Discussion:
Siegfried Wagner's Little Curse
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Laon
2004-09-16 14:27:31 UTC
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So, I've been trying to find out more about Siegfried Wagner's last
opera, _Das Flüchlein das jeder mitbekam_: "The Little Curse that
Everyone Bears".

The context is exploring why Wagner opera performances in Germany
dropped so dramatically when the Nazis took power, and why that
decline accelerated during the Nazi period. The relationship between
the Nazis and the Wagner clan is relevant to this issue, and _Das
Flüchlein_ tell us something significant about that relationship.

The two outer Acts of _Das Flüchlein_ are light romantic comic opera
in a fairytale setting. But Act II is in a darker mood, dominated by
the sinister figure called "Wolf". Wolf is the leader of a gang of
robbers and murderers, a horrific creature who leaves human body parts
about the floor of his lair. There is still an element of comedy
there, as Wolf is too over the top to be taken entirely seriously. But
it's grotesque comedy, comedy of horror.

One remarkable thing about this is that "Wolf" is a representation of
Adolf Hitler, and Wolf's gang is a representation of Hitler's Nazi
entourage. That is, Siegfried Wagner's last opera was a vehement
attack on his occasional houseguest Adolf Hitler, along with his
henchmen. Perhaps another remarkable thing is that this fact is not
better known.

Not only was the character of Wolf a scathing denunciation of Hitler,
but it was intended to be a public attack. _Das Flüchlein_ was
intended for performance, and there could have been no doubt amongst
its audience over who used the nickname "Wolf". That Hitler used the
name "Wolf" at Bayreuth and elsewhere - it was never an exclusively
Bayreuth nickname - when he wanted to be "off duty" was an open secret
among those in the know in the German media, political circles and
society. To Siegfried's audience the reference would have been
unmistakable. (Though his audience never got to see the opera;
Siegfried died before completing its orchestration, and the first
performance of a reconstructed version was given in 1984.)


By the way it is sometimes suggested that Hitler took the name "Wolf"
from Wotan's pseudonym in _Die Walküre_, in his role as father of the
Volsung twins. But it is more likely that Hitler took the name Wolf
from the name Wolf, which is both a reference to a satisfyingly fierce
creature and a common German name. Wagner's Wotan was not called
"Wolf" but "Wolfe", a two-syllable name; "Wolfe" is idiosyncratic and
Wagnerian, while "Wolf" is not. And if Hitler had intended a homage to
Wagner he might have been expected to get the name right. Moreover,
"Wolfe" was an adulterer's false name, something unheroic and faintly
comic which seems far from Hitler's self-image, and which would have
been a gift to German satirists. The noble form of Wotan's name, in
_Die Walküre_ was not "Wolfe" but "Wälse".

If there is any doubt about who Siegfried Wagner meant by "Wolf", it
is answered by an earlier creation of Siegfried's, which also used the
name "Wolf" to refer to Hitler, though in a more ironical, even
playful, vein. Friedelind Wagner wrote:

"For Christmas and her birthday Father always prepared elaborate jokes
for Mother, usually exploring the ridiculous aspects of the Nazi
party, which furnished the happiest sort of material for such
nonsense. Sometimes it was a poem or a painting or a whole stage
setting worked out with meticulous detail. [...]

"Another time Father built a cave with a wolf and badger in it. 'The
wolf in the badger's cave', he called it. This was meant to represent
Hitler and his landlady in Munich, who was named Mrs. Dachs, meaning
badger. It would have been even funnier a little later, for Mrs. Dachs
became mentally unbalanced and behaved in a fantastic manner. For a
long time Hitler was the only one who could soothe her. In his
presence she was still somewhat normal, until one day she attacked him
with an axe. Wolf ran for his life and hastily changed his
living-quarters."
[Wagner, Friedelind, with Cooper, Paige, _The Royal Family of
Bayreuth_, Eyre and Spottiswood, London, 1948, page 44. It's a shame
Frau Dachs wasn't a bit faster.]

The question is in any case confirmed by Peter Pachl, author of the
recent biography of Siegfried Wagner. In his notes on the _Das
Flüchlein_ overture, for Volume 2 of the Marco Polo/CPO set of the
Complete Overtures of Siegfried Wagner, Pachl wrote: "The conflict
with the sadistic robber Wolf in Act II refers to Adolf Hitler, whom
Winifred Wagner admired so passionately. The composer's widow herself
admitted to this connection."
[Pachl's biography Siegfried biography is _Siegfried Wagner: Genie im
Schatten_, München 1988/1994, A.B.]

By the way Siegfried's source for his robber chief who dismembered and
ate his victims was Tale 40, "The Robber Bridegroom", from the
Brothers Grimm's _Kinder- und Hausmärchen_. In the 1857 version of the
tale the robber leader was simply described as "a suitor who appeared
to be rich"; in the 1812 edition he was "a Prince". Giving him the
name Wolf was entirely Siegfried's idea.


This raises a number of questions. One is why Siegfried Wagner should
have been preparing a public attack on Hitler in 1929-1930. This was a
time when the Nazis were not yet in power, but it had already become
clear that opposing them was a dangerous, generally fatal, business.

It seems that Siegfried acted from a mix of political and personal
motives. Regrettably there is no point in promoting Siegfried as a
great resistance hero, a man of rocklike principles who took a moral
stand against evil. He wasn't quite that.

