In Which games and snow come in a flurry. Israel is in the Psychiatrist’s Chair and First Month Moyes Report

Post 33

Thankful for small mercies, Don and Little Don left the Bowl of Broken Dreams after the Leicester game with a spring in our step and endorphins if not exactly sprinting around our system, then at least recalling the direction of travel. You’d think we had just beaten Man U whereas we had drawn with Leicester but as I say, small mercies. Since then and the commencement of this Pulitzer Prize effort, despondency against Everton, pride at City and euphoria at home to Chelsea.

Footie, as befits our table position, is dealt with at the foot of this rather long post.


First, on the Wagner front, we look at a part of the world, Israel, where for the best part of a century, Wagner has been musically absent but in every other sense alive and kicking out for all he’s worth. Don investigates why this is (bleeding obvious ain’t it?) and whether it reveals more about Wagner or the collective consciousness of a new and traumatized nation.  As a casual observer of Israeli society over the decades and as a relative newbie to the joy of Wagner, Don feels as ill-equipped to write on this as anything else…..so here we go.

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In 1938 Arturo Toscanini, arguably the greatest 20th century Maestro, travelled to British Mandate Palestine to conduct what would become the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Performances included the preludes to Acts 1 and 3 of Lohengrin. He conducted Wagner in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. He was aware of some resistance to Wagner among the populace of the then embryo of the Jewish state but he was determined to play because “nothing should interfere with music”.

The concerts were widely reported in domestic and foreign press and amid some polite resistance, were well and respectfully received. Intellectual central European Jews, of which plenty had emigrated to Palestine, were aware of the Wagner “issues” but by and large and perhaps out of deferential respect to Toscanini, he (Wagner) was judged on musical and in general positive terms. This is no blanket validation; after all, to the vast majority in mandate Palestine, both Wagner and Toscanini were irrelevant to daily life in much the same way as if The Sun canvassed views today on Daniel Barenboim.

Yet that would be the last time Wagner was played in Israel in public performance (private and radio performances have occurred) pretty much to date, excepting one performance in the 1990’s when Barenboim, amidst tumult, sneaked in a Leibestod.

Rightly or wrongly, Wagner, indelibly associated with the Nazi party, was never going to be top of the pops in Israel. Prospects were little better for Richard Strauss and Carl Orff. Yet, whereas those actual contemporaries of the Nazis (possibly even Party members), have since the 1990’s, almost without murmur, become regular parts of the Israeli concert repertoire, Wagner who died in 1883, 50 years prior to Nazi domination, remains the devil incarnate. Never actually banned; the Israeli government reluctantly but consistently asserting since the 40’s that it is not its place to interfere with the arts, a groundswell of public opinion, fanned by the media and various politicians has ensured he and his works remain beyond the pale. Even to this day, where cable TV, the internet and foreign travel mean that in private, Israelis listen to what and when they want, Wagner is not publicly performed.

It is unimaginable how one psychologically copes with surviving the holocaust; whether that survival is literal or vicariously via family or even observing from safe distance. So inevitably at the creation of a nation, in controversial and extreme circumstances, where the majority of the populace had been so affected, the Holocaust cast a giant shadow over the Israeli psyche. Accepting for now that a nation or a people can have a psyche.

At this point it may be as well to clarify that Palestinian Arab claims (many and legitimate as they may be) are beyond the scope of this musing which is really looking at the post-holocaust collective Israeli (Jewish) psyche and how Wagner fed into that. Though from the late ’70’s onward, Palestinian direct action (terrorism and/or later the intifadas – both of course loaded terms) became in that psyche, increasingly blurred with the Holocaust in creating a siege mentality.

I think its fair to say that until the late 1930’s intellectual and cultural life in Jewish Palestine was dominated by people who thought German-speaking or German influenced lands were and had been for centuries the cultural capital of Europe. The pillars of which were Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn. Goethe, Schiller, Heine, Brecht, Thomas Mann etc. In philosophy, one need look no further than Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer and of course, Marx.  Such people were directors of theatres, newspaper editors, political activists and much of café society looked to replicate Munich, Vienna or Budapest. Wagner occupied an ambiguous place in their hearts. His music was loved and his genius never in doubt but it may have been their grandparents that protested the 1868 premiere of Die Meistersinger, having read his essay Judaism and Music a few months earlier. Equally, they may have been descended from Hermann Levi, the Jew selected by Wagner to conduct the 1882 premiere of Parsifal, his final opera. An example was Theodore Herzl who most would describe as the “father” of Zionism. A man prone to obsessiveness, he like Levi before and Mahler after (among thousands of other Jews), worshipped Wagner and in particular the opera Tannhäuser, in which the battle between sensual hedonism and a purer chaste love, mirrored some of Herzl’s personal demons.

swasIn any event, these middle class intellectuals had a serious wake up call two years after Toscanini’s visit. Kristallnacht. Whilst the full horror of the holocaust was still beyond human imagination, on this night, the extent to which the German state was prepared to tolerate anti-Jewish violence, even going so far as to legalize and sponsor it, became clear.

On this night, the Palestine view of Germany and things German changed, so that anything German was to be reviled. This view was robustly held by those Palestinian Jews of other descent not only because they saw Germany for what it had become but with added piquancy, resented the intellectual snobbery of the Palestinian Jews of German heritage.

From this night and continuously as World War II and the Final Solution to the Jewish Question unfolded, Jewish immigration to Palestine exploded, often breaking embargoes of the British, who were trying to maintain some sort of peace among ferociously competing positions of Arab and Jew. With partiality and prejudice…as claimed by both sides.

On his next visit, Toscanini was persuaded to drop the prelude to Die Meistersinger from the repertoire. 

It took several years for the world to comprehend the enormity of the Holocaust. Churchill had received intelligence of death camps during the war. He rejected the opportunity to obliterate certain of them on the ground that such intelligence could not be accurate. Not Passchendaele, The Somme and not Stalingrad. None of these could convince him that man could be capable of such barbarism….eventually the evidence was compelling.

Alongside this, and significantly influenced by the horror of the Holocaust, the UN voted to create a Jewish state in Palestine in 1947 and the State of Israel came into being in 1948. It was immediately attacked by five surrounding Arab nations, yet with a nascent army, succeeded in overcoming  them after a long and hideously difficult war. This is crucial in establishing the psyche of the fledgling nation and why of all things, a cultural icon would have any significance in that psyche.

It was a multi-faceted psyche for a multi-faceted people. Consider for example the following.

  1. Under Siege. Until the late 1950’s, the Jewish population in Israel, were largely people who had survived the Holocaust in one way or another. Thousands liberated directly from the camps or from ghettos, thousands more having fled during or just before the war and thousands of pioneering Zionists that witnessed the horror from Palestine or further afield and many of those had fled the Russian pogroms at the turn of the century.

Hundreds of thousands came, desolate, exhausted, directly from a systematic machine designed to destroy an entire race, into a war at the birth of Israel, in which five nations attacked with the avowed aim of driving the Jews into the sea. United against those that would destroy the Jews; Germans and Arabs, naturally a siege mentality arose, that with various peaks and troughs, survives to this day.

2.    Shame.  There have been many Israeli studies into the psychological effect of surviving. These show that many survivors were ashamed. Ashamed not to have resisted further, ashamed simply to  have survived. Consequently and bizarrely as it now sounds, the Holocaust, for not dissimilar reasons prevalent at the time in (West) Germany, was not a discussion for polite society. Notwithstanding the inauguration of Yad Vashem in 1953. Many parents could not discuss with children; the horror bottled up and buried deep. On the surface however, was hatred of anything German – language, culture, history. The abduction from Argentina and trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann in 1963 was a turning point. Not since Nuremberg had the world confronted personal accounts of the Holocaust on such scale and in such detail. For Israelis, the process was an immense catharsis. Apart from the obvious of the victim exacting some revenge, survivors were giving eyewitness accounts live on TV and before the world. Thousands were empowered to finally confront personal demons and parents would finally be receptive to enquiries of their children as to what had happened to them.  Hatred of all things German intensified and passed to the next generation. Even in Britain, Jews eschewed German goods well into the ’70’s.

