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Wagner, Siegfried (1869-1930)  
 
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When confronted with insinuations of his sexuality by Isolde, Siegfried replied cooly: "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 the Festival."

In the midst of the growing scandal, however, Wagner's mother insisted that he marry as a means of dispelling the rumors.

Sponsor Message.

Marriage and Beyond

In 1914, at the Bayreuth Festival, Wagner was introduced to a seventeen-year-old English-born young lady, Winifred Klindworth, who had been adopted by a friend of the Wagner family.

The unlikely couple married in 1915 and quickly produced four children: Wieland (1917-1966), Friedelind (1918-1991), Wolfgang (b. 1919), and Verena (b. 1920).

Wagner died August 4, 1930, just a few months after his mother's death in her mid-nineties. Winifred, his widow, took over management of the Festival until the end of World War II.

Winifred Wagner had met Adolf Hitler in 1923 when he first visited their home, Wahnfried, and quickly became a supporter. When Hitler was in jail for the Munich Beer Hall Putsch in 1924, she sent him stationery on which--as legend has it--he wrote Mein Kampf. In 1933, there were even rumors of their impending marriage.

After achieving power, Hitler frequently visited the Wagner family and financially supported the Festival, which became a highlight of the Nazi calendar. Winifred Wagner served as Hitler's personal translator during his negotiations with the British in the late 1930s.

Winifred Wagner's role in the Third Reich remains controversial. What is clear is that Siegfried Wagner was repelled by his wife's anti-Semitism, and his daughter Friedelind remembers him as "a champion of tolerance and compassion."

To her credit, Winifred Wagner intervened on behalf of several of Siegfried's gay friends and saved them from concentration camps. The testimony from two gay opera singers, Max Lorenz and Herbert Janssen, helped reduce Winifred's sentence at her de-Nazification trials after World War II, which banned her from further involvement in the Festival.

Later she supported the impecunious Hans Severus Ziegler, former director of the Deutsches Nationaltheater in Weimar, which earned her the nickname "mother hen of all gays."

Winifred Wagner died in 1980 at age 82, utterly unrepentant of her involvement with Hitler.

Erasure

Why has Siegfried Wagner's sexuality been kept a secret?

In part, it is little known because the evidence is scarce and not readily available. As Jonathan Carr observes, assessing Wagner's life is difficult: "A couple of biographies of him have appeared in German, but his own memoirs are thin, his letters in part still not disclosed, his true feelings often masked by irony and bonhomie."

Unlike his scores, Wagner's private papers are not located in the Bayreuth Archives. When the family papers were bequeathed to the Richard Wagner Foundation in 1973, Winifred Wagner withheld her husband's correspondence. When she died, the manuscripts went to Verena Lafferentz-Wagner's oldest daughter Amélie with strict instructions for their non-disclosure.

One wonders about this secrecy, especially by a family notorious for stalling and purging revelations that would taint the legacy of the Meister.

Another complication is academic reticence, even in German scholarship, long associated with an open-minded approach toward homosexuality. Zdenko von Kraft's biography Der Sohn, a piece of hopelessly uncritical hagiography published in 1969, has not one word to say about Wagner's homosexuality. One also looks in vain for a reference to Maximilian Harden. Since Winifred Wagner contributed a preface to the book, this silence is hardly surprising.

Moreover, the erasure of Wagner's homosexuality may have been an incidental byproduct of an attempt to hide his extramarital affair with the wife of a Bayreuth pastor, who gave birth to a son, Walter Aign (1901-1977). Had Aign been able to prove that he was the son of Siegfried Wagner, he would have been the first-born heir to the Wagner estate.

Since Cosima Wagner--always keen on keeping up appearances--wanted the Wagner line to continue legitimately through her son, she (and, later, Winifred Wagner) had incentives to discourage investigation into the sex life of Siegfried Wagner, in both its homosexual and heterosexual manifestations.

Although Wagner's paternity of Aign has not been accepted by all Wagner scholars, pictures of Walter Aign show a striking resemblance to Siegfried Wagner.

Aign, who worked with Wagner as a musical assistant, never married and may have been gay himself.

Rediscovery

Peter Pachl's recent, frank biography, Siegfried Wagner: Genie im Schatten (1988), contains a striking dedication: "To Wolfgang Wagner, without whose opposition I would not have been put on the right track." This dedication perfectly sums up the Wagner family's continuing resistance to research into Siegfried Wagner's personal life.

However, despite this opposition, Wagner's complicated sexuality is gradually coming to the fore. In addition to Pachl's book, other works also highlight Wagner's homosexuality. For example, Edmund Gleede's musical Cosima Notte, or Notre Dame de Bayreuth (1986) shows Siegfried en travestie. A puppet play by Uwe Hoppe (2006) elaborates on King Ludwig's infatuation with Richard Wagner and uses it to justify Siegfried Wagner's love-life, showing a continued tradition of Wagnerian homoeroticism.

Jonathan Carr's The Wagner Clan (2007) presents the first account in English to touch on Wagner's bisexuality.

The Internationale Siegfried-Wagner-Gesellschaft is devoted to promoting Wagner's legacy as a composer by reviving his operas on the world stage and publishing critical literature about him. It has lobbied for the full disclosure of all his papers.

Nikolai Endres

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    Bibliography
   

Bock, C. V. "Stefan George and Clement Harris: A Centenary Celebration." Modern Language Review 63.4 (October 1968): 897-910.

Carr, Jonathan. The Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany's Most Illustrious and Infamous Family. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007.

Hamann, Brigitte. Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Heart of Hitler's Bayreuth. Alan Bance, trans. London: Granta, 2005.

Internationale Siegfried-Wagner-Gesellschaft Website: http://www.siegfried-wagner.org

Morris, Mitchell. "Tristan's Wounds: On Homosexual Wagnerians at the Fin de Siècle." Queer Episodes in Music and Modern Identity. Sophie Fuller and Lloyd Whitesell, eds. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002. 271-91.

Pachl, Peter P. Siegfried Wagner: Genie im Schatten, mit Opernführer, Werkverzeichnis, Diskographie und 154 Abbildungen. München: Nymphenburger, 1988.

Wagner, Friedelind. "Siegfried Wagner: A Daughter Remembers Her Father." Opera Quarterly 7.1 (Spring 1990): 43-51.

Wagner, Siegfried. Erinnerungen. Bernd Zegowitz, ed. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2005.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Endres, Nikolai  
    Entry Title: Wagner, Siegfried  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2008  
    Date Last Updated September 8, 2008  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/wagner_siegfried.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2008 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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