Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Composer Clement Harris

Clement Hugh Gilbert Harris (1871-1897) was an English composer and pianist who was an intimate friend of Siegfried Wagner, the homosexual son of famed composer Richard Wagner and grandson of pianist/composer Franz Liszt. Although Clement was born in Wimbledon and educated at Harrow, he met Siegfried while a student in Germany, where he was studying piano with Clara Schumann, wife of composer Robert Schumann. Clement was wealthy, handsome, sensitive and charismatic, and Siegfried was soon besotted with him.

In 1892 Clement and twenty-three-year-old Siegfried embarked on a six month world cruise and fell deeply in love during that journey. At the onset of their tour, which began in London*, Clement introduced Siegfried to Oscar Wilde. Upon arrival in Hong Kong, Clement convinced Siegfried to abandon his plans to become an architect and instead take up a career as a composer and conductor, thus following in the footsteps of his famous father.

During that same voyage Harris sketched his symphonic poem Paradise Lost, after Milton. The work was completed in 1895 and performed that year in the exclusive spa town of Bad Homburg, Germany, in the presence of the Prince of Wales, the King of Belgium, and various and assorted  Grand Dukes and Duchesses. However, the English premiere did not take place until 1905 in Birmingham Town Hall, eight years after Harris's death.

Siegfried was composing on this voyage, as well, working on his symphonic poem, Sehnsucht (Yearning).

*Clement was the son of a wealthy London shipbuilder, and their cruise was on the Wakefield, one of his father’s vessels. The two men were the only passengers, except for the captain and crew and various pets picked up along the way - canaries, a monkey and a Chinese dog. When Siegfried returned to Bayreuth, full of effusive praise for Clement, those close to Wagner referred to this voyage as “Siegfried’s honeymoon.” Several musicologists concur that in Harris, Siegfried found and lost the love if his life. Although Wagner married in 1915 when confronted with a likely outing of his homosexual proclivities, he continued to engage in sexual activity with men, particularly during visits to Berlin, where the anonymity of a big, permissive city reduced the risks to his reputation.

Harris was an admirer of Greek culture who had the fateful misfortune of confronting the outbreak of the 1897 Greco-Turkish war while traveling through Greece. Harris organized his own battalion of mercenaries to fight on the Greek side and was tragically killed in action at the Battle of the Five Wells at Pente Pigadia, Epirus, on April 23, 1897 – three months shy of his twenty-sixth birthday. Wounded early in the day, Harris refused to leave his post and died setting an example of gallantry that was not shared by his fellow officers and soldiers, many of whom deserted their position. He was subsequently buried in the graveyard of the Anglican Church of St. Paul's in Athens, although his family did not know of it. When Clement's communication with his brother Walter ceased, they harbored hope that perhaps Clement had been kidnapped, instead. There is a plaque at St. Paul's (Athens) that commemorates Clement Harris. In 1905 his parents made a memorial gift of a pipe organ in his honor at Withyham Church near Turnbridge Wells, forty miles SE of London. The organ is a two-manual instrument built by the esteemed J. W. Walker & Sons organ builders.

Clement's death was also commemorated by Stefan George in the poem “Pente Pigadia” found in his collection, Der Siebente Ring (The Seventh Ring). Stefan George (1868-1933), also homosexual, was an influential German poet, editor and translator.

Siegfried Wagner (right) composed the symphonic poem Glück (1923) as a memorial to Harris, and Wagner kept a photo of Harris on his desk for the rest of his life. In his 1923 autobiography, Wagner joyfully recalled his travels with "Clementchen" (a German term of endearment best translated as “dear little Clement”) and mentioned their sharing a bed like "Orestes and Pylades," a mythological gay couple. He recalled their travels to Singapore, where they found an idyllic spot for nude bathing like "two Adams."

Although he died before he could mature musically, the extant compositions of Clement Harris do not suggest a major talent, and Harris is known today primarily as the youthful lover of Siegfried Wagner. Nevertheless, Harris left a small body of compositions that include the aforementioned symphonic tone poem, piano pieces, art songs, and chamber works for violin, piano, clarinet and cello. His derivative musical style is indebted to Richard Wagner, Brahms and Schumann.

Clement’s diaries, which detailed his close friendship with Oscar Wilde, were published in German by Claus Victor Bock.

Siegfried Wagner: Glück (dedicated to the memory of Clement Harris)

For a brief sound sample of Harris’s tone poem Paradise Lost, click on this link:

A note from your blogger: I have wanted to publish this post for some time but have been frustrated that I can find no photographic image or portrait of Harris. If a reader is aware of one, please contact me at

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