To identify possible political motives I'm going to attempt a brief
summary of Siegfried's response to Nazism. My principal sources are
the Friedelind book already cited (_The Royal Family of Bayreuth_,
also published as _Shadows over Bayreuth_), Geoffrey Skelton's
biography _Wieland Wagner: The Positive Sceptic_, Frederick Spotts'
_Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival_, Köhler's _Wagner's
Hitler: The Prophet and his Disciple_ travesty, Kurt Lüdecke's _I Knew
Hitler: The Story of a Nazi Who Escaped the Blood Purge_, Wolfgang
Wagner's autobiography, _Acts_, and Goebbels' _Diaries_. All of these
sources, except for Spotts' book, need to be treated with scepticism
ranging from moderate to complete. I've ignored the books by Nike and
Gottfried Wagner. Nike's book is worthless for biographical
information, while Gottfried's book is worthless.

All these writers have their own agenda, and all are careless with
facts. A minor but irritating example is that Skelton said that after
Siegfried met Mussolini he had compared him unfavourably to Hitler,
noting that unlike Hitler Mussolini did not have "the light of love in
his eyes". So there, I thought, was proof that in 1924 Siegfried was
very much under Hitler's spell. But then I found that Köhler had used
the same quote but attributed it to Winifred instead. I'd usually
assume that Köhler was the less reliable source, but in this case the
words do sound more like Winifred. The truth can probably be found in
Peter Pachl's Siegfried Wagner biography, mentioned above. Until I
locate a copy (I don't think there's one in Australia) I can't use the
information.

Anyway, here's Friedelind's summary of Siegfried Wagner's political
views:
"Father was disillusioned with post-war Germany. In his heart he was
still a monarchist as were the majority of Germans; he could never
understand or forgive the Kaiser's flight and had no sympathy with the
Weimar Republic which failed although it meant well. He was a liberal
but also a conservative and the sight of Germany torn by revolution
and bloodshed, spawning one sinister "messiah" after another,
distressed him. Germany was a pigsty, he said, and he meant it. But
Father had too international a background to be agitated about party
politics. He had spent much of his life abroad; each year he travelled
all over Europe, and when he was at home Wahnfried, with its guests
from everywhere, was decidedly international. So he teased Mother
about her rallies and refused to look upon Hitler as a saint."
[Friedelind, page 45]

Friedelind was the only one of Siegfried's children who was close to
this very private man. So while her account is a case for the defence,
it is based on better knowledge than any other witness who chose to
speak on this topic.

But there is another side. Siegfried was polite enough, at the least,
to Hitler that in 1943 Hitler remembered him as having been a
"personal friend, though a political neutral" [Tabletalk, 1 March
1942.]

Köhler claimed that Winifred once described Siegfried putting his
hands on Hitler's shoulders, and saying, "You know, I really like
you!" [But I haven't checked the source for this, and Köhler-caveats
apply.] While other accounts of Hitler and Siegfried together suggest
reserve and distance on Siegfried's side.

But both kinds of story, those indicating touchy-friendliness and
those indicating reserve, could be more or less true. Siegfried Wagner
seems to have been a kindly, amiable, man, far nicer than his father.
I think that anyone, Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, Ghandi, or anyone
else, would have come away from an early meeting with Siegfried with
the feeling that he really liked them. As his namesake said: "Nun
ficht mit mir/Oder sei mein Freund!" Friendliness seems to have been a
default position for Siegfried; it was offered for the other person to
lose. The fact is that over time Hitler did lose it, as _Das
Flüchlein_ demonstrates.


The clearest case of Siegfried acting to assist the Nazis occurred in
1924, on the Wagners' visit to America to raise funds for Bayreuth.
While there they used their social standing to secure Hitler associate
Kurt Lüdecke an audience with the far-right, antisemitic magnate Henry
Ford, to solicit donations to the Nazi party. In his account Lüdecke
claimed that the visit was a failure. He also claimed to have thought
that Siegfried Wagner would have been disappointed by the failure,
since he "subscribed to his father's view that the Jew is 'the plastic
demon of decay'".

However it's not clear that Lüdecke knew much about Siegfried's views,
as opposed to those of Winifred. In his account he tended to lump the
two of them together, not only failing to see distinctions in their
commitment to National Socialism, but also failing to note
distinctions in their national origin and upbringing. Thus he wrote of
the two Wagners' "race and parentage", seemingly thinking of them as
the same. (Was he perhaps thinking of Siegmund and Sieglinde?)
Lüdecke's last mention of the Wagners described them having dinner
with two Jewish women in a New York restaurant, and giving Lüdecke the
cold shoulder. As one would.

In the 1970s Winifred said in an interview that in her discussion with
Ford, in which she asked Ford to meet Lüdecke, Ford had indicated
willingness to donate to Hitler. Köhler has built from this a story
that Ford did in fact give money to Lüdecke, and that Lüdecke had lied
in order to protect Ford from the backlash that would follow if it
were known that he had donated to the Nazis. Thus the Wagners had been
the financial bridge between Hitler and Ford.

I checked the sources cited by Köhler on this, and found that his
account was misleading, which some people may find less than
surprising. In fact Winifred's story did not contradict Lüdecke's
account, and regardless of what Ford may have said to Winifred, there
is no evidence that Lüdecke's account of failure was untrue. I should
say that I really don't care about Lüdecke's reputation one way or the
other; this is just where the evidence falls. What seems most likely,
following Köhler's own sources, is that Ford at a later time donated
money to the Nazis through a different channel, unconnected to Lüdecke
or the Wagners.

