Previously on “Another 80 Gays” : The royal pretender 60) Dmitri I (d.1606) gained his throne in one of the Russian succession conflicts that had previously seen the assassination of 61) St. Boris (590-1015) and 62) George the Hungarian (d.1015), with Boris having dragon legends built up around him, a popular Medieval folk motif which influenced an opera by Richard Wagner whose hero he named his son after – 63) Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930).
Following his father’s
death 63) Siegfried Wagner
became guardian of the Wagnerian legacy. The main foundation of this was the
Bayreuth Festival. Siegfried, already an established composer and opera writer,
was always living under his father’s shadow even though his compositions were
Even though he was named
after one of the most famous heroes in German folklore Siegfried’s favourite
opera of his father’s was “Tannhäuser”. Richard Wagner completed it in 1845 but
was always tinkering with it because he wasn’t satisfied with the result.
Siegfried was keen to produce “Tannhäuser” at the Bayreuth Festival for years
but couldn’t afford to finance the extravagant production he envisaged. He
finally got the chance in 1930, the year of his death.
Several of Siegfried’s gay
friends were brought into the production. He chose two for the two lead male
roles. Kurt Söhnlein, also gay, designed the sets. The choreographer was asked
to include homoerotic elements into sections of set in the subterranean grottos
of the goddess Venus. With Richard Wagner’s reputation of being right-wing, and
the growing popularity of his operas in the emerging extreme right-wing
politics in Germany, traditionalists objected to this aspect of the 1930
Despite this Siegfried’s
“Tannhäuser” was a resounding success, and it even had the great Arturo
Toscanini as conductor. It was also probably the first musical production that
was subsequently recorded as an “original cast” album (except for a replacement
The character of
Tannhäuser was a legendary knight and minstrel. During the 19th century he
appeared in various collections of folk tales, with embellishments. One
embellishment was his participation in a minstrel song contest, which may have
been the final piece of inspiration for Richard Wagner to include that contest
in his opera halfway through the second act. The contest was a very specific
one. It was one that featured in folklore and is sometimes called the
Sängerkreig. It is also sometimes called the Wartburgkrieg because it was held
at Wartburg Castle in 1207.
Even though Tannhäuser was
a man of folklore some of the songs attributed to him made it into print. The
earliest of these is in a collection of medieval German minstrel songs called the
Codex Manesse. This book is acclaimed as the most comprehensive source of
German minstrel songs and was produced just over a hundred years after the
Wartburgkrieg. The Codex contains songs composed by 140 minstrels, including
kings, counts and commoners, most of them illustrated with portraits of the
Tannhäuser is illustrated
with his songs (below left) as was another minstrel referred to as “Der Püller”
(below right). He has been identified as Konrad Püller of Hohenburg Castle in present
day French Alsace (where it is known as the Château du Hohenbourg). The castle
is now in ruins but is still a very popular tourist attraction and a protected
Most of the castle has
been rebuilt over the centuries. One of the last members of the family to live
in Konrad’s castle was his grandson 64)
Richard Püller von Hohenburg (d.1482).
Being located in the
border country where France and medieval German states meet Hohenburg Castle
often changed ownership during border disputes. Richard had more than
territorial conflicts which threatened his possession of the castle. Several
times he was accused of homosexuality. The first time was in 1463 when one of
his servants was detained after being seen wearing clothes that were reserved
for the aristocracy (there were laws on who could wear what in those days).
Under torture the servant admitted that he bought the clothes with money he had
blackmailed out of Richard Püller in return for his silence on Richard’s
Richard was arrested, then
released without trial after his family estates in Strasbourg were confiscated.
But once accusations of homosexuality are made they are easy to be make again.
In 1474 Richard was arrested again. He was stripped of Hohenburg Castle and
held in custody for two years, managing to escape the death penalty because of
his noble rank. He was released on condition that he signed a confession of
sodomy and spent the rest of his life in a monastery. He did the former but not
the latter. Instead he escaped to Switzerland where he tried to get support for
his campaign to regain his Strasbourg and Hohenburg estates.
In Zurich Richard found
some support. Negotiations were lengthy, mainly because Strasbourg was a Swiss
ally. Then, suddenly, negotiations stopped and Richard found himself arrested
yet again for homosexuality. This time the outcome was different. The Swiss
didn’t recognise German titles and Richard was treated as a commoner. He was
found guilty and sentenced to be burnt at the stake as a heretic.
Richard went to his death
denouncing the Zurich authorities for betraying him, putting most of the blame
on a man called Hans Walmann. As it happens, Hans Waldmann would meet the same
fate seven years later. In between he was seen as a popular political figure.
He was elected Mayor of Zurich the year after Richard Püller’s execution and
was regarded as a great statesman, even beyond the borders of Switzerland.
Very soon Hans Walmann was
accused of sodomy by other Zurich officials who resented his popularity and
they succeeded in having him burnt at the stake just like Richard Püller von
Hohenburg. Being a popular politician was no guarantee of a long career.
The present Mayor of
Zurich, however, has enjoyed a long and popular career. In fact she has been
nominated for the title of World Mayor 2018. Her name is 65) Corine Mauch (b.1960).
Next time :
World Mayors and a return to the American Revolution.