3. Race relations.  In Arab nations, where as a generalisation, Moslem and Jew had co-existed semi-comfortably for generations, from the birth of Israel, Jewish life became increasingly untenable. This reached an apex (nadir) in 1956 with the Suez Crisis and consequently many thousands of Arab Jews poured into Israel. These were generally speaking, comparatively poor, less educated, though rich in culture and far less aware of the Holocaust. These people and in particular their children would in the late 1970’s re-direct the nature of Israeli society but for now they were a burden on the new and impoverished nation, several rungs below the influential Europeans. In terms of psyche, Israeli society shapers would be forced to confront their own racism towards other Jews, never mind Moslem and Christian Arabs.

4. Socialism and secularism. The early Zionists were influenced by Marx as much as anyone else and  from the 20’s to the 70’s (much as many ignore this now), Zionism was tinged with socialism in many respects; from political leadership, to the Kibbutz movement, urban co-operatives and the hugely influential Histadrut (trade union movement). Inevitably the military was an incredibly important social institution and this too was dominated by a left of centre leadership. Allied to this was a feminist movement arguably in advance of Western Europe equivalents. Also worthy of mention in contrast to the victim/siege/holocaust mentality, is the idealistic and optimistic notion of building a new and better society. The phrase “Light Unto the Nations”, was oft banded about. These idealists were setting out to make the desert bloom and create society free of many of the failings of the ultra-structured religious shtetls from whence many came and free of centuries of discrimination whereby Jews were by law, limited to money lending type functions and denied purer occupation, say working the land. Ironically it was such lofty ideals that led to the displacement of many Arab Palestinians because whereas first wave Zionists (pre-WW1) were often content to hire local labour to do the dirty work, for the socialist “second wave” (1920’s) it was by dint of idealistic purity, vital that they did manual labour themselves, women too.

5. German relations. In the 1950’s Israel was trying and by and large failing, to house and incorporate into society tens of thousands of Sephardi Jews from Arab lands. Not trying very hard according to most Sephardi’s at the time and fuelling resentment that burst forth in the 1977 election. But a real obstacle was that the country was broke. Its balance of payments was terrible and the military was sucking out any surplus. At same time in the late ’50’s, the German Chancellor Adennaur , was making tentative overtures that the new generation in West Germany was ready to face up to responsibilities. He sought a thaw in relations. This would entail Israelis evolving into a nation that could not only confront “the annihilators” but would accept millions of Marks in reparations and so which over the next 20 years, moved from the utter exclusion of anything German to more Volkswagens than one could shake a stick at.  One of the largest ever Israel TV audiences watched West Germany play East Germany at the World Cup in 1974…on their Grundig colour TVs. Remembering of course that only two years earlier, eleven Israeli athletes were murdered by terrorists, in West Germany. What does that lot do to your psyche???

6. Super (not to say Greater) Israel. The wars in 1967 and 1973 , the rescue of the hostages from Entebbe in 1974 and the airlifting of virtually all Ethiopian Jewry from the mid ’80’s famine all fed into the transformation of the national psyche from the defenceless victims of the Holocaust to a player on the world stage and evolving regional superpower, capable of anything. (The Yom Kippur war being a huge generalisation in that statement, seeing as the Prime Minister and most of the cabinet were sacked in the aftermath for taking the country close to Armageddon). Add in the huge territorial gain made in 1967 which changed the country from plucky little Israel, darling of Western media to occupational force. At a stroke, thousands of non-Israeli Palestinian Arabs were under Israeli control. This had major implications for the rule of law, democracy and how Israel saw itself. How the various factions in society reacted to and coped with that occupation, haemorrhages pain in Israeli society to this day.

7. Menachem Begin and religion.  Even in the context of what had previously occurred, 1977 is a if not the pivotal year in the country’s history. Menachem Begin, was swept to power on a wave of nationalist and religious fervour and for the first time, Israel had a Prime Minister not of the intellectual, genteel Left but one who spoke, despite his Polish origin, for the underprivileged Sephardi Jew. The parents, downtrodden in Arab lands, had come to Israel and faced at best snobbery and glass ceilings and at worst, effete racism. Their children though, not only learned to read and write in their new country of which they were intensely proud but also to vote. They weren’t going to be pushed around any more and neither on a world stage, were Jews.

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So when Begin, always a man of action before words, started talking in bellicose language about Arabs, the US or Europe and most fundamentally, of a Greater Israel incorporating the Territories, he found his constituency. And such talk (retaining the Territories), was not because of some military and temporary expediency but rather because of biblical and therefore permanent right. Whether he was cause or effect, he caught the zeitgeist in Israel of increased religious influence, increased militarism and aggression. And so an invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was considered a justifiable protection of interests in a way that would not have been contemplated a decade earlier.  In parallel (and maybe because of) we have seen since the mid ’70’s an explosion in and world recognition of, (Arab) Palestinian identity, driven home at various times in political and terrorist terms. Increased radicalization has continued for a generation (on both sides) in which we have seen countless loss of innocent life (on both sides) and the assassination of an Israeli Prime Minister…by a Jew .

Interim report. Skipping a few decades, the patient on the couch is victim turned regional super-power. Anti-German yet embracing of all things German. Occident and Orient. Disappointed idealist. Hawk, Dove, Left, Right, Religious, Secular, Tolerant, Fundamental. Hi-tech ultra wealthy along with breadline poor. Expansionist yet has returned to Egypt land equal to the area of the entire country….oh and throw in about half a million Russians.


How does Wagner fit into all this madness?

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The Case Against Wagner….is easy. He thought lots of bad things and what he thought he tended to say and what he said either he or his second wife wrote down.

These have been catalogued ad nausea, including in this blog and does not bear repeating, though we alight on some aspects below. Check it out further if you wish.

The anti-German sentiment spawned in the aftermath of Kristallnacht and which engulfed the country as news of the Holocaust unfolded, naturally extended to rejection of contemporary German composers Richard Strauss and Carl Orff but also to the long dead Richard Wagner, regarded as the spiritual inspiration of the Nazis.

Every now and then, broadly once a decade, the scar would be ripped open by an occurrence which would erupt the debate; usually it was the Israel Philharmonic announcing it proposed to play something by Strauss or Wagner. Cue huge angry and emotional debate in the media, calls for the government to intervene before invariably the orchestra relented and excluded the piece and all was quiet until the wound re-opened some years hence. A full account of this history in which dramatis personae include Jascha Heifetz, Zubin Mehta, Leonard Bernstein and naturally Daniel Barenboim, is set out in Na’ama Sheffi’s – Ring of Myths

Arguments on both sides remained broadly consistent over the generations with little originality introduced. In general terms the pro-Wagner camp argued music is music and the country’s lead orchestra should, by way of national pride as well as the advancement of culture, play the most challenging and serious pieces. They dissociated Wagner’s personal views from his art and Strauss’ and Orff’s actions from theirs. If any pieces gave personal offence, people were free to switch off the radio or walk out; no offence taken.  The anti-Wagner side’s views were equally predictable; the Germans were the annihilators; nothing German should be tolerated never mind celebrated and in particular, survivors and their families (and of course out of respect for those perished) should not have to re-live unimaginable trauma of hearing music played in the camps (see below).

In time (the ’90’s), emotion relented toward Strauss and Orff, particularly when it was established that the Nazi Party may have been something forced upon both of them, particularly Strauss, rather than the other way around and that Strauss had a Jewish daughter-in-law and so Jewish grandchildren.

But Wagner never. Hitler was infatuated with him from his teenage years and undoubtedly found soulful if not political inspiration in his art. Whether Wagner intended anything like such effect upon a fascist is another matter.

Why does he inspire such intense feeling for and against? Particularly in Israel.