(Sorry about going into excessive detail on this. I've only just
finished sorting this one out.)

However it does appear that, as Lüdecke said, Siegfried was
antisemitic, in ways that were in some respects similar to his father.
That is, he didn't think that Jews were evil, or inferior as a race,
but he might claim that they "stuck together", that they promoted
trivial, shallow arts, and so on. Like his father, Siegfried had a
circle of Jewish friends, and many Jewish colleagues.

As evidence of Siegfried's views on "the Jews", Friedelind quoted a
letter written in 1921, Siegfried's response to a more thoroughgoing
antisemite who objected to the number of Jewish artists and patrons at
Bayreuth:

"I feel bound to tell you [Siegfried wrote] that I do not agree with
you at all. Among the Jews we count a great many loyal, honest and
unselfish adherents who have given us numerous proofs of their
devotion. You suggest that we should turn all these people from our
doors? Repulse them for no other reason than that they are Jews? Is
that human? Is that Christian? Is that German? No! [...]

"And if the Jews are willing to help us, that is doubly meritorious,
because my father in his writings attacked and offended them. They
would therefore have - and they have - every reason to hate Bayreuth.
Yet, in spite of my father's attacks, a great many of them revere my
father's art with genuine enthusiasm. [...]

"On our Bayreuth hill we want to do _positive_ work, not negative.
Whether a man is Chinese, a Negro, an American, an Indian or a Jew,
that is a matter of complete indifference to us. But we might learn
from the Jews how to stick together and how to give help. With envy
and admiration I see how the Jews assist their artists, how they pave
the way for them. If I were a Jew my operas would be performed in
every theatre. As things are, however, we must wait until we are dead.
[...] Are we now to add intolerance to all our other bad qualities and
reject people of good will?"

Of course even in this letter repudiating antisemitism, it could be
argued Siegfried still revealed "mild" antisemitism, in the view that
Jews stick together and promote their own artists, and that if he were
only Jewish his operas would be enormously more successful. This
echoes his father's idea that a preponderance of Jews controlled the
theatres and music criticism. But it is also clear that Siegfried was
not the sort to approve of the Nazi thuggery that was already being
directed against German Jews, even in the 1920s.

In sum it can be seen that by 1929/1930 Siegfried had political
reasons to loathe Hitler and Nazism, from his own idiosyncratic and
essentially apolitical point of view. The first was the Nazi cult and
culture of violence, which was by then abundantly obvious. Siegfried
would have seen their murders of their political enemies and of their
own kind, their street bashings, and their breaking up of theatres.
The Nazis had not yet revealed themselves as mass murderers, but they
had clearly shown that they were barbarians. Siegfried was an
old-style conservative, and not in any sense a barbarian or supporter
of barbarism; he had every moral right to be appalled by what the
Nazis had already revealed of their true nature.

The second political reason was that as we have seen that Siegfried
was the kind of theoretical antisemite who quite liked the actual Jews
he met every day. So he had Jewish colleagues, Jewish friends, quite
possibly Jewish lovers as did his father, and he had family
connections with Jewish people, and he had no reason to wish any of
them any harm. But by 1929/1930 it was quite clear that the Nazis
wished his Jewish friends and colleagues deadly harm. (I agree with
the current general consensus that the Holocaust had not then been
planned or even thought of. But regardless of whether you share that
view, it must be agreed that by then the Nazi intention to do Jews
"deadly harm" was clear enough.)

There was a third issue, which was both political and personal.
Siegfried was a notorious habitué of Bayreuth's bathhouses, which were
famous throughout Europe as a place where homosexuals could meet each
other in a uniquely free, frank and open environment, also meeting
handsome young Bayreuth farmboys who didn't mind earning a little
money with a kind gentleman. Siegfried was probably more bisexual than
gay, in modern terms, as he had affairs with women as well as men, in
addition to doing his duty by the Wagner dynasty by keeping Friedelind
pregnant for four years running.

Still, he was a Man Who Has Sex with Men, or MSM in the technical
language of our time. In the language of his time, especially amongst
those Nazis who were not homosexual themselves, he was a "practitioner
of homosexual perversion". As such, he could hardly have helped
noticing that people like him (but lacking the protection of a famous
name) were being bashed on the streets by people wearing Hitler's
uniforms, and that the _Völkische Beobachter_, _Der Stürmer_ and other
Nazi papers were making it clear that the future would be very grim
for "practitioners of homosexual perversion", if and when the Nazis
came to power.

So Siegfried had political reasons for planning and beginning to
execute a public protest, an open denunciation of Hitler and his gang.
He also had personal reasons, which can wait for next time.

Cheers!


