Siegfried, who was also the grandson of pianist/composer Franz Liszt, became part of a circle of high-profile closeted homosexual men, including English composer Clement Harris, tenor Max Lorenz, writer Oscar Wilde, illustrator Franz Stassen and Prince Philipp of Eulenburg. In 1892 Clement 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.
When journalist Maximilian Harden later accused Prince Philipp of Eulenburg and others close to Kaiser Wilhelm II of homosexuality (Harden-Eulenburg Affair), Siegfried either had to get married or be exposed for what he was. So it was that in 1915 at the age of 46, after strong prodding from his mother, Siegfried Wagner married an 18-year-old Englishwoman named Winifred Klindworth, with whom he had four children, thus providing heirs for the continuation of the Wagner dynasty. His sexual orientation, however, became the source of both scandal and concerted attempts to erase it from the history of the Wagner family.
Siegfried Wagner in his twenties (left).
When the Wagner dynasty’s papers were bequeathed to Bayreuth’s Richard Wagner Foundation in 1973, Winifred Wagner included Siegfried’s musical scores but withheld her husband's correspondence. 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 sexual nature, Siegfried 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 the Festival.” The irony in that statement is that all the rumors and gossip about Frederick the Great were true.
Siegfried did not give up social and sexual relations with homosexuals, however, and he and Franz Stassen (1869-1949), a gay artist who had served as the best man at Siegfried’s wedding, continued a social and artistic relationship that lasted for decades. Stassen (at left) was a noted Art Nouveau painter and illustrator who also married. Siegfried introduced Stassen to Wagnerian tenor Max Lorenz (1901-1975), much admired by Hitler, even though Lorenz was a gay man married to a Jewish woman. For a time Stassen and Lorenz were involved in an affair. When Hitler, who was a financial supporter of the Bayreuth Festival, could no longer publicly endorse Lorenz, it was Siegfried’s wife Winifred who used her influence to rescue Bayreuth’s star heldentenor from public disgrace, exile and possible imprisonment over a charge of homosexuality.
Most historians concede that Hitler and Winnifred (below) carried on an affair after Siegfried’s death in 1930; there were even rumors of a possible marriage. Although Winifred was proud of her association with Hitler, when he visited her at Bayreuth, she took pains to conceal the connection. Hitler would register at the Hotel Bube in nearby Bad Berneck, 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 Wahnfried, the Wagner family's villa built for Richard Wagner by King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Siegfried Wagner was also a composer, but his operas, although popular during his lifetime, never entered the standard repertoire. In 1896 Siegfried began conducting at the Bayreuth Festival and from 1906-1930 was the festival’s sole artistic director. In Siegfried’s controversial 1930 staging of his father’s opera Tannhäuser, he boldly embellished several scenes with scantily clad male teenagers. In the opening Venusberg bacchanal scene their costume consisted of ballet slippers and loincloths -- nothing else. Don't believe me? There is archival video on YouTube.
Siegfried dedicated one of his eighteen operas to Franz Stassen, who designed stunning illustrations for the programs for Wagnerian opera productions at Bayreuth (example at right). Franz also published homoerotic drawings and paintings and went on to become a major player in the Teutonic Art Nouveau style. During the last decade of his life Stassen wrote recollections about his male "soul mate", thus publicly hinting at his own homosexuality. An aside -- Stassen was adept at illustrating male posteriors, most often naked, in a fashion we would describe these days as "perfect bubble butts".
In the previous decade Stassen had also become associated with the Nazi Party. He created four important tapestries for Hitler's Reich Chancellery in Berlin that illustrated motifs of the Germanic Edda sagas. In gratitude, Hitler awarded him the title of professor in 1939.
After 1941 Franz lived openly with his male partner and professed his homosexual orientation, but the Third Reich generously overlooked and ignored this declaration. 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.
Wagnerian tenor Max Lorenz (right) was homosexual as well, but in 1932 he married Lotte Appel, a Jewish singer who was aware of his sexual orientation going into the marriage. Max’s homosexuality was tolerated by the Nazis as a well-known secret, because Lorenz was a favorite of Hitler. When Lorenz was dragged into court because of 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 was thus retained.
As for his Jewish wife Lotte, Max 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 Lotte and her mother 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 their residence and not bother the women. Göring stated in a letter dated March 21, 1943, that Lorenz was under his personal protection, and that no action should be taken against him, his wife, or her mother.
Siegfried Wagner -- Violin Concerto in One Movement (1915):
Second Movement (1927) of Siegfried Wagner’s Symphony in C (in the earlier 1925 first version of the symphony, the slow movement was recycled from the prelude to Der Friedensengel, an opera written in 1914):