For those seeking an answer beyond he was a bad and horribly anti-Semitic man (and surely that alone is insufficient – Henry Ford, Walt Disney and the jury’s out on Shakespeare)…..there is no single answer but consider the following..

He is convenient. There is a Yes Minister episode where James Hacker wants to take a moral stand against a particular smallish country on a matter of principle. Why Sir Humphrey asks, if it’s a matter of principle, don’t you take the same stand against the Soviet Union for the same action? Well replies Hacker, they are just too big and too powerful.

When government takes the gut wrenching decision that the time is right (for Geo/economic reasons) to accept reparations from West Germany, something has to fill that void in the soul. And where government, in such excruciating circumstances, feels it is the custodian of the nation’s soul, it has to listen to the anger and try to placate. Music is the soft underbelly of fascism. I may drive into Tel Aviv in my Volkswagen but I will not listen to Wagner on the car radio. It’s something to hang onto, something on which to pour out vitriol and grief. And who can deny that to Holocaust survivors?

Moreover, music is emotional, evocative. It stirs the soul whereas Volkswagens go from A to B. Wagner is far from a unique composer in this regard, yet many, Don included, contend that he had special qualities when conveying depth of feeling and life experience. Contrary to the popular conception that his music is mainly loud, bombastic and long it is often in fact anything but…ok it is long. Therefore whilst arguments about money generally and the Israeli GDP in particular can be held at a rational level, arguments around music rip at the soul of the nation. For a soul in torment, that cannot be tolerated.

More so, as was regularly maintained, Wagner’s music was played at the death camps where it was used to torment inmates, who even had to march to their death to its nationalistic strains. On a recent visit to Auschwitz my daughter was told by a tour guide that on arrival prisoners were greeted by an orchestra playing Wagner. So it has been given some historical credence but…Did this happen? Is it more than apocryphal?

Validation of anything concerning concentration camp life has an essential evidential difficulty; few lived to tell the story. But that must cut both ways. Proving a negative is also difficult. But of the thousands of  testimonies given at the trials at Nuremberg and Jerusalem, there is little reference to  Wagner’s music being played. One reason may be, why would prisoners know or care? Like today, beyond perhaps Ride of the Valkyries, relatively few would know Wagner’s music if they heard it. It would have been another piece of classical and probably German nationalist music.

In the early 1930’s at Dachau (and elsewhere but especially there), by design, German music was used to intimidate, upset and even (they thought!) culturally improve prisoners but in those early days, inmates tended to be political opponents, not Jews qua Jews, this being well before the Final Solution was implemented or even conceived. See this article of Holocaust Music for further reading on the use of forced and voluntary music in the camps.

Such testimony as there is, tends towards music being heard from officer quarters several hundred yards away. If those officers were into opera, then Wagner was by far the most popular opera composer of the time. But there is little to suggest that Wagner was used as an instrument of torture in any sort of systematic way. Though Ben-Zion Leitner, an usher of the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv and anti-Wagner protester, always maintained so, from personal recollection, whilst other Israeli survivors are equally vehement that it was not.

This of course is not a seriously researched piece but others such as Na’ama Sheffi, also conclude that there is little or no conclusive evidence that Wagner was “weaponised” in this way. The probability is that he and no doubt Strauss, Beethoven and a plethora of German nationalist street songs were used in a vindictive way on a personal and ad-hoc basis.

What also made Wagner so difficult to take, was the extent to which, generally at the whim of Hitler, he was the Party composer of choice and that he represented the soul of the new fascist Germany, with anti-Semitism at its heart. All true.  Yet also significant was the politicisation of Bayreuth after Wagner’s death, initially by Cosima but forcibly so by his son-in-law Stuart Houston Chamberlain and his daughter-in-law Winifred Wagner (nee Williams), both British. The former, a proponent of Arthur comte de Gobinau’s racial inequality theories (rejected by Wagner), who happily extracted from his father-in law’s writings what he needed to suit his purposes, a salient one being the aggrandisement of the Wagnerian dynastic myth and its place in the new Germany. The latter, Winifred, embraced Nazism in every respect and was infatuated with Hitler personally (irrespective of her husband) and all he stood for.  Wagner was long dead, could not have foreseen the Nazis and there is as much to suggest he would have rejected them as the opposite of a Feuerbachian or Schopenhauerian ideal. Also worth noting while on the subject, that his last opera, Parsifal was banned by the Nazis because of its Christian overtones, albeit it has many other interpretations, including what one would have thought would have been a rather useful line concerning pure blood. Don can find little (or no) evidence of  the Nazis highlighting an anti-Semitic message in Wagner’s operas and one expects that had they thought it there, they would have done so.

Finally (finally for Don’s idling at least), there was his fervent nationalism. He was a nationalist and yearned for the reunification of Germany which indeed he saw in his lifetime. But nationalism, in modern negative terms, was not necessarily so then and his politics were generally “Left wing” on  his terms and in his context. His nationalism grew out of being born in Saxony, under the yoke of Napoleon. In his town alone, in excess of 50,000 Saxons were killed by the French before he reached puberty. His nationalism was fuelled by Young Germany; a romantic movement looking to throw off the shackles of a hierarchical religious and codified society. It revered nature, free love and women’s emancipation. In a funny way, reminiscent of some of the early Zionist youth movements and the lyrics of some of their songs don’t sound so good when taken out of context. Yes, anti-Semitism was never far from the surface at the Young Germany festivals. Such were the times, not only there but across Europe. One expects that few movements of self-determination, then and now, would stand up to scrutiny if put under the microscope.

Concluding thoughts..

So as ever with Wagner, matters remain controversial and evidence inconclusive.  We know he was a genius, it is undeniable that some of his music, poetry and the messages they convey are some of the most profound subtle and important ever written.

He was an anti-Semite but history is littered with worse. However they tended not also to be a musical maestro. Or if they were, their timing was better and they didn’t precede a fascist dictatorship. Or if they did, that dictatorship wasn’t so successful at genocide. It seems to Don, that Wagner’s greatest crime was drawing all these strings together into a neat bundle. A manageable bundle to be used by all sides. It is undeniable and readily understandable how and why his music came to be symbolic of the Third Reich. But it also goes to show that Wagner could be used and iconized by the victims of the Holocaust as much as by the perpetrators; whilst logic dictates that, long since departed, he can only be neutral and oblivious.

Personally and as a Jew, even leaving to one side the sheer joy gleaned from his art, there is when watching a Wagner opera, maybe an infinitesimal extra burst of pleasure attributable to Hitler’s wish to deny Jews…. Period; and yet here we are, free to like it or loathe it. It’s like kicking Hitler in the ball; his one and only..


Enough with Wagner, Israel and Nazis, time for something controversial. Whisper it but the David Moyes effect may actually be happening and not only in a bad way.


So at last to Stratford and a review of David Moyes’ first month.

First home game, Leicester and it looked like business as usual; we start ok, the opponents score with first attack, confidence drains, Dementors suck life from the crowd save those plucky chaps that remain up for a bit of booing and the team eases seamlessly to another home defeat. Same shit, different manager. Except the crowd held its nerve and just before half time Kouyate used various anatomical parts to bundle home something we thought extinct – a goal in the first half. Cue split second of suspended belief while we checked in which half we were playing, then pandemonium, relief, half time whistle, cup of tea.

Also a touch of Schadenfreude towards the 5000 so-called fans for whom its obligatory to leave the stadium temporarily on 40 minutes and permanently on 80.

In the second half, raucous support infected the players which in turn bounced back to the crowd. It’s not often the crowd merits a mention on Match of the Day but we did and we got one.