Laon
Derrick Everett
2004-09-16 19:04:13 UTC
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Post by Laon
In the 1970s Winifred said in an interview that in her discussion with
Ford, in which she asked Ford to meet Lüdecke, Ford had indicated
willingness to donate to Hitler. Köhler has built from this a story
that Ford did in fact give money to Lüdecke, and that Lüdecke had lied
in order to protect Ford from the backlash that would follow if it
were known that he had donated to the Nazis. Thus the Wagners had been
the financial bridge between Hitler and Ford.
I checked the sources cited by Köhler on this, and found that his
account was misleading, which some people may find less than
surprising. In fact Winifred's story did not contradict Lüdecke's
account, and regardless of what Ford may have said to Winifred, there
is no evidence that Lüdecke's account of failure was untrue.
It is generally worth checking Joachim Köhler's (often copious)
references, if one has the time and patience. He tends to make a
statement and provide a reference, as if the source cited supported
the statement. In the majority of those cases that I have checked
(references in his Wagner-Hitler book), the source cited does not
support or imply Köhler's statement, which leaves one wondering why he
bothered to give the reference. In some cases, the page referred to
by Köhler either does not exist or it contains no text!
Post by Laon
Siegfried was probably more bisexual than gay, in modern terms, as he had
affairs with women as well as men, in addition to doing his duty by the
Wagner dynasty by keeping Friedelind pregnant for four years running.
We know that is not what you meant to write ...

--
Derrick Everett
Laon
2004-09-17 03:00:20 UTC
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Post by Derrick Everett
Post by Laon
Siegfried was probably more bisexual than gay, in modern terms, as he had
affairs with women as well as men, in addition to doing his duty by the
Wagner dynasty by keeping Friedelind pregnant for four years running.
We know that is not what you meant to write ...
Arggh! :) I was hoping I'd be able to correct that little slip before
anyone noticed. It's what comes of saying the names "Winifred" and
"Friedelind" over and over, for days on end.

Yes, Nike Wagner called Siegfried a roué, but I think even he drew the
line at getting his daughter pregnant. I meant Winifred, as you so
rightly guessed.

Cheers!


Laon
Mike Scott Rohan
2004-09-17 00:15:40 UTC
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Post by Laon
So, I've been trying to find out more about Siegfried Wagner's last
opera, _Das Flüchlein das jeder mitbekam_: "The Little Curse that
Everyone Bears".
The context is exploring why Wagner opera performances in Germany
dropped so dramatically when the Nazis took power, and why that
decline accelerated during the Nazi period. The relationship between
the Nazis and the Wagner clan is relevant to this issue, and _Das
Flüchlein_ tell us something significant about that relationship.
The two outer Acts of _Das Flüchlein_ are light romantic comic opera
in a fairytale setting. But Act II is in a darker mood, dominated by
the sinister figure called "Wolf". Wolf is the leader of a gang of
robbers and murderers, a horrific creature who leaves human body parts
about the floor of his lair. There is still an element of comedy
there, as Wolf is too over the top to be taken entirely seriously. But
it's grotesque comedy, comedy of horror.
One remarkable thing about this is that "Wolf" is a representation of
Adolf Hitler, and Wolf's gang is a representation of Hitler's Nazi
entourage. That is, Siegfried Wagner's last opera was a vehement
attack on his occasional houseguest Adolf Hitler, along with his
henchmen. Perhaps another remarkable thing is that this fact is not
better known.
Without in any way wanting to deflate the Hitler reference, which seems
very likely, the concept of woodland-dwelling robber bands being
cannibals and and living in charnel-house caves is an extremely common
one in German folklore and literature. I'd be pushed to give you a
specific example right now (references in Grimm, almost certainly) but
I've come across it many times, more often than in other countries
(although I seem to remember de Sade makes use of it, but then he would,
wouldn't he?). It may reflect an actual state of affairs in Germany
during the great wars and famines. Certainly in Russia, in the
Stalin-induced famines, the kidnapping and eating of children was quite
common, and among Gulag prisoners the more criminal escapers would often
induce a "cow" to come with them -- a less sturdy prisoner, often a
political, who could be knocked on the head and used as food during the
journey. But there are records of criminal cannibalism during times of
plenty -- one of the most famous cases being Scotland's Sawney Bean,
whose large incestuous family, living in a tidal cave, preyed on the
long west coast road for maybe thirty years, salting and smoking victims
in the cave roof. No fairytale, either.

But at the time Siegfried was writing, Hitler still had not done
anything *that* gory, beyond a few bashings and murders which the
Communists and others indulged in just as readily. Purges, camps and
mass extermination were years away, and Hitler -- then trying to package
himself as an electable politician -- tended to underplay that side of
things personally. So probably Siegfried's intention was simply to
depict Hitler as the caricature storybook bandit, and the goriness went
with it -- eerily prophetic as it turned out!


{snip}
Post by Laon
Of course even in this letter repudiating antisemitism, it could be
argued Siegfried still revealed "mild" antisemitism, in the view that
Jews stick together and promote their own artists, and that if he were
only Jewish his operas would be enormously more successful. This
echoes his father's idea that a preponderance of Jews controlled the
theatres and music criticism. But it is also clear that Siegfried was
not the sort to approve of the Nazi thuggery that was already being
directed against German Jews, even in the 1920s.
"Sticking together" and mutual promotion were charges commonly levelled
against the Jews in that era by the less crude variety of anti-Semite.
There was probably an element of truth in it, in that like most
embattled minorities, Jews did develop a tradition of mutual aid --
understandably enough -- or simply a greater mutual sympathy. Quite
possibly Siegfried was just good-naturedly defusing an anti-semitic
sneer by advancing it as a virtue, as Dorothy L. Sayers rather clumsily
tried to do in some of her stories.

All good stuff, though, and thanks yet again!

