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Was Stravinsky ‘ambisexual’ while writing Rite of Spring?

The claim is made in Robert Craft’s latest set of shavings from the workbench, titled ”Stravinsky Discoveries and Memories” and published by Naxos Books. It contains allusions that Craft has made on previous occasion but not, apparently, published in print.

In Chapter 12, “Amorous Augmentations”, he writes:

It will come as a surprise to most people that in the early Diaghilev period Stravinsky was exclusively in an ambisexual phase while writing Petrushka and the Rite of Spring…. The success of The Firebird was not without a bitter disappointment: the absence of its dedicatee, Stravinsky’s closest friend, Andrey Rimsky-Korsakov, elder son of the composer. In Stravinsky’s own words, he was in love with Andrey, a University of St. Petersburg classmate and music critic…

The principal figure in Stravinsky’s life throughout the period of The Rite of Spring was (Maurice) Delage… both men had been closely involved during and following Petrushka. In the spring of 1911 Stravinsky had spent a three-week vacation at Delage’s gay agapemone near Paris, not alone but with the notoriously homosexual Prince Argutinsky whose letters are still in private hands. A Russian gentleman who has read this correspondance told me a few months after Stravinsky’s death that Argutinsky’s letters are ‘very compromising to Stravinsky biography’. In the late summer of 1911 Stravinsky sent to Delage from Ustilug a photograph of himself in the nude with a prominent upwardly mobile nozzle.

(Obviously not the picture below, which has appeared in official Stravinsky memorabilia).

stravinsky nude


Should we be surprised? Does it change anything?


UPDATE: The debate continues here.

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  1. *shrugs shoulders*
    So what?

  2. Diego Theumann says:

    Are these comments relevant to an artist’s work? Don’t we have more important things to discuss about in the field of arts? I do not care about who goes to bed with whom as long it’s based on freee will and does not affect children !

    • David Teitelbaum says:

      While you’re 100% right about the fact that none of this should–or really could–have any impact on the music he wrote, this question stirs other issues. The music historian–the musicologist–has a lot of new territory to cover in exploring and discovering the life of this musical giant.. And what of it? Nothing, perhaps. But it’s an important find. It puts things into different perspective for us, who love Stravinsky enough to study his life.

    • Alvarus says:

      These comments and observations ARE relevant to an artists work in that they provide needed context. As an example, I doubt Billy Budd would have been the masterpiece it is had not Britten and Forster loved men.

    • itrinkkeinwein says:

      It’s nice of you not to care, Diego, but most people PRESUME Stravinsky to be straight. Telling the story forces them to think more broadly.

    • Daniel H. Spina - Argentina says:

      Yes, you are in the wright path. Nothing change

    • Diego Theumann says:
      “Are these comments relevant to an artist’s work? Don’t we have more important things to discuss about in the field of arts? I do not care about who goes to bed with whom as long it’s based on free will and does not affect children !

      Why do I get the feeling that Diego would not have been moved to make his vehement comment if this post had been about some woman who had an affair with the young Stravinsky?

      Why is it that when some great male artist is reported to have had an affair with a female, the news is treated as, at worst, trivial gossip – but when that affair was with a man, the news is rejected as “who goes to be with with whom” or “what people do in bed” and as “utterly irrelevant”? (What’s more, the person rejecting the report usually does so far more vehemently than people generally dismiss information deemed irrelevant.)

      Why? Well, we know why – but it’s an attitude we as a society are mostly trying to grow out of.

    • It’s great that you don’t care, but come countries most definitely do, not least Stravinsky’s homeland which takes a very dim view of same-sex relationships. If this tiny biographical detail slightly blunts some of those views, all the better!

  3. Well what it changes is that I did not, hitherto, know the word “agapemone” – a “free love institution” according to Google.

    I had heard in French of “une agape” meaning both “an orgy” but also used to refer to a makeshift buffet after a village band rehearsal in the Swiss Alps.

    • Interesting. I didn’t know the term “agapemone” either, and “agape” only from a slightly different context: An (apparently) orthodox tradition adopted by some catholic parishes here in Germany – after service (e.g. at Easter Night) you remain in church and have bread and wine together. These are not consecrated, so unlike the Holy Communion everybody can take part.

