craft states unequivocally that Ravel and Stravinsky were “time-to-time lovers,” he offers no supporting evidence whatsoever. Stravinsky seems never to have discussed any of these relationships, which somehow managed to remain completely private, with Mr. Craft.

“Nothing was secret about those people,” Joan Acocella, the dance critic of The New Yorker, said in a telephone interview. “The Ballets Russes and that circle was a furnace of gossip, and many, many people have published biographies and memoirs who were there at that time, after Diaghilev and Stravinsky were dead.”

She added, “Somehow I feel that if Stravinsky had had an out-and-out affair with Maurice Delage, I would have known it.”

All in all, as Ms. Levitz said, “I don’t buy it, I don’t buy it at all.”

I sought clarification from Mr. Craft. He has been ill, but his voice was calm and even when we spoke by telephone recently. He offered no additional evidence for the gay relationships.

“As they say, the facts are there in the letters,” he said. “The only facts are in the letters.”

I asked him another nagging question: why make these revelations now, so many decades after Stravinsky’s death in 1971?

“Why did I wait?” he said. “I’m not trying to make any kind of sensation out of it at all. The age has come. The world has changed so much.”

What has not changed is Mr. Craft’s tendency toward inaccuracy. In his book he quotes Delage’s letter describing Stravinsky “in the arms of that horrible fiend Diaghilev.” In the essay Diaghilev has become merely “that fiend.” Minor, yes, but when unprecedented claims are based on just a few words, those words had better be consistent.

Mr. Craft also makes mistakes when he discusses dance. It is not true, as he states in the essay, that “The Firebird” (1910) was “the first worldwide success” of the Ballets Russes; the “Polovtsian Dances” from “Prince Igor” and “Les Sylphides” were both tremendous hits in 1909.

He misrepresents aspects of Nijinsky’s dancing. He writes that “nothing came of” a Ballets Russes visit to the educator Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, but in fact Marie Rambert then left Dalcroze to become Nijinsky’s assistant in teaching the “Rite” to the dancers.

Mr. Craft implies, contrary to chronologies compiled by scholars, that two weeks before the Paris premiere of the “Rite,” Nijinsky’s choreography was still incomplete, making it necessary that Stravinsky step in with his own “choreographic libretto.” Mr. Craft’s attention to this libretto, which takes the form of annotations to a two-piano version of the score, is part of his effort over decades to amplify Stravinsky’s role in the creation of the “Rite,” often at Nijinsky’s expense.

Millicent Hodson, who spent years reconstructing the original “Rite,” told me, “What Craft is suggesting here is just crazy.”

Mr. Craft’s long relationship with Stravinsky gives him an aura of infallibility. As the dance historian David Vaughan said when I asked him about Mr. Craft’s accuracy, “One always thought that he was so close to Stravinsky that he would know what he was writing.”

But this is not the first time that scholars, even those respectful of and grateful to Mr. Craft, have questioned his precision. Stephen Walsh, the author of a magisterial, evenhanded biography of Stravinsky, describes in his introduction substantial problems of “factual or even textual accuracy” in the diaries, letters and other books published by Mr. Craft after Stravinsky’s death. Mr. Walsh concludes that those books are “textually and therefore materially unreliable to the point of being at times positively misleading in their presentation of the facts.”

Ms. Levitz echoed that in our conversation. “My attitude to Craft,” she said, “is that I want to respect him, but he gets a lot of historical facts wrong.”

Everyone agrees that Mr. Craft made invaluable contributions to Stravinsky’s life and work. Without his tireless support, a brilliant but ill man might not have written “Agon,” “Abraham and Isaac,” the “Requiem Canticles” or other late masterworks. But Mr. Craft’s latest revelations, couched in the language and style of scholarship, are distressingly reckless. “What is the purpose of a historian?” Ms. Hodson asked when we spoke. “Looking for the truth.”

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