Cheers,

Mike
--
***@asgard.zetnet.co.uk
Laon
2004-09-18 09:36:36 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Without in any way wanting to deflate the Hitler reference, which seems
very likely, the concept of woodland-dwelling robber bands being
cannibals and and living in charnel-house caves is an extremely common
one in German folklore and literature. I'd be pushed to give you a
specific example right now (references in Grimm, almost certainly) but
I've come across it many times, more often than in other countries
(although I seem to remember de Sade makes use of it, but then he would,
wouldn't he?).
On the wolf being Hitler, I think that's gone past just "likely" and
into the "unlikely to be false" category, because:
* The name Wolf was a well-known Hitler nom-de-guerre;
* Wolf was the name by which Hitler was known at Bayreuth, including
by Siegfried's children, and Siegfried wrote the opera at Bayreuth;
* Siegfried had already made a little theatre-set using the name
"Wolf" to refer to Hitler, which shows the Wolf/Hitler connection was
something he was prepared to use;
* Winifred admitted that the character "Wolf" in _Das Fluchlein_ Act
II was a representation of Hitler: she was in a position to know, and
there are ways in which that admission was not in her own interest;
and
* That Peter Pachl, Siegfried Wagner's biographer, also came to this
conclusion.

As for the dismembered body parts, I agree that this wasn't anything
that Siegfried could have known about or predicted in 1929/30,
although as you say it does look eerily prescient from our vantage
point. All Siegfried had to go on were Nazi bashings, some murders,
and some increasingly ugly but unspecific rhetoric, some of which must
been delivered over the dinner table at Bayreuth.

I think that Siegfried's reasons for portraying Hitler in that form
are partly dictated by his chosen genre: fairytale opera. "Wolf", in
_Das Fluchlein_, is closely based on the villain of Tale 40 from
Grimm's _Kinder- und Hausmärchen_" The Robber Bridegroom.

Grimm's Robber Bridegroom appears to have several advantages, for
Siegfried's purposes. First, the Robber Bridegroom is a bandit and a
murderer. So far so good. Second, he is not a solitary villain, but
the leader of a criminal gang, who are laying waste to an entire land.
Even better. Fits Hitler like a glove. Including that the Robber
Bridegroom and his gang are still outlaws at this age. In Siegfried's
fairytale opera, they are rounded up and arrested by the proper
authorities. At the time, there were still authorities in Germany who
could have done that with the real Hitler and his gang.

So to some extent the detail of the dismembered bodies just comes with
the story; once you decide to use Tale 40, the Robber Bridegroom, for
your second act, then the murder, dismemberment and cannibalism of the
Robber Bridegroom's previous bride comes along too, so you include it
in your version. And it helps, by making Hitler slightly comic, an
grotesque.


I think that's a sufficient explanation in itself. However, I suspect
there's a tiny bit more to it. But that's only some speculation based
on Siegfried's personal situation, as I read it. I've suggested some
political reasons why Siegfried might reasonably have been
disillusioned with Hitler by 1929/30. And _Das Flüchlein_ might have
been an effective political statement. Not enough to change history
or anything, I wouldn't think; but it would have made a splash, if it
had been performed at the time.

I'm being called, so speculation on his personal reasons will come
next time.

Cheers!

Laon
Laon
2004-09-20 15:11:18 UTC
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So you could say that Siegfried Wagner had enough motive to write an
opera attacking Hitler, just on public political events. There was the
war-mongering, which the cosmopolitan European Siegfried could hardly
approve of, there were the murders and bashings, the attacks on Jews -
Siegfried had deprecated even his father's antisemitism, though he
also said antisemitic things - and the street bashings of homosexuals
by Hitler's thugs. That last was close to home for Siegfried, though
he may have felt that with the Wagner name he personally was immune.

But I suggested that there were also some personal matters that may
have helped power the decision to take the step of devising a public
denunciation of Hitler. To discuss that it's necessary to give a brief
outline of Siegfried's family situation - or the parts that seem
relevant to this issue.

We don't have the detailed knowledge about Siegfried Wagner that we
have about his father. Siegfried didn't leave eight volumes of essays,
and thousands of pages of letters setting out his opinion on every
topic that entered his head, and nor did his wife feel inspired to
write down his every deed and word. Instead Winifred worked to conceal
his ideas and to diminish his works. And it seems that although
Siegfried was a friendly and amiable man, he kept his own counsel and
revealed little of his private self. Friedelind thought she was one of
the very few to have successfully penetrated defences, and in that she
was probably correct. But he kept many secrets from her, too.

So we have to make some assumptions about his family situation and his
feelings about his family, on less evidence than one would like.
Here's an outline of my assumptions. They are bound to have overlooked
relevant information because I'm an utter neophyte in this area, which
hasn't interested me till now. But at least I'm making my assumptions
explicit.

My first assumption is that the marriage between Siegfried and
Winifred was not only a cynical matter of a homosexual man needing to
marry in order to avoid scandal and provide some children. Such
evidence as exists - mainly the "family story" as reported by a number
of Wagner descendents - suggests that Siegfried was genuinely
attracted to Winifred, at least initially.

Although Siegfried was predominantly homosexual in his activities, he
also had affairs with women, which suggests that he was capable of
sexual appreciation of both men and women. It was Siegfried who picked
Winifred, who was apparently a very attractive girl when he met and
married her. This suggests that his desires and emotions were
involved. Otherwise he could easily have picked one of the likely
brides who had been lined up for his consideration by his mother and
aunts.