  4. Michael Varcoe-Cocks says:

    Now that you have made us all look up “agapemone”, could you please explain what an “exclusively … ambisexual phase” is and clarify the meaning of “notoriously homosexual”? As to your “gentleman” friend, a true gentleman would either have kept silent or given us some detailed facts, not hidden behind the implied prurience of “very compromising”.

    Your gratuitous publication of a naked photo at the end of your piece will have left most of your readers speechless and disappointed.

  5. What on earth is “notoriously homosexual” supposed to mean?

    • Ask Mr Craft.

    • robcat2075 says:

      “Notorious” means “generally known and talked of”; I would presume related to “notoriety” and possibly to the idea that something is “of note”.

      Someone involved with ballet was gay? What a surprising and reputation-damaging revelation that will be!

      Whoever has those compromising letters should publish them quick while they can still get anyone to pay attention.

      • Theodore McGuiver says:

        The word now has negative implications in English. The French use ‘notoriété’ as Robcat describes.

  6. Glorification of the Chosen One?

  7. Saying this aspect makes no difference is like saying a discovery that I. S. liked certain kinds of art would be irrelevant. Many people in the English-speaking countries especially have the attitude that sex is the only subject that shouldn’t be talked about, especially when it matters. That’s nonsense and harmful to understanding.

    What we don’t need is a reprise of the worst of the Schubert peacock arguments — in other words, looking at the sexual expression of a group of artistic Russians of a certain class or standing from a hundred years ago as if they were living with the imagined norms of urban ____ (your choice) in 2013 is a notable non-starter.

    This could, however, be helpful in supporting the dethroning of rigid sexual classifications of people. Meanwhile, what is repeated here from Craft isn’t much and is, I assume, filtered through its ca. 88-year-old author.

    • PR Deltoid says:

      “dethroning of rigid sexual classifications of people”

      Yes indeed; the Stravinsky who (apparently) had a homosexual affair is the same person who later married a woman and had affairs with other women behind her back. Another of the many people who can’t be pigeonholed into sexual exclusivity.

  8. Oleg Sherstiucoff says:

    Shame on you all – leave Mr.Stravinsky alone !
    Nobody ca-a-a-res !!!

    • but it’s not an attack on Stravinsky!
      An interesting insight, and if it inspires a slightly reticent person to explore parts of their sexuality that hadn’t otherwise done…all the better.

    • Oleg, if nobody cares, then why did you feel the need to write “Shame on you all – leave Mr. Stravinsky alone!” as if Robert Craft, Norman and most of us here had all insulted or slandered Igor Fyodorovich?

  9. ruben greenberg says:

    The above picture makes it abundantly clear that Stravinsky was sexually attracted to cows.

  10. David Boxwell says:

    I always knew Stravinsky’s right hand was sexually attracted to his left hand.

  11. Kurt Erickson says:

    I’ve seen these photos before – how is it that we’re just now making this connection to bisexuality?!?

  12. Well, it’s basically “just” familial love, Agape = ἀγάπη.

  13. Mark Shulgasser says:

    Who was taller, Stravinsky or Ravel?

  14. And here was I wondering about where you buy an “upwardly mobile nozzle”.

    Aggressively marketed, aphrodisiacs are increasingly becoming the after-dinner quick-fix for the upwardly mobile.

    India Today (1998)

    At that time insults were traded in the best upwardly mobile tradition, to the embarrassment of other guests.

    Australian News Misc (2005)

    Buried by Bolton last week, Town looked a different team as they held upwardly mobile Stockport.

    Sun, News of the World (1999)

    My mother had been right to bank on the choleric lodger; he was an upwardly mobile man.

    Hilary Mantel LEARNING TO TALK: Short stories (2003)

    She was also unusual among upwardly mobile women in undertaking the everyday care of her own baby.

    Paula Byrne PERDITA: The Life of Mary Robinson (2004)

    The less well-off partner can be the one who is or feels exploited or ill-used, especially if she is upwardly mobile.

    Independent (1998)

    The political struggle was for the allegiance of the upwardly mobile.

    Irish Times (2002)

    The proximity of the railway, and the nearby industrial yards, however, had ensured that the upwardly mobile had passed Border Avenue by.

    Stuart Harrison LOST SUMMER (2002)

    (quotes from

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