August 30, 1869 – Siegfried Wagner was the son of the great German composer Richard Wagner. He grew up with decidedly effeminate demeanor and was, more than just a little bit, a momma’s boy. In his youth he sometimes dressed up as a ballerina, which is different than a boy taking ballet class, Lara Spencer. Young Wagner also he had affairs with several of his fellow male students.
Siegfried Wagner was also the grandson of pianist/composer Franz Liszt and became part of a circle of high-profile closeted gay men, including English composer Clement Harris, tenor Max Lorenz, illustrator Franz Stassen, Prince Philipp of Eulenburg and some queer named Oscar Wilde. In 1892, Harris and 23-year-old Siegfried set off on an around-the-world tour together, and the two fell deeply in love. Wagner kept a portrait of Harris on his desk for the rest of his life.
Then, journalist Maximilian Harden accused Prince Philipp of Eulenburg and other figures close to Kaiser Wilhelm II of homosexuality. The Harden–Eulenburg Affair was the controversy in Germany surrounding a series of courts-martial and five civil trials regarding accusations of gay conduct, and accompanying libel trials, among prominent members of Wilhelm II’s cabinet and entourage during 1907–1909.
The affair centered on Harden’s accusations of affairs between the Prince of Eulenburg-Hertefeld, and General Kuno, Graf von Moltke. Accusations and counter-accusations quickly multiplied, and the phrase “Liebenberg Round Table” came to be used for the gay circle around the Kaiser.
The affair received a lot publicity and is the biggest domestic scandal of the German Second Empire. It led to one of the first major public discussions of homosexuality in Germany, comparable to the trial of Wilde in the United Kingdom.
Wagner either had to get married or be exposed for what he truly was. In 1915, at 46 years old, at the demand of his mother, Cosima Wagner, Wagner married an 18-year-old Englishwoman named Winifred Klindworth. They had four children, providing heirs for the continuation of the Wagner dynasty. His gayness, however, became the source of both scandal and continued attempts to erase it from the history of the Wagner family.
When the Wagner dynasty’s papers were left to the Richard Wagner Foundation in 1973, Winifred Wagner included Siegfried W’s musical scores but withheld her husband’s private letters. This was consistent with the family’s notorious stalling and purging of any revelations that would taint the legacy of Richard Wagner.
In response to Harden’s insinuations about his real nature, Siegfried W replied:
”There was ugly gossip about Frederick the Great, too, the greatest king of all time – and he made Prussia great and strong! So don’t worry. I won’t defile the House of Wagner.”
The irony, of course, is that all the ugly gossip about Frederick T. Great (1712-1786) were true. Frederick unsuccessfully attempted to flee from his authoritarian father Frederick William I. He and his boyfriend, Hans Hermann von Katte were caught and imprisoned, and Frederick was forced to watch his lover’s decapitation. His father whipped him to humiliate him in front of servants and officers, trying to break his will. Frederick held out, refusing his father’s wish that he forfeit his right to succession in favor of his younger brother. As is turned out, the father was no match for his exceptionally intelligent and able son.
Forced to marry, Frederick mostly ignored his wife, and they had no children. He preferred the company of his sister on the rare occasions when female company was called upon. He gave his wife her own palace, refusing her entry to his other residences, and visited her only a few days a year at Christmas.
The great humanist humorist Voltaire, a friend of Frederick, was accused of anonymously publishing The Private Life Of The King Of Prussia, exposing Frederick’s list of male lovers. Frederick neither admitted nor denied the contents of the book. When his father died, Frederick was 28 years old, and Prussia found itself with a gay king.
He transformed Prussia into an economically strong and politically reformed state. Although he loathed his father’s militarism, he still conquered neighboring countries, improving their economy, infrastructure, government, education, agriculture and industry of his acquisitions. He abolished torture and corporal punishment. Best of all was his long-held policy of religious tolerance of both Catholics and Protestants, becoming one of the great reformers of Europe. He encouraged Jews to perform trade, givimg them all protections given to other Prussian citizens.
When he died in 1786, at 74 years old, in an armchair in his library, Frederick had left behind instructions that be buried next to his beloved 11 greyhounds. Adolf Hitler had his coffin moved to an underground bunker, then to a salt mine to protect it from destruction. U.S. soldiers discovered it and relocated it twice. After German reunification in 1989, Frederick had his casket, covered by a Prussian flag, was at last laid to rest according to his request in his will.
Like Frederick, Siegfried Wagner did not give up his social or sexual relations with men, and he and Franz Stassen (1869-1949), a gay artist who had served as the best man at Siegfried’s wedding, continued a relationship that lasted for decades. Stassen was a noted Art Nouveau painter and illustrator who also married. Siegfried introduced Stassen to Lorenz, much admired by Hitler, even though Lorenz was a gay man married to a Jewish woman. Stassen and Lorenz had an affair, and Hitler, who was a financial supporter of the Bayreuth Wagner Festival, could no longer publicly endorse Lorenz, Siegfried’s wife Winifred used her influence to rescue him from public disgrace, exile and possible imprisonment over a charge of homosexuality.
Hitler and Winnifred Wagner had an affair after Siegfried’s death in 1930; it was thought that there would be a marriage. Although Winifred was proud of her association with Hitler, when he visited her, she concealed their connection. Hitler would register at a hotel and Winnifred would send her own car to pick him up, so that Hitler’s ostentatious Mercedes would not be seen pulling into the driveway at the Wagner family’s villa built for Richard Wagner by mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria, also queer. Got that?
Following in his father’s footsteps, Siegfried Wagner was also a composer, but his operas, although popular during his lifetime, were never standard repertoire at the world’s great opera houses. In 1896, Siegfried W began conducting at the Bayreuth Festival and from 1906-1930 was the festival’s artistic director. In Siegfried’s controversial 1930 staging of his father’s opera Tannhäuser, he boldly added several scenes with scantily clad men.
Siegfried dedicated one of his eighteen operas to Stassen, who designed illustrations for the programs for Wagnerian opera productions and also published homoerotic drawings and paintings and went on to become a major player in the Art Nouveau style.
During the last decade of his life Stassen wrote recollections about his male “soul mate”. Stassen created four important tapestries for Hitler’s Reich Chancellery in Berlin. After 1941, he lived openly with his male partner, but the Third Reich generously overlooked and ignored this. In the final phase of World War II, Hitler included Stassen in the Gottbegnadeten (Gifted by God) list of important artists most crucial to Nazi culture.
Max Lorenz married Lotte Appel, a Jewish singer in 1832. She was aware that he was gay going into the marriage. He was tolerated by the Nazis as a well-known secret, because Lorenz was a favorite of Hitler. Lorenz was finally arrested because an affair with a young man, Hitler advised Winifred Wagner, the director of the Bayreuth Festival after Siegfried’s death in 1930, that Lorenz would not be suitable for the Festival. She replied that in that case she would have to close the Festival, because: ”…without Lorenz, there can be no Bayreuth”. Lorenz kept his job.
As for his Jewish wife, he insisted on being open about his marriage of convenience, which was taken as a provocation by the Nazis. Once when Lorenz was away from his house, the SS burst in and tried to take her away. At the last moment Lotte Lorenz was able to make a phone call to Hermann Göring‘s sister, and the SS was ordered to leave her alone. Göring stated in a letter from 1943, that Lorenz was under his personal protection. Lorenz died in 1975. Winifred Wagner kicked-the-bucket in 1980.