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On the retrosexuality of the Rite of Spring

The question of whether Igor Stravinsky was straight, gay or bi- at the time he was composing the Rite of Spring has no obvious bearing on the content of the work. But it may nevertheless shed some light on the context in which it was created.

Robert Craft, the composer’s devoted companion, has written an extensive essay on the Rite in the Times Literary Supplement (not online), in which he returns to the supposition – advanced in his latest book – that Stravinsky was engaged in at least two relationships with men during the course of composing the Rite.

The more influential figure is Maurice Delage (below), a student of Ravel’s, who – Craft writes – became Stravinsky’s lover as well as the surrogate parent for his young children during the composer’s frequent absences… Delage was intimate in Stravinsky’s life, even sharing his home in Clarens…. his letters are embellished with ‘kisses and hugs’.



Nothing terribly shocking so far. But Craft continues:

When Delage refers to Stravinsky being ‘in the arms of that fiend Diaghilev’ the reader may understand it literally and wonder about those early years when Diaghilev treated Stravinsky as a minion on the way up. The Delage connection terminated with the Rite and Stravinsky’s resumption both of his family life in Switzerland and his hyperactive heterosexual philandering.

This paragraph, speculative to a degree, changes our view of history. If, as Craft suggests, Diaghilev had his fiendish way with Stravinsky, we may have to reconsider the genesis of the Rite as well as the entire tenor of that relationship, culminating in the composer’s determination to be buried beside his mentor in Venice. Are these intimacies relevant to the music? It is impossible to ignore them.



strav. grave #2

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  1. This may throw some light on IS’s later proclaimed dissatisfaction with Nijinsky’s choreography for the Rite, if indeed Nijinsky was also Diaghilev’s lover at the time too. Maybe there should be a green-eyed monster added to the staging!


  2. Alvarus says:

    So, at the time of the Rite, Stravinsky was 31, Delage 34, and Diaghilev 41. The phrase: “in the arms of that fiend Diaghilev” speaks volumes to what a jealous hothouse Clarens must have been. I want to know more.

  3. Delage taught the great MGM arranger & orchestrator Conrad Salinger at the Paris Conservatoire in the early 20s. Salinger himself was openly gay in Hollywood.

  4. Alvarus says:

    Offered as further evidence of passion between Stravinsky and Delage, Jann Pasler writes in “Confronting Stravinsky: Man, Musician & Modernist” (1986) “Stravinsky was on intimate terms with the most fervent devotee of Japonisme in the group, Maurice Delage. (p.278)

    And – “Surely, if Stravinsky was not familiar with Japanese prints and poetry before his association with the Apaches, his frequent stays in Delage’s ‘Little Hotel’ at 3 rue de Civry would have brought him into contact with Japonisme.(p.279)

    Also, Stephen Walsh, writing in: “Igor Stravinsky: A Creative Spring: Russian and France 1882-1934″
    “On the fourteenth (October, 1912), he (Stravinsky) wrote to Maurice Delage and uncharacteristically sentimental letter reminiscing about ‘that little pavilion which silently guards the memories of our compatible life of a year ago … that little pavilion with its rooms which I so wish to see again”. (p.186)

  5. Was Stravinsky himself determined to be buried beside Diaghilev? Walsh, I believe, presents that as Vera’s decision.

  6. I’m wondering if this passage about Diaghilev from Stravinsky’s autobiography offers any insight, though it might be more about Diaghilev’s personality than their relationship.

    “…he was incredibly jealous about his friends and collaborators, especially those he most esteemed. He simply would not recognize their right to work apart from him and his undertakings. He could not help it; he regarded their action as a breach of faith. He even found it difficult to tolerate my appearance at concerts, whether as conductor or pianist, though that obviously had nothing whatever to do with the theater. Now that he is dead, it all seems rather touching, and it has left no trace of bitterness; but when I tried during his lifetime to get him to share in my enjoyment of successes which I had made without his participation, and encountered only his obvious indifference, or even hostility, it hurt me; I was repelled, and I suffered acutely. It was a though a friend’s door had remained tightly shut after I had knocked at it.”

  7. Tamara Levitz says:

    Craft does not have evidence for this hypothesis. His knowledge of French is not such that he would necessarily be able to read these French letters correctly in terms of interpreting the cultural codes of male friendship and love at the time. His claims on Stravinsky’s sexuality are currently unsubstantiated, and I think readers should take them with a grain of salt.

  8. I certainly do take it with a pinch of salt.
    “In the arms of that fiend Diaghilev” only suggests Stravinsky being under his influence or employ and not necessarily sexual.
    Ms. Levitz is also correct on the cultural codes of friendship at that time for both men and women, often overly loving and sentimental to us and mistaken for expressions of a sexual relationship.

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