Don and Little Don sit in that mass of humanity known affectionately at the Stratford Bowl-eyn, as the East Stand. We’re generally a polite lot, don’t like a lot of noise, occasionally a whistle or polite applause. Frankly the main observed activity seems to be smart Alecks trying to smuggle a pint passed those fearsome (sic) stewards. Little Don does his bit to stir emotion and occasionally its a duet with Don but generally and more’s the pity,  its library-esque. So it was a funny thing mid-way through the second half, when for no apparent reason, everyone went berserk. Everyone was at it and not just singing….dancing. For fuck’s sake, dancing! What the hell was going on? The game stopped to have a look, cameras panned over the crowd as the ground reverberated, aircraft flying overhead tipped their wing. It was quite something; the sort of something that happened in the last ten home games at the Boleyn (but not much before – lets not kid ourselves) and we all remembered we have a voice and it’s not an offence to use it. My it was liberating! Don used the cover of general loud cavorting to slip in an unconnected Spurs slur and insulted a couple of unreceptive would-be girlfriends from 30 years ago.  By god it was good to be alive.

And then …Everton.

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Goodness me it was dross. And not just from us. Don’t let the score kid you, they too were awful. Five attempts on target and four goals. Actually four attempts when one considers two were bound up in Rooney’s penalty. But that is deflecting from our drudgery. The first half was one of the worst performances I have ever seen. The second half we actually played some football and any football was enough to send Everton into a tizzy; that’s how bad they were. One could say luck deserted us; Creswell hit the bar and Jordan Pickford had the nerve to palm Lanzini’s penalty safely away rather than conveniently back into his path as per Hart/Rooney. Manners!

And then that Rooney magic against the run of play and it was 0-3 and game over. Lets not fuck around with sour grapes. It was amazing skill from one of the best players of his generation.

Apparently the players were all getting fitter but that doesn’t happen over night…well something needed to happen and quick…

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Don’s not much of a gambler but even he was tempted by circa 100-1 in a two-horse race. Fortunately as we were one of the runners he thought better of it, too busy wondering what bitcoin was.

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Lambs to the slaughter bla bla bla, bah bah bah.

Ensconced safely behind the couch that we put behind another couch, Don and Little Don zapped on the TV and awaited incoming. Decked out in funereal black, the boys tentatively entered the fray.

But bugger me sideways, that’s West Ham for you. Has Don learned nothing since 1969? Optimism constantly crushed and just when one expects annihilation, they put in a creditable performance.  Declan Rice deserving special mention in dispatches. Yes we lost but moral victory was ours and that, after all is what really counts….

Chelsea.

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Were it not for Spurs, this lot would be top of the list when Don is king of the world and its comeuppance time. Don spent the day cavorting on Watership Down for a 60th birthday bash (I kid you not and lovely it was too), so it was left to Little Don and his grandfather to fly the family flag. As no one needs to read a report from an absentee, I won’t bother. Suffice to say the Wellington Arms in Berks/Hants was treated to a fine and drunken rendition of Bubbles much to the annoyance of all present.

And I would also add that Creswell looks much more at home in the back three and King Arthur can wreak havoc knowing he has some cover.

A few weeks back, Don purveyed the fixtures and predicted the Hammers would not only be bottom but also detached by Christmas Eve. Delighted to report that seems unlikely (though never underestimate our ability to implode) and we approach the Arsenal game in surprisingly good heart. We’ve beaten off Chelsea, we’ve beaten the snow…..now bring on the Gunners.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

 In Which we may have Redemption for the Redeemer (fingers crossed and weather permitting)

heaven-02.jpgPost 32 – Bumper New Manager Edition! Save Yourselves Now!!

Hello folks. Been a while.

I give you; Senta, Elizabeth, Elsa/Lohengrin, Brunhilde, Tristan, Sachs, Parsifal, Davy Moyes, David Sullivan, West Ham Fans, The West Ham Way.

That’s a bit of a list of saviours and/or entities seeking salvation.

Forget Bob Marley, no-one does redemption like Wagner. In trying to make any sort of sense of the operas (sorry, music-dramas) within his oeuvre (and they’re chock-a-block with insight, if not sense), Don finds it helpful to keep the concept Redemption, front and central. Then all one need do, is work out who needs redeeming, whose doing it and why.

Not into the West Ham thing? Skip about ten paragraphs…

Likewise, in the enduring Stratford soap opera, West Ham are in need of help. Big time. Never mind the results, we seem to have lost our way, our hearts, our focus, our cohesiveness, our home, our ability to sprint and unless we have a care, our roots and our soul. For West Ham (though don’t all clubs claim this?), has always been more than eleven players kicking a football; we have (or had) ..soul.

And to whom have we turned for our salvation? A man equally in need of at the very least, a good makeover, if not a blood transfusion. David Moyes, of no fixed abode, whose last three endeavours; at Man Utd, Real Sociedad and Sunderland, were if not outright failures, perched upon that end of the spectrum. He too is in need of a bit of a leg up. In His words, He has something to prove.

Can two lost souls meeting at the crossroads of life really be mutually redeeming? Or do we have two screaming blokes, colliding and hugging in quicksand? Their combined shackles entwining and hauling them both below the viscous depths?

CLEAVON LITTLE & CHARLES MCGREGOR BLAZING SADDLES (1974)

I don’t know, Don doesn’t know.

But we have an initial premise to test. Has He been brought in to save our souls? Were David Brent here, he’d probably dredge up the old “impossible is immediate, miracles take a little longer.” Poor old Davy M has just 6 months to save himself and WHUFC. So preservation of soul may be a little dramatic (not to say ambitious), what we’re talking here is Premier League status, where a win is a win is a win and be that with soul, Mo’town or R&B, no-one gives a stuff.

If that is the extent of our horizons, we may have got the right guy.

For when it comes to steely eyed, forthrightedness, roll up your sleeves, tracky bottoms and give me 5 laps and 100 press-ups…. Davy is your man. And we do need quite a bit of that. The stats that have (coincidentally?) come out this week have really just borne out what us ITK types have known for some time (via players we couldn’t possibly name) and to what the plebs that go to games is simply the bleeding obvious; we ain’t fit.

As much as we all loved Slav (and Don is as up for a bit of bro’mo as much the next guy – see below..), it is something of a fucking disgrace to see team after team out fight us, especially towards the end of the game.

Having said that (for you Seinfeld fans), I’m sure even under Sam, I recall any number of average teams looking fitter, passing crisper and being better than us. Maybe that’s pessimist me.

So to ignore that slight fly in the ointment, Don was quite impressed with Him at the press conference. Honest, urgent, footballing guy, whom (whom is good, if only we knew where to put it) has enough in the bank from Everton days for us to think he can inspire the 25 pretty talented blokes he has available.

To take an oversimplified case in point, Zaha’s last second goal that deprived us of 2 points at Palace; he shouldn’t have been allowed to turn, he shouldn’t have been allowed to shoot. Everyone should have been about a yard more bothered than they were.

Even before that, ignoring criticism of Antonio because that’s too easy and obvious, various Palace players should have been fouled in their half and the game won.

Its a little bizarre to reference naivety in a manager successful at  international level for several years, but the way Bilic had us set up for our own corner against Liverpool was almost laughable. Once the ball floated in it was 50/50 if we or they won the header; but once Liverpool did, the odds were quickly stacked for them to score some 90 metres away. Such was the paucity of our defensive cover. And those poor souls raised on a diet of West Ham over the last three years, know this was no isolated incident.

Though at this point; a word or two in support of Slaven are in order. For we come to praise Caesar, not to dig him up and bury him again.

1. He brought in and for our purposes, discovered, Payet. If the West Ham Way means anything (and of course it doesn’t), it is Dimitri Payet gracing Upton Park and the current fishbowl. Not since Di Canio or Joe Cole in his youthful pomp, have we seen anything like Payet and nor will we do so again as far as the eye can see. Presumably other managers also noted he created an abundance of chances in France but it was Slav that moved quickly and decisively. For the memories Don and Little Don have of that man, we thank you Slav.

2. The same to a lesser degree applies to Lanzini,  Obiang and Antonio.  Lanzini could easily been overlooked in exotic desert leagues but he wasn’t. A fantastic talent whose entire potential is yet to be realised. Has he always been played in the right position? No. Does he often come too deep to get involved? Yes. But well done Slav for bringing him in. Same with Obiang, Slav’s first signing and probably rubber stamped rather than driven by him. Particularly as if memory serves, obstinacy kept this obvious talent behind Noble in the pecking order for half a season. Antonio, was and to a degree maybe still is, raw talent to be harnessed in the most effective way. Like Obiang he wasn’t an immediate favourite of Slaven’s but came to be such.

