A gay museum celebrates Siegfried Wagner

February 24, 2017 by norman lebrecht


One of the less discreditable secrets guarded at Bayreuth is that Richard Wagner’s son was, behind the facade of marriage, primarily homosexual.

Now, Berlin’s gay museum has begun research on an exhibition to celebrate his complicated life.

Don’t expect Katharina Wagner to attend.

Details here.

Comments (26)

  1. John Borstlap says:

    It is always painful to see these portraits of SW with the look of angst into the camera. Also, photos during R. Wagner’s later years with his young son show the body language of an entirely destroyed psyche, a nervous kid being pulverized between the two mighty and thoroughly neurotic parental personalities who projected their own wishes and demands into their offspring apparently without any consideration for its own personality. It is a miracle this son survived at all into adulthood in a climate of hysterial tension and grandiloquence on a daily basis. Maybe his ‘secret life’ was an escape route from those pressures.

    1. Michael Endres says:

      “Also, photos during R. Wagner’s later years with his young son show the body language of an entirely destroyed psyche a nervous kid .”
      Indeed. Terrible to see father and son like this.

        1. David Osborne says:

          Indeed, that’s one haunted looking kid.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Note how all the father’s gestures are open. All the son’s are closed.

      2. David Osborne says:

        Yes, not in that one and thanks for the link I had not seen that particular photo. It looks like a carefully posed portrait. There’s little evidence of any fraught relationship (or much of one at all) between Siegfried and his father. Contemporary reports that I have read suggest that Richard was really good with the children when he had the time for them, which was of course almost never. If Siegfried had a difficult life, best we look elsewhere for the cause. Cosima? Maybe, struggles with his sexuality in intolerant times? Bingo. Anyway this looks fascinating. Might just have to check it out on the weekend.

      3. Holly Golightly says:

        That boy doesn’t look gay, or anything!

    2. Robert Holmén says:

      I’ll note that it isn’t a currently accepted practice to diagnose psychological conditions from from photographs.

      1. John Borstlap says:

        Indeed, but one is allowed to have psychological opinions based upon some experience and observation.

        1. John says:

          Maybe you knew him. I didn’t.

          1. John Borstlap says:

            At my age one has known a lot of people form the 19th century. RW was good fun however, especially over beer.

      2. John says:

        Thank you.

  2. DESR says:

    What a load of psychobabble and unprovable rubbish.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      I sense a lot of unsublimated frustration and projection of undigested pre-pubescent micro-aggression there, probably from a restricted upbringing by vegetarians with sandals and yoga sessions.

    2. Novagerio says:

      Psychobabble indeed! What about looking like “O shit, I have to inherit this entire enterprise one day – Dear Wotan, keep my mom alive long enough!” – As it happened by the way. Both mother & son died in 1930.

      The Wagner Kids have for decades been indoctrinated in Wagnerianism since the earliest days, for instance by posing for the photographer in various wagnerian characters such as here:

        1. John Borstlap says:

          Yes, and these photographs confirm my comment about SW predicament: look how the kid stares into the lens.

          Another interpretation of these dressing-up children parties, rather from the perspective of RW himself, is that it was a lighthearted joke… not a serious brainwashing. Cosima Wagner has tried to delete as many as possible signals of her husband’s rather coarse humour, and still many people find it difficult to believe he could be ironic, or jolly, or full of silly jokes. Everybody was taking him so seriously all the time – probably because of thinking of his music. I remember only ONE instance of RW’s joking mentioned in Cosima’s famous diary, which she apparently did not understand as a joke but as a pianful rebuke: one day, when she was again suffering from guilt feelings about her former husband Hans von Bülow, one of her regular exercises of emotional penance, RW remarked that she had her ‘catholic face’ again that day. She noted the saying and also that she was much hurt, and that she deserved it. (More catholic you can’t get.)

          Probably people at the time seeing these children running around dressed-up as Wotan etc. had a good laugh, as RW must have had, and Cosima as the only person with the lips set in haute-bourgeois disapproval.

  3. Stefan Treddel says:

    The exhibition opened on the 17th of February! So it’s not true that they just have begun research. It’s very clear in the article in Tagesspiegel that you linked and on the homepage of Schwules Museum. Research please!

    1. Carlos Solare says:

      Indeed it did. I guess “has begun research” is Google-Translate for “begibt sich auf Spurensuche”.

      But don’t worry: this blog’s stated policy is “to acknowledge mistakes, correct them and apologise for them”, so it can only be a matter of minutes before all this happens…

  4. Robert Holmén says:

    I’d like to see research on why his family destroyed some of his manuscripts after he died, if that story is true.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      Since RW did not live-up to the 19C preferred image of the Great Man (no talent for it and did not want to), his wife had the greatest difficulty to create such image after her husband’s death, with the result that the burning of papers and letters became a Wagnerian tradition. But the plaster fake image of RW never survived biographical scrutiny, in spite of all the efforts.

      1. Robert Holmén says:


        There has to be more to it than that since some things of SW got burned and others didn’t.

        1. John Borstlap says:

          As far as I have read, almost all members of the family were keen to censor written material, to conform to the preferred image of the great man for posterity.

          The irony is, of course, that all those efforts which created peculiar contradictions, made biographers suspicious, who consequently began to dig deep and deeper into history, and as a result RW is the composer we know the most of. And everything has been blown-up to Wagnerian proportions.

  5. herrera says:

    Like father like son.

    Siegfried had a brief affair with Klaus Mann that began in Venice where they were introduced to each other by a mutual friend.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      ? As far as I know, Richard Wagner lived long before Thomas Mann. And it was preferably the female sex he was interested in.

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