At 89, conductor-composer Robert Craft is currently recording the complete works of Igor Stravinsky for the Naxos label, some based on definitive archival orchestrations from the composer. Craft has written several books on Stravinsky's life and work and he has even more to disclose, controversially it turns out, in Stravinsky: Discoveries and Memories.
A bombshell comes midway through the book in which he states "the exploration of this subject is long overdue," and then reveals that Stravinsky went through in the early Diaghilev years around 1910-13, what Craft terms an "ambisexual phase," and had a series of affairs with men, including French composer Maurice Ravel when they were both young men and "the most successful in concealing their sexuality," the author assesses. That his gay life coincided and even aesthetically fueled the composition of The Firebird and Le Sacre du Printemps." Boom, indeed.
Craft's professional relationship with Stravinsky goes back to 1948 and continued until the composer's death in 1971. The author even held power of attorney signage over some of Stravinsky assets and he continued to work with Igor's second wife Vera in organizing his musical legacy. They were so close that Vera informed Craft early on that he was so trusted that Stravinsky looked to him for musical advise.
Memories is an intimate, sometimes squirrelly look inside the gilded and heady world that Stravinsky orchestrated. The book is populated with the gallery of luminaries in his orbit from the world of art politics and society. Everyone from Sergei Diaghilev and George Balanchine to Greta Garbo and Charles Chaplin.
International stars aside, Craft's examination of Stravinsky musical contemporaries are often even more engaging. His contentious musical jockeying with the influential Arnold Schoenberg, for instance, brings condensed insight to the innovations of both composers. Intriguing ongoing dramas are revisited, like the thinly veiled rivalry between Stravinsky and Prokofiev (who was constantly being disparaged by Diaghilev), with Prokofiev eventually challenging the authenticity of Stravinsky's Russian roots. Snapshots of titans such as Giacomo Puccini who admits to Stravinsky that he musically quoted him in his opera Ill Tabarro.
The heady, chaotic world of classical music, dance, art and drama swirl throughout, then we get to "Amorous Augmentations" the curious title of the chapter on Stravinsky's sex life. In addition to Ravel, Craft alleges that Igor was involved with Belgium composer, Maurice Delage, and spent weeks "at Delage's gay agapeone near Paris, not alone but with the notoriously homosexual Prince Argutinsky whose letters are still in private hands." Letters presumably, Craft reports, a Russian gentleman commenting "are very compromising to Stravinsky biography."
According to Craft, Stravinsky was also smitten with St. Petersburg University classmate, Andrey Rimsky-Korsakov, son of the famous composer. Later, Igor not only professed his love, but to whom he dedicated his ballet The Firebird to Andrey, then a music critic. The dedicatee, it is revealed, rebuffed Stravinsky's advances, even attacking his music. Igor was not to be shamed, responding boorishly "I've been in love with you a long time, if you were a woman I don't guarantee what I wouldn't do to you," Craft reports.
Later, Stravinsky wrote to him "Neither your poisonous, thunderous, writings about my works nor your protest against my un-artistic behavior should change our warm... relationship." "Augmentations" concludes with Stravinsky's numerous affairs with women, including Coco Chanel, and confirms he canoodled heterosexually the rest of his life.
As scholarly as Craft has been through many books on music and this composer, these revelations by now, reads rather like retro page six of The Post, especially when he uses the terms like "nozzle" instead of penis, when describing a nude photo Igor sent to Delage. The evidence of Stravinsky's gayness, on balance, seems sketchy. The claims have since been challenged in an LA Times by other Stravinsky scholars. Until those alleged Argutinsky letters surface, Stravinsky has only been outed by Craft. Stay tuned for another 40 years.
Meanwhile, Discoveries and Memories coming out on the centenary of the riotous premiere of The Rite of Spring, is otherwise an engaging, chatty, haphazard memoir bringing even more personal dimension to the titanic composer. Craft can still do an earned, if conditional, lifelong victory lap.
Stravinsky: Discoveries and Memories
Hardcover, $34.98, photos
includes Craft conducted 2007 recording of The Rite of Spring by the Philharmonia Orchestra