All in all, Moyes inherits a decent squad. Thanks Slav.

3. He presided over the best season in Little Don’s living memory. Don is ancient. Not only cutting his teeth on the boys of ’86 but even tasting the delights of Moore, Peters, Brooking, Robson and Devonshire. But for Little Don that last season at Upton Park happened to coincide with our decision to take in a few away games. Father and son, together on the road, seeing the Irons win and/or perform well in unexpected places, counts for something. Thanks Slav. Winning the final ever home games against Chelsea and Liverpool – thanks Slav. For febrile excitement at home to Arsenal – thanks Slav. Winning the final ever game against Spurs at UP – thanks even more Slav. And for that last game ever…..you have Don’s eternal gratitude.

4. What a guy. On the day you get sacked to say it was the right decision and no hard feelings. To say this will always be your club. To say this was more than a job…these are unnecessary words that one only says if they are heartfelt. And with them, he inscribes a place in our hearts. Get your next job Slav but feel free to turn up on the “terraces” with us any time you get. Cheers pal and all the best.

Back to our Redeemer. One season. What are his chances?  First advantage is he doesn’t need to work out the problem. That much s obvious; conceding way too many goals. Yet, we have a good keeper and decent reserve keeper. Reid is a perfectly acceptable Premier League defender, albeit on the creative side he’s no Rio. Similar re Fonte (after a sticky start). Ogbonna; also pretty good, provides left balance and better distribution. Loved what I’ve seen of Rice so far. Zabaletta means we shouldn’t be exposed on the right and Byrom, pretty good back-up. I worry about our defending at left full back. Creswell the better disciplined of the two gets exposed too often. Masuako, for all (and maybe because of) his attacking prowess is no defender, so that needs looking at. Add Kouyate and surely we have something to work with and working and organising defences is Moyes territory.

 

We live or die in front of our defence. In Don’s opinion we have one classy operator; Obiang and two that are played there that don’t have a defensive mentality. One is Kouyate a supreme athlete who if he is to fulfil the role has to stop getting wrong side and the other, the Captain who whatever his talents, never could think defensively and less so now his legs have gone (by Premier League standards).  So if all teams need a Kante, we are short and maybe where we head in January, especially if Carvalho remains an option.

Further forward, why shouldn’t we be ok? There is strength in depth and in variety.

Then youth. At Everton, Moyes had a reputation of giving it a chance and there is some talent to call upon. But lets not kid ourselves, he needs results and quick which is not typically fertile ground for blooding the kids.

So squad-wise give or take, He and we have a chance.

Another plus, is that the spirit also seems willing. Even though Slav looked a dead man walking for maybe a month, which must impact on the players even at subliminal level, they gave the impression they remained behind him. Much of this Don expects is because they liked the guy, which is a little surprising in this mercenary age but appeared to be the case. So also good.

Not so good is the amount of games pre-Christmas and the opposition strength in that run-in. If this goes bad we could be bottom and even detached by Christmas which will increase the panic and substantially reduce the effectiveness of the January window. Frankly if we are not in the bottom three come Jan 1st, Moyes will have done well. Probably comes down to home games against Leicester and Newcastle and picking up something (anything) at Watford, Bournemouth and Stoke, none of whom are bad teams and all capable of beating us.

Also challenging is the potential toxicity of the London Stadium. Us fans need to take full responsibility for the crap atmosphere, though if we had something to cheer, maybe ten thousand wouldn’t religiously head for Gidea Park on 80 minutes. Gidea Park must be a hell of a place.

Without wanting to labour the downside, also not so good is Him having to deal with our management hierarchy but hey, that’s the gig.

So Don on behalf of his family and the whole Don community (his family), welcomes Mr Moyes. Forgive the formality but we have more than enough Davids as it is. Wagner fans will know from Die Meistersinger how one can get mixed up over Davids. We’d like the one from the picture please, that slew Goliath.

Do your job, keep us up and we’ll get on fine. The West Ham Way can probably wait until next season.

Okay, West Ham fans, you are free to go. Any Wagner devotees that are still with us, Die Zeit ist da. Anyone that combines both, contact me immediately….we have so much to discuss.

So…Erlösung dem Erlöser, as until 1903 they could only say in Bayreuth. Redemption to the Redeemer. Don is too exhausted with West Ham to embark on a serious study of redemption in the mature ten and frankly there are thousands out there far better equipped to do so but maybe for a bit of fun, lets have a a quick peek at who is redeeming who(m).

Der Fliegende Hollander. Wagner’s youthful offering. This seems straightforward. The Dutchman (beautifully named only thus), is in desperate need of salvation. Not of course to walk off into the sunset, that would be too Disney but to finally sustain death (and keep that in mind for future works). Having made his pact with the devil, his only out is to find a women that will be true to him, Step forward Senta.

Tannhäuser. In modern parlance Heinrich  Tannhäuser is desperate to be saved from his porn addiction. He longs for the time when pleasure was not an orgy but the trees, the meadows and pleasant walks with Elizabeth. Resorting to a couple of Hail Marys he eventually escapes the clutches of Venus and her domain in Venusberg. But his old buddies on the outside are sooo boring, how can they be salvation? Elizabeth, a wonderful combination of both worlds, offers  real salvation but Tann is to dopey to see it and decides only the Pope in Rome is the answer, which it isn’t. For all the tremendous music, Tannhäuser as a piece, doesn’t really convince because neither of the worlds he’s stuck between seem terribly attractive and following Wagner’s pimping up of the Venus music for Paris, Don finds himself rooting for the dark side. So no salvation and we dont really care.

Lohengrin. Elsa is accused of royal fratricide and faces serious consequences unless she has a champion to defend her. Of all the best legal brains and top soldiers there must have been in 13th century Brabant, she chooses as her saviour, some knight that she saw in a dream. As you do. And yet, bugger me sideways, he turns up and does the business. We don’t find out his name (see Dutchman above) until the very end but you won’t be surprised to learn its Lohengrin. So some obvious saving there, which is tricky amidst the machinations of Ortrud, evil purveyor of the dark arts who not only seeks the throne for he family but who also gets most of the best lines.

But lets look at this guy Lohengrin. A more one dimensional cardboard cut-out you couldn’t wish to meet. Won’t tell anyone his name or anything about himself. Only if Elsa asks the question, will he spill the beans but he must then disappear.  So if Elsa wants to keep him as her champ (in every respect…), she needs to put a lid on that curiosity and get back to blind faith.

Of course it ends badly and he has to return to Montsalvat and guard that grail. But beneath that silvery cardboard exterior, one suspects Lohengrin, was desperate to be saved from his cardboard existence. Elsa wasn’t quite up to the job. All very allegorical of our attitude to religion and art. Plus music to die for…..and to.

The Ring Cycle. Four operas joined together for one story and if you think Don is going to (has ability to) pick out the various acts of salvation in a couple of paragraphs, you’ve another think coming. Brunhilde is a decent bet for saviour but she along with the most of the rest of the cast need saving, primarily (from himself), Wotan, king of the gods.

Tristan & Isolde. Their love is so far beyond the rule of law, any form of morality, metaphysics and life itself, that any consideration of salvation is futile.

Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. Well Sachs saves: the day, the headstrong couple, the community, artistic traditions as well as artistic flair so I guess he must be the saviour.  Underlined by orchestral and other references to John the Baptist. He does so willingly and at the expense of his own happiness but lets not head  down any Schopenhauer rabbit holes at this point. What he’s saving them from is interesting to some…pedantry, Wahn (no, we’re down the rabbit hole again – touched on in post 22 and others), art critics, the French, (the Jews??), urbanisation and I’m sure others.