No doubt Winifred was partly a "beard", a wife acquired to give a
public proof of heterosexuality and continue a dynasty. But the
evidence seems to me to indicate that there was once a real sexual and
emotional tie between Siegfried and Winifred. Therefore, simply
because he was a human being, its loss would have been a source of
pain for him.

My second assumption is that although Siegfried was a liberal, as
Friedelind said, and he was undoubtedly cosmopolitan, he was also a
conservative, as Friedelind also said. A boy and man brought up by
Cosima, whose family names had been d'Agoult, Liszt, von Bülow and
Wagner, was likely to have very traditional ideas about the family:
the role of the husband and father, the duties of the wife and mother,
and the place of the children. Siegfried expected to be able to devote
himself to business affairs (and sexual affairs) while his wife
dutifully took care of children and other family matters, and to
remain the loved and respected head of the family. Although Siegfried
was sexually transgressive by the standards of his time, he expected,
once he took a wife and fathered children, to be a paterfamilias, the
head of his family. His word, when he chose to give it, was supposed
to be law.

My third assumption is that Siegfried cared about his children,
especially but not only Friedelind, and he cared about correctly
performing his duties as a father as he saw them. This is in spite of
his having kept his children at a distance, where they were largely
brought up by governesses, tutors and teachers. According to Spotts
[page 143] Wieland complained that he only got to see his father for
about 10 minutes a day. Only Friedelind insisted on breaking into his
physical presence while he worked, and then breaking through his
reserve. His death does not seem to have upset his children unduly,
except for Friedelind. Nevertheless, Siegfried was doing what he
thought a father was supposed to do, earning a living through his art
and keeping the family business in business. My assumption is that he
did care for his children, and (which is a slightly different thing)
he cared about performing the role of father properly.

My ideas about why and how his feelings about Hitler built up to the
point where he was prepared to make an open denunciation are based on
these three assumptions. I think his antipathy for Hitler and
Hitlerism had four personal sources, in addition to the political
concerns I mentioned in the previous post.

First, there was Winifred's passionate support for the Nazis, from
around 1923 onwards. Siegfried seems initially to have found Hitler
personally charming, and to have half-endorsed what he thought was
Hitler's program: dictatorship to end the turmoil on the streets, full
employment, and revival of German culture, perhaps. Siegfried is
supposed to have commented, in this early stage, that if Hitler could
achieve the things he said he wanted to, then "good luck to him". But
as early as 1924 there were already signs that Siegfried was unhappy
about Winifred's involvement with the Nazi party.

Friedelind commented of this time that "my mother's open devotion to
the movement had been represented as that of my father and as the
attitude of Bayreuth as well." She added that Winifred's activities on
behalf of families of convicted Nazis brought her to he attention of
the police. "These activities worried father for they were building up
an unfortunate atmosphere for the opening of the festival. It wasn't
funny any more. He felt that he simply must stop Mother but he didn't
know how to be stern with her. A comment that he made then was the
only bitter phrase I ever knew him to say: 'Winnie destroys everything
that I try so desperately to rebuild.'"
[Friedelind, pages 15-17]


Joachim Köhler's _Wagner's Hitler_ argued that really Siegfried was
secretly an enthusiastic Nazi who only pretended to be discomfited by
Winifred's open support for the Nazis, because it damaged Bayreuth's
fund-raising by alienating liberal and Jewish backers. Köhler's
chapters on Siegfried Wagner have all the reliability and integrity of
his material on Richard Wagner.

I understand that Brigitte Hamann took the same tack as Köhler in her
recent biography of Winifred Wagner. Hamann's book drew a scathing
review from Peter Pachl, author of the most recent biography of
Siegfried Wagner, which you can find here:
http://www.siegfried-wagner.org/html/rezfam02.html

Pachl's review gives a number of examples of Hamann's deceptions by
omission and commission, and I found Pachl's review entirely credible.
It seems Hamann took on some of Köhler's methods as well as some of
his ideas. However Hamann's agenda was not Köhler's: her intention was
to defend Winifred. Why that involves attacking Siegfried is an
interesting question, but for some other time.

Anyway, the weight of evidence is clearly against the idea that
Siegfried was a Nazi supporter who had only cynical grounds for
opposing his wife's active involvement in Nazi affairs.
First, this idea is contradicted by the portrait of Siegfried in
Friedelind's book, which seems to be a well-informed and generally
true-to-life portrait, though wrong on some matters of detail, mainly
because Friedelind was still young when Siegfried died.
Second, it is contradicted by Hitler's own statement that Siegfried
was "a political neutral".
Third, it also tends to be contradicted by Goebbels' repeated
expressions of utter contempt for Siegfried in his _Diaries_, which
demonstrate that Goebbels did not see Siegfried as any friend of
Nazism.
Fourth, it is contradicted by the evidence of statements by Siegfried
himself, for example those opposing antisemitic activity, or political
demonstrations at Bayreuth.
Fifth, there is Siegfried's decision to make an open attack on Hitler
openly, which must have begun in 1927 at the latest, that being when
he began working on _Das Flüchlein_.

To state that Siegfried was not a Nazi or a covert Nazi sympathiser is
not the same as claiming that he was a saint, of course. His early
semi-positive response to Hitler indicates that, although he turned
against Hitler as he understood more of Hitler's intentions, he was
not inherently averse to dictatorship, for example, let alone
committed to liberal democracy and multiculturalism. It was just that
he didn't support a brutal, murderous gang who wanted to extinguish
liberty as well as democracy, and who were broadcasting their
intention to target Jews, homosexuals and many artists, among others.

