Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music



Major Professor

Rachel M. Golden

Committee Members

Leslie C. Gay Jr., Jacqueline Avila


Most readings of Wagner’s final music drama Parsifal seek to illumine a clandestine presentation of Wagner’s racist doctrine or make sense of a less-shrouded but still ambiguous panegyric to Christianity. However, little scholarly material addresses Wagner’s provocative account of sensuality and homoeroticism in this Bühnenweihfestspiel [Stage Consecration Festival Play]. This thesis explores desire and homosexuality within the drama and considers how and why Wagner masks these themes through the opaque mythos of religion, race, and community. Parsifal was partly informed by Wagner’s own complex neuroses: his sexual anxieties and scandals, amalgam of German philosophies, and confusion concerning Germanness. As filtered through his own belief system, Wagner’s Parsifal ambivalently presents homoeroticism, wavering between an idealized pure love and a destructive, even unnatural, force of desire.

I was initially inspired by Laurence Dreyfus’s work Wagner and the Erotic Impulse, which struck me as a fresh exegesis of Wagner’s oeuvre, embracing the overt sexual nature of his dramatic text, music, and philosophical writings. Carolyn Abbate’s Unsung Voices and Jean-Jacques Nattiez’s Wagner Androgyne provide methodologies for narration and androgyny from which I draw. Wagner demonstrates homoerotic sensibilities through both heroic and villainous characters, within an exotic medieval Spain (and a Zauberschloß), and through opposing sonic worlds of communal diatonicism and chromatic sensuality. Exploring this work from a perspective energized by recent musicological gender studies and musico-textual semiotics and relations, my reading of Parsifal is thus primarily corrective. Wagner’s final music drama offers a manifestation of love and sensuality with all the contradictions and fears of Wagner’s experiences and imagination.

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