Parsifal. The final line of Wagner’s final opera is Redemption to the Redeemer. We can safely say that Parsifal is a if not the redeemer. He has re-united the holy relics and so saved the Grail community, including of course Amfortas. He has redeemed Kundry and allowed her curse like that of the Dutchman, to finally be lifted so she can die in peace. Depending on one’s take on the whole piece, one may say it is cleansing and cathartic for audiences and the whole world.

But does Parsifal himself need redeeming, for that is the heavy hint of the final line? He is a sinner from when he did not understand the concept of sin. He left his mother to suffer alone, breaking her heart and he shot the swan. The latter a sin of equal measure now Wagner is embracing a Buddhist and vegetarian agenda. He redeems himself in that he awakens to the concept of sin and other people’s suffering and then more graphicly, Kundry washes his feet with her hair. Kundry is therefore both in need of redemption and is a redeemer but it is doubtful that the last line is devoted to her.

Of course, Wagner himself needs redemption (boy, does he), though I’ve not seen much sign of him seeking that, unless one counts vicariously through characters. He believes he’s saved opera and because of its elevated status (in his eyes), art itself. By the time he finally came to produce Parsifal, I doubt he still felt art could radically change society, as he did twenty years earlier. But for the gift of his oeuvre for humanity, does he think he’s been redeemed?

 

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

 In Which Pomegranates are not the only Fruit.

Post 31

Oh dearie, dearie me. Slav’s in a pickle folks. In fact that doesn’t begin to describe the doo doo in which my favourite football team currently reside. Not just Slav; from top to bottom and going by the embryonic league table, I’m afraid the emphasis is on the bottom. Don ponders this. But to take his mind off of it, he will also muse (without research or off button) whether Parsifal, far from/as well as being a Freudian wet dream, might actually be Wagner’s coping mechanism for having to go without his conjugal rights back at the ranch; Cosima having closed off that avenue of pleasure. And don’t even get Don started on pomegranate seeds.

Rock bottom, pointless, manager considered most likely to get the chop, needless sending offs, defensive shambolics, best defender injured in pre-match warm up, daft penalties…yes folks….you know it, we know it….can only be ….put your hands together for…… West Ham United.

The irony of course, is that it had been a pretty good summer. A week in Avignon with Mrs D followed by a lovely time outside of Dubrovnik again with Mrs Don, Little Don and one of the Little Donettes. There Don mused with Little Don over the challenge to come at Old Trafford; a tricky start of course but with our well received new quintet of Hart, Zabaleta, Arnautovic, Hernandez and Haksabanovic, we thought we were pretty well equipped; not to win at Man Utd of course, that would be silly, but not to be disgraced. And then to go into the Southampton and Newcastle games with justifiable hope. Added to this, very public talk of William Carvalho being when not if, Valencia gone, Snodgrass about to follow and we reasonably anticipated a winger and maybe one other addition to a good squad and a decent season.

Ok so we conveniently ignored pre-season form, or lack of. Also, various tittle-tattle  concerns re our training intensity, or lack of.

And so it came to pass. Not so much the defeats but the manner of them in the Man U and Newcastle games in which our effort levels doffed caps towards the insipid. Certainly, grit was on display against Southampton, its true; but having clambered to the life raft, we launch ourselves with gusto off of it and into the abyss.

Don’t get me wrong; Don is in the Slaven camp. There; said it and rightly so. It’s grossly unfair to judge after three games, even where tagged onto the ten at the back of last season. But there are very worrying signs. A talented defence looks shambolic. No protection in front. That’s no criticism of Declan Rice whose potential will surely soon be fulfilled and hopefully with us and to a lesser extent, the same applies to Fernandes but his natural instincts lie a little further forward. No, its the impression Slav gives that either Noble or Kouyate can protect a defence; they can’t. They may put in the odd gritty performance but both habitually get wrong side or don’t follow their man because they don’t think like defenders. Can’t remember which manager it was (maybe Curbishley?) that years ago took the young, attacking Mark Noble and said he could turn him into a defensive midfielder. He couldn’t and he isn’t.

Which all makes the William Carvalho debacle an even greater indictment on the numpties supposedly running the club. We thought they’d turned a corner in that some of the earlier transfers were done with comparatively little fanfare, whereas every moment of the early rounds of the Carvalho transfer bout were played out in Technicolor for all to see. And as the deadline approached, the one target so obviously needed, the one all signals from the club highlighted was Slaven’s main priority…. died. Dead. As dead as Frank Miller in High Noon; it took a while to kill him off but once done, he wasn’t coming back. Miller was a vicious outlaw, he had to die. But what had the Carvalho deal ever done to anyone? In these days of grossly inflated transfer fees there seemed little between the clubs though of course we only know what the clubs PR want us to know. Its like the Carrick sale to Spurs; the true details are so complex and obscure as to actually be beyond human comprehension. Like why does every salad now have to contain pomegranate seeds? But more of that later.

The overriding impression is that the board wouldn’t sanction it because rather than support the manager with £40 million, he was a dead man walking and they’d rather save the dosh for the next guy. Whatever one thinks of Bilic, that is shabby treatment because if that is how you feel, sack the guy. Either back him or sack him. Instead we have a half way house, where he hasn’t got the squad he wanted (albeit still one capable of avoiding relegation) and has to limp through to Christmas when he will no doubt be dispatched and the new guy will have some money to spend.

If Don’s analysis is even vaguely right, that is hopeless miss-management. This is supposed to be the second season where we settle into the new ground and assault some sort of challenge on the top half off the table.  I’m not even mentioning that we haven’t played at home yet. That’s unfortunate but we’ve known it from the off. One can only hope that UK wins no more major athletic events. But no, rock bottom, morale having to be built from scratch and the manager left to feebly persuade that he has the squad he needed despite losing the guy he was so desperate to sign.

Don’t get me wrong; there are two sides to every transfer, Sporting may be equally to blame. Also one player doesn’t make the squad. But nevertheless…

It would be wonderful if Slav could sign off with some memorable wins and whisper it, even a cup adventure but Don is in no doubt. He is signing off.

So we’re all in a pickle but this being West Ham, we’re quite used to that.

Is cucumber a fruit? Don’s not sure. Be that as it may, Don turns his roving eye to salad and a very worrying trend that no doubt has been praying on the minds of many readers. It may be a summer thing but why oh why oh why does every salad have to be covered in pomegranate seeds? It’s not just pomegranates, though they are the worst and most persistent offenders. Don feels mandated to speak on behalf of the traditional salad loving community and be in no doubt, we are a community, when he says…fruit belongs in a dessert bowl, not in the salad! Honorary non-fruits being tomatoes and cucumbers. We’ve seen the pickle the EU has got into by broadening its membership too far and we should beware that sorry tale.

Removing-Pomegranate-Seeds-Has-Never-Been-This-Easy-And-This-Video-Will-Show-You-Why

Artists grapple with a difficult issue: how to know when the work of art is finished? How not to spoil it by keeping going? In the salad world, that conundrum is easily solved. It’s the moment before you put the fucking pomegranate seeds in!!

On to Wagner and his little pickle. Rather the little pickle he got into. Here was a man who enjoyed the company of women. We know this because due to his huge ego, he insisted on recording every aspect of his life, primarily in his autobiography Mein Leben which covers up to 1865. However, by nature, autobiographies tell the story the author wants us to hear. So it was with Wagner and although it hints at various dalliances it glosses over the less savoury adulterous and other aspects, largely one assumes because he was dictating it all to his then wife Cosima. However, due to his copious letter writing and above all to the Cosima’s diaries which record in detail his life from 1865 until his death in 1883, we have an insight into his life pretty much sans egal.