Moreover, it is probably true that Bayreuth's financial status was
Siegfried's overriding concern, and that he saw Winifred's association
with the Nazis as threatening the Festival's viability. But the
evidence suggests that even if Bayreuth's funding base were not an
issue he would in any case have preferred the Wagner name and the
Bayreuth Festival to be above politics, and in particular to avoid
association with a gang of thugs and rowdies.


Anyway, one issue is that Winifred's Nazi involvement helped to
develop, or widen, a rift between Siegfried and Winifred. This takes
us to about the end of 1924.

In around 1925 we can perhaps discern a new issue. Winifred wrote to a
friend, in early 1925, that Siegfried had "laid down the law" to her,
forbidding her to take any further part in Nazi movement activities.
Winifred ignored his instruction. My expectation is that Siegfried is
likely to have been surprised and discomforted by that, and even
shocked.

There is also the matter of Hitler's relationship with Siegfried's
children. Hitler basically moved in on the Wagner children, making
himself charming, being playful, buying presents, and so on. Hitler,
calling himself "Onkel Wolf", seems to have been good at winning
children's trust and affection. That was generally thought of as a
sign of good character, though of course it seems creepy to us,
knowing what we know.

I have no basis for the following speculation except to imagine what
it would be like to have a father-child relationship that has operated
well enough, affectionate if perhaps somewhat reserved, which a
stranger disrupts by helping himself to the children's affection,
something that "Onkel Wolf" did very effectively. Geoffrey Skelton's
biography of Wieland Wagner mentioned the young Wieland excitedly
saying to Hitler, "You should be our daddy, and daddy should be our
uncle."
[Skelton, page 21]

Skelton doesn't provide a date for that, only saying it was when
Wieland was "very young". Given that Hitler first arrived at Bayreuth
on October 1923, I'm guessing that the "you should be our daddy"
incident happened in late 1924 or early 1925, when Wieland was seven
or eight. My speculation is that Siegfried would have taken Hitler's
usurping his place in his children's affection about as well as any
father would, which is to say he is likely to have been at the very
least hurt and resentful.

By the way, some writer (I can't remember the name) claimed that
Hitler had sexually molested Wieland. This claim sometimes gets
repeated as if it had a basis in fact. I'm not aware of any evidence
that supports this claim, and it has nothing to do with anything that
I'm arguing.

A third stage involves the increasingly intimate relationship between
Winifred and Hitler. Winifred may have hinted to Goebbels as early as
1926 that Siegfried was a sexual disappointment to her; she was even
more explicit on this later. Just as Siegfried was by then pursuing
other sexual contact, she was drawn to Hitler. Hamann, in the
biography of Winifred mentioned above, argued that Hitler and Winifred
never actually had sex, and I'm inclined to think that this is true.
However while Siegfried was alive they were seen together to such an
extent that they were gossipped about.

The gossip accelerated after Siegfried's death, when there seemed to
be a real chance that the pair would marry. (Or so it seemed to those
who did not know the terms of Siegfried's will, that Winifred would
inherit the Festival unless she re-married, in which case it would
pass from her to the Bayreuth City authorities.)

But it already existed while Siegfried was alive. My feeling is that
by the late 1920s Siegfried (who left no comment of any kind on such
matters; so "feelings" is all we have to go on) would have minded what
a divorce court might have called the "alienation of his wife's
affections", but not all that much. The relationship seemed to have
already cooled, with disappointment on both sides. But I suspect,
again only going by "feeling", that he is likely to have minded the
gossip much more. It cast him in an invidious and public role of
"impotent cuckold", and even though he probably knew that he was not
being cuckolded, at least not technically, it could not have been an
easy situation to take.

But perhaps there were two direct triggers for his determining to
write _Das Flüchlein_. Peter Pachl noted, in his review of Hamann's
book, that a note written by Winifred in the margin of her copy of
_Mein Kampf_ indicated that Siegfried finally read Hitler's book some
time in 1926. Siegfried's reaction was clearly negative. A Hitler
speech, apparently near Bayreuth on Christmas Day in 1926, led to what
seems to have been a family crisis, a breakdown or at least a
milestone in a process of estrangement. In Winifred's words, as quoted
by Pachl, "On the 25th [of December 1926] Hitler spoke here, and –
I've really horrified myself about this – Siegfried would not let me
go in. But I went in anyway."

Pachl argued that Siegfried's clearly anti-Nazi stance can be dated to
that day. I think it was something brewing over a longer period, and
had multiple causes, but it's not far from the truth.


So there seem to be personal as well as political issues intertwined,
for Siegfried. Hitler was a leader of political thugs, and he usurped
some of Siegfried's standing with his children, and his wife.
Siegfried was undercut as a father, as a husband and as a man.
Siegfried read _Mein Kampf_ and then refused to let his wife see
Hitler; but then his wife made it clear that her loyalty to Hitler
outweighed her loyalty to him. The personal and the political are
mixed, but the result was a political act: the creation of _Das
Flüchlein_.

It's bedtime in Oz. I'm sure I'll need to correct the above, but I'll
just post it, for now.

Cheers!


Laon
Laon
2004-10-10 09:32:06 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
I'll wind up the Siegfried side of the story in this post.

