Thursday, 25 October 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 30) Songs and Deadly Fires

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 also popular.

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 production.

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 for Toscanini).

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 minstrels themselves.

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 national monument.
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 homosexual activity.

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.

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