 

And we glean that Wagner found life quite tricky without a good women to organise his life as well as to tend to his various needs. His marriage to the long-suffering Minne is blighted with affairs; real or longed for. The most notable being Mathilde Wesendonck, his inspiration for Isolde, whose husband Otto, financed much of Wagner’s life through to middle age. Their dalliances, (possibly nay probably un-consummated) so embarrassed them and Minne, that various breakdowns in relationships ensued, leading to Wagner becoming estranged from Minne. Yet the on-off relationship endured and it was not merely one-sided. Mathilde’s feelings for Wagner were very real as some of her private poetry testifies and they both suffered the strain of deep affection that could not be fulfilled. Social convention prohibited but one also wonders at Wagner’s reluctance to truncate the husband’s financial succour.

7

Separation from Minne was a significant loss to RW. She was the stable hand on the rudder as well as the tiller. Without her he became increasingly penniless as well as rudderless.  Mathilde was not a realistic option and these years are characterised by a string of female companions from nobility to housemaids generous with their favours, Wagner needed a women.

 

Enter Cosima von Bulow. Daughter of Franz Liszt and young wife of Hans von Bulow, Cosima was many years Wagner’s junior. Hans was one of Wagner’s closest confidants and musical associates. He conducted many concerts and was, I think, intrinsically involved in the laborious Tristan rehearsals. in short he loved Wagner, realised and accepted he was losing his wife to the Maestro and remained devoted (to Wagner) even afterward.

Cosima was Wagner’s dream. She was prepared to subjugate her life to his genius and takes great credit for providing the backdrop for him to complete the later operas, particularly Die Meistersinger and Parsifal. But despite providing him with two children, she did not excel between the sheets. This aspect was taken up by Eva Rieger in last month’s Wagner Journal. Author of Richard Wagner’s Rebellious Granddaughter and Richard Wagner’s Women, Rieger took this aspect of Wagner’s life and considered how it affected the later operas, focussing on Parsifal.

Parsifal has been considered from almost every aspect, psychological – Freudian and Jungian; religious  – Christian, Pagan, anti-Jewish, mythological etc. But Don has not previously considered it from the perspective of a sex mad author who was having to cope without. For as Rieger says, Cosima declared fairly early on in their “marriage”, that she was ready for the convent and that must have put an awful strain on Wagner. At last he had the King of Bavaria and was not only financially secure but also had an opportunity to create a purpose-built auditorium to do justice to his Ring Cycle. He was in an established relationship with Liszt’s daughter no less, his operas were increasingly performed and he had become increasingly respectable.

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Yet his personal needs were not being attended to. A mistress?? Dare he risk all that he had achieved? Dare he risk losing Cosima, his rock and mother of his children? Rieger says not. Most commentators agree that Wagner operas are largely about Wagner and so it seems sensible, as Reiger asserts, to consider them against this personal backdrop that if true, one can expect to influence his thinking.

 

In this light, the ascetics of Schopenhauer refracts a little differently. Hans Sachs’ acceptance that Eva will choose the younger Walter, the grail community of Monsalvat being male only and the central theme that sex is destructive and to be feared, all make slightly different sense. Is this Wagner accepting that in his later years, his love life might take a bit of a knock but the prestige the wealth and giving him the benefit of the doubt, the opportunity to achieve his artistic dreams was a price worth paying.?

Eva Rieger cannot know such personal detail but it makes interesting food for thought. Just please leave the pomegranate seeds.

 

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

 

 

In Which there’s a Corner of England that is Forever Bayreuth. Don’s Trip to Longborough

Post 30

Don has never been to Bayreuth, As much as he is drawn, for obvious reasons, to the Holy of Holies of the Wagner world, the long historic shadow of Hitler standing at the window, saluting the adoring SS speckled audience below, means he’s in no great rush. One day.

Meantime, Don was off to the UK’s own country house Wagner fest, deep in the beautiful Cotswolds countryside; Longborough Festival Opera.  For it was that most evocative of operas, Tristan and Isolde. A lone traveller, as Mrs Don was in Edinburgh with one of the Don Daughters, checking out the Uni.

Tristan and Isolde reaching out to each other in Don’s garden.IMG_2599

 

It was the first time Don had seen Tristan live. He was very tempted by the Anish Kapoor designed spectacular at ENO last year (Melton/Skelton) but felt his first Tristan should be in German. Good decision and worth the wait.

Longborough is delightful and pretty quaint. The house is, by Don Towers standards, a gargantuan mansion but say in comparison to Glyndebourne, it’s compact and in the nicest sense, slightly shabby chic. But one soon realises that intimacy and informality is part of the charm that keeps the Wagner Friends returning year after year. And Lizzie and Martin Graham have built a fine tradition of opera in the Cotswolds; far from simply Wagner but it looks like at least one Wagner production every summer for several years now. It can’t be easy putting on top class opera in a local setting and they are to be congratulated.

It was 8th June 2017. Opening night and an auspicious night. Storm clouds gathered throughout a day in which blinding sunshine alternated with driving rain, rainbows and all. It was also the night when the exit polls would point to a sea change in British politics from which, who knows when we shall recover; creating ructions every bit as dramatic as on-stage events. Blow wind, blow. That was for later. For now, the beautiful ladies and penguin clad gents ambled around the grounds, seemingly intoxicated by the sheer beauty and comfortable in the knowledge that whatever lay in the future, the next few hours would transfix and transcend; not to mention transfigure.

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The auditorium is sufficiently intimate that opera glasses are otiose and from the middle of the stalls, Don enjoyed a view he hadn’t savoured at ROH for many a year.

The stage was sparse; bare in the first Act bar a bench (on a ship). In the second a small wall from which jutted a lit torch and in the third, Tristan’s rock. We didn’t need scenery; the real action takes place inside heads and in the tantalising erotic tension between Tristan and Isolde. Mood or occasional scene change was superbly achieved by the subtle lighting. Designer Kimie Nakano and Lighting Designer Ben Ormerod take the plaudits. The latter in fine Wieland Wagner tradition. And lighting of course is crucially important to this opera. “Das Licht!, Das Licht!” exclaims Tristan.

So, with the caveat that Don has two ears but no musical training and is generally idiotic, let’s get into it.

From the Tristan chord, the overture proceeded with confidence and a light touch, under the sure-footed guidance of Musical Director and Bayreuth veteran, Anthony Negus. Light touch and sure footed? Whatever. It sets the scene, anticipates ardour but equally warns of trouble ahead. Generally as intended,  it unnerves.

The off stage sailor tells us our ship is heading east and all is well. Blow wind, blow. But Isolde (Lee Bisset) re-asserts our nagging concern. We are left in no doubt that despite her maid’s assurances, this feisty Irish princess will be not be dragged off anywhere she doesn’t want to be dragged. And England, the conquering enemy, is the worst place of all.

Don first encountered Lee as Sieglinde in Opera North’s 2016 Ring Cycle and was delighted to see she was reviving the Longborough Isolde from 2015. He had high expectations but she exceeded them. Bisset doesn’t just sing the part, she lives and dies the part. And in Don’s humble opinion, that’s the only way to play it. As well as singing with clarity and confidence, every gut wrenching emotion was etched on her face.

Don is most familiar with Waltraud Meier’s 2007 La Scala Isolde (Barenboim/Chereau) and considers (bless him) that Lee has potential to hold her own even in that exulted company, or at least have the great Waltraud in her sights. Both unbelievable performers.

Don is not as familiar with Peter Wedd but he too was excellent. One wondered if he would be a little overwhelmed by Bisset but no, he held his own and his psychological suffering was palpable in Acts 2 and 3.

Don’s previous (non-live) Tristans are the Meier/Storey performance mentioned above and also the fantastic Trelinski production with Nina Stemme/Stuart Skelton at the Met last year. That was amazing, though maybe a little over ambitious delving into Tristan’s parental neurosis as much as it did and whilst complex staging perhaps obscured, Don loved some of the visuals in that; for example the ship radar emphasised aspects of watching, waiting and longing.

But neither of those fine performances were as erotically charged as this. It defined this production and why not? The long pause in Act 2 as Brangäne warns of the approaching dawn needs to be filled and the  lovers’ gentle caresses seemed natural and fitting.