As noted, Siegfried began work on an anti-Hitler opera in 1927,
distributing the libretto at his 60th birthday. The manner in which he
appointed Toscanini as conductor at Bayreuth in 1930 also indicated
Siegfried's growing estrangement from his wife's Nazi sympathies.
Appointing Toscanini was an irritatant in itself, since Toscanini was
not only a non-German but an outspoken anti-fascist. But Siegfried
publicised the invitation with an open letter to Toscanini that
expressed his regret for the fact that politics had previously kept
him from making the invitation, and praised Toscanini over an incident
in which he had defied Fascist hecklers in his audience. [Spotts, p
148]

So he had made his new stand clear.

Despite this Hitler remembered Siegfried Wagner with affection. In the
_Tabletalk_ he said Siegfried had been a friend, though politically
neutral, and in the _Monologe im Führer-Hauptquartier 1941-1944_ he
gratefully remembered Siegfried's kindnesses during and after his
imprisonment. "It was not just the others [ie Winifred] but Siegfried
as well who stood by me at the time when things were at their worst
for me."

[By the way Köhler used that second quote as if it were proof that
Siegfried Wagner supported Hitler's politics, which is not what those
words actually say. Leaving aside Köhler's winning way with a
citation, it is probably was true that Siegfried was broadly
supportive of Hitler's aims, as Siegfried incorrectly understood them,
in the early 1920s. But as we've seen, this early support had turned
to opposition by late 1927.]

But despite Hitler's continued affection for Siegfried, Goebbels
clearly loathed him. Goebbels' initial reaction to Siegfried was
merely contemptuous. He first met Siegfried Wagner on 8 May 1926, and
wrote:

"In a car through Bayreuth the other day. Went on to Wahnfried. Frau
Wagner (Siegfried's wife) took me in for dinner. A thoroughbred woman.
They should all be like that. And fanatically on our side. She cried
out her troubles to me. Siegfried is so limp. Pfui! He should be
ashamed before the Master. Then Siegfried is here. Feminine. Good
natured. A bit decadent. A bit like a cowardly artist. Is that it? Do
artists not have the least bit of civil courage? His wife pleases me.
I would like to have her as a friend.
[...] We stay a long time in the hall, chattering. Through a wonderful
park. Two minutes silence at the Master's grave. A young woman weeps,
because the son is not what the master was. Departure. Laughter!
Handshake! I have gained the love of this sweet young woman."

The word I've translated as "limp" is "schlappe". My feeling is that
Goebbels was referring both to Siegfried's political "softness" and to
his "femininity". By 1926 it seems that Siegfried, having done his
duty by fathering four children, was exclusively and enthusiastically
homosexual; he was "limp" for Winifred. I think this is likely to be
an underlying meaning both of Goebbels' account of Winifred's
complaint about Siegfried, and of her weeping by the grave "because
the son is not like the Master".

So Goebbels observed and despised Siegfried's homosexuality, and also
despised Siegfried's lack of commitment to the Nazi cause. In the
following months there are occasional positive references to Winifred
and the Wagner children, but Siegfried Wagner is not mentioned again
until 28 May 1928. The tone is now overtly hostile: by then Siegfried
had changed his attitude to the Nazis and to his wife's involvement
with them had changed. Goebbels was aware of this, even if Hitler was
apparently unaware or prepared to overlook it.

"28 May 1928: We meet Winifred Wagner. And those four charming
children! Siegfried is a cowardly dog. Crawls before the Jews!
Farewell, Winifred! Gone!"

Siegfried is next mentioned over two years later, after his fatal
heart attack of 4 August 1930.

"5 August 1930: Tomorrow's meeting in Hamburg has been delayed. Thank
God! Siegfried Wagner died yesterday afternoon. So Wahnfried enters a
new stage. Russa Jahnke was visiting there. She told me, singing and
very pleased, as if it was funny. Afterwards we sat up to midnight
with the patient and chatted. Today is a bright sunny day."

I don't know who the "patient" was, that Goebbels and Russa Jahnke sat
up and chatted with. But even if you take "Thank God!" to refer to the
postponed meeting and not to Siegfried's death (which is how I take
it), it's clear that Goebbels took the news of Siegfried's death with
something less than overpowering grief.


The question that had interested me was whether Siegfried's apostacy,
his rejection of his wife's association with Hitler and his crew, had
influenced Goebbels' attitude to Richard Wagner, and thus influenced
German cultural policies and contributed to the decline in the
frequency of Wagner performances.

But although this seemed like a good theory, in fact as I've looked
through Goebbels' _Diaries_ I haven't been able to find any evidence
of any direct correlation between Goebbels' attitude to Siegfried and
his attitude to the memory and works of Siegfried's father.

Instead I'm reduced to mere speculation. That is, perhaps Goebbels
reaction to Siegfried Wagner may have influenced his reaction to
Friedelind's conduct, ten years later. That is, to be rejected by one
Wagner could be dismissed as mere happenstance; but to be rejected by
two Wagners could lead to a new train of thought.

Anyway, I'm going to leave Siegfried here and move on to Friedelind. I
might post something about his music in a different thread. I've been
listening to more of his music, and the more I hear the more impressed
I am.

Cheers!


Laon

All selections are from the _Sämtliche Fragmente_, the pencilled
original drafts of Goebbels' _Diaries_ rather than from the typed
versions, and all translations were made by me.

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