Generally, Carmen Jakobi’s direction was spot on. It didn’t compel the audience to face up to some of the challenges in the Met production; by and large she played it pretty straight and I feel that’s the right move. There’s an abundance of complexity in the intrinsic material for even the demanding audience. From Jungian inner turmoil to Wagner’s unique twist on Schopenhauer (Sex denying the Will, rather than Sex affirming the Will), there’s more than enough to cope with, without  getting into whether Tristan is a manic-depressive and Isolde, bi-polar. Love denied is dramatic enough. Throw in the suspicion, even seething resentment Isolde has for her would be lover and the dialogue in Act 2 makes increasing sense. “Doch” she persistently prods; stress testing his excuses for apparently seducing her for another. But ultimately the white heat of their love wins through. It cannot be constrained; at least not within this life.

King Marke (Geoffrey Moses) cut a spectral figure; his lovely bass filled the hall with sadness as he lamented not only the loss of his friend but also loss of friendship and loyalty. The supporting cast, supported admirably and one can tell from their impressive bios that we shall see and hear a lot more of them in the future.

So we come to the denouement. In the programme notes, Jakobi writes of the low chord marking Isolde’s realisation that Tristan’s life force is spent and she is alone. All she wanted was to be with him in life or death and both had long realised it could only be death. She then moves to the transfiguration scene and the famous liebestod, majestically delivered by Bisset. Jakobi I think hints that from that low chord, maybe Isolde’s spark has gone too and she is on some form of automotive function, a mere bodily husk, until she too physically expires. I like this idea. In this production, Isolde lovingly lays upon the dead Tristan as the orchestra plays out. I think I prefer Waltraud Meier’s La Scala collapse which plays into this same idea that the body continues briefly after the brain has died and the soul departed.

And we were done. After countless Blu-ray and CD experiences, Don had seen the real thing. Tristan and Isolde is raw; physically and emotionally and needs to be seen in the flesh. All the better close up and intimate and where better than at Longborough?

It was a magnificent production and an experience and journey never to be forgotten.

Though we weren’t done. Blow wind, blow. It certainly did. An election  hurricane ripped through our political pre-conceived notions and turned them inside out. In other circumstances, maybe a good thing but for the present Brexit negotiations….well Don is safer sticking to West Ham and Wagner.

Post 30 completed. Don embarked on a journey a year or so back to discover from a standing start, what he could about Wagner. No musical training, simply curiosity. Yet here we are reviewing Tristan, of all things. Blimey!  Its been fascinating and we look forward to continued meanderings down some road or other. Do join him.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

 

In Which its not Carry on Tristan. Plus Huddersfield Town – Bumper Wembley Issue!

 

Post 29

This week, that fine BBC radio programme In Our Time featured a discussion on Purgatory. Don didn’t listen to it but thought referencing it here would raise the general tone and bolster his tarnished reputation following the rather scruffy Post 28. Surely one of the lessons of the concept of Purgatory is that nothing lasts for ever. And so it is with some relief that season 2016/17 has finally finished and gone to a better place. Such was the reverential atmosphere at the latest Stop! Hammertime podcast featuring some sensible people and none other than Don. Should you wish to pay respects to the recently departed season you may do so here . If he can find them, Don will re-live one or two season “highlights” below. [Spoiler alert, scroll to the end for some footie – stay here for the classy stuff].

In other news, excitement builds for the forthcoming Longborough Festival Opera and Don will be there, in Morton-in-Marsh, for the opening night of Tristan and Isolde. It will be a magical evening and so in eager anticipation lets consider a few aspects, even some magical ones. So much has been written about it, so much seen in it; Don will merely scratch the surface.

It’s easy to be disdainful of the story of Tristan and Isolde. Two lovers, deceiving a cuckolded (would be) husband. More so, if one considers Gottfried von Strassburg’s medieval poem upon which Wagner drew extensively. This and the copious other accounts of the Tristan legend emphasised the cunning ruses played out by the artful lovers in their attempts to deceive King Marke.

But Wagner generally ignored the ribald “Carry On Tristan” aspects and honed it into an intense and deep psychological drama in which the real action occurs within the minds of King Marke and the eponymous two, as much as anywhere else. In this way we have a pinpoint edgy piece more in keeping with Alfred Hitchcock than Sid James.

Let’s take two medieval legends identified in Newman and elsewhere; they are both interesting and also draw out deeper nuances of the characters, in these cases, of Marke in particular. But first, the basics one needs to know, is that Tristan is the erstwhile loyal and favoured nephew of the King who was sent from Cornwall to Ireland to fetch Isolde (Iseut) as the King’s mate (and so future Queen). This was a strategic alliance with a defeated but still aggressive enemy and Iseut, the fiery Irish maid, is brought back under sufferance (to put it mildly).  The two fall in love on the journey due to a love potion but more significantly to previous complications.

So the two legends;

  1. Tristan and Iseut have fled and are living rough in a Cornish forest to escape the wrath of King Marke. They are discovered and the King is alerted. He finds them asleep in a cave, lips touching and with Tristan’s sword between them. King Marke has the right and the ability to kill them both as per his original intention. Instead and we can and shall ponder why, he leaves them in their sleepy embrace. But when they awake, they are in no doubt by virtue of various signs, that he was there and has chosen to spare them and ipso facto legitimise the adultery.
  2. In death, the lovers are buried by King Marke, at opposite sides of a graveyard. Briars emerge from each grave and reach across the graveyard to become entwined. King Marke has them hacked down. Twice more the briars reach out to each other and twice more are they cut down. On the third occasion, he leaves them and orders that they shall never be touched but left in perpetual embrace.

Neither of these legends appears in the opera but they feed into what the characters, including here King Marke, were feeling.

For ultimately Tristan, not just Wagner’s Tristan, though it is especially so, is about the transcendence of Love. Emphasis for now on transcendence because Love is too big a concept for this world; it is too big a concept for a concept. It transcends. The magic in Tristan is not a potion here or there, the magic is love, which, where it is so powerful that it metamorphoses two souls into one, it cannot be boxed in by important but wordly concepts like Honour, Loyalty and Trust. It must burst beyond this life and find peace only in death or wherever is beyond our understanding.

So in a possible answer to the question posed in Post 27; how much Schopenhauer does a Tristan or Isolde performer need to understand?, the answer is probably not too much. But Don (from his naïve non-musical soap-box), feels she certainly must understand where love sits in comparison to those other honourable attributes and how a certain type of love  can only be truly sated beyond this life. One doesn’t need to have understood Arthur Schop to feel this.

This doesn’t mean Trust, Honour, Loyalty wilt away without protest. Wordly responsibilities weigh heavy, as we are transported by the music inside Tristan’s head in Acts 2 and 3. His disloyalty to his uncle and King is killing him; indeed it is guilt over his love for Isolde from the pre- story, that makes him volunteer to “fetch” her back to Cornwall in the first place.

This cannot be intellectualized, this must be felt and in Don’s view it can only be wholly felt where it resonates with life experience. Only a parent can truly feel what Wotan feels in bidding Leb Wohl to Brunhilde and only one who has loved and lost and balanced other loyalties can truly “feel” Tristan and/or Isolde. And this is also the majesty of good art. It can take a story from a thousand years before and extrapolate the timeless mythical aspects to make it real now. In Don’s limited experience Wagner does this like no other. As much as Shakespeare tries, it cannot be done simply with words. They are descriptive, prescriptive, clinical by comparison. Music though…is soul. And in Tristan, where those cellos and violins are in utter supremacy, music reaches into ours, burglarizes and leaves us a wretched mess.

In a sense the tension between word and music applies within the opera. It is probably beyond doubt that is one of Wagner’s less wordy operas. Various academics say Isolde claims the music and Tristan the poetry.

Back to Schopenhauer. There is a reason that Don bleats on about him in regard to Tristan in particular. Wagner had completed Das Rheingold and Die Valkyrie and most of Siegfried when his reading, nay consumption of Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, caused such an epiphany in his world outlook that he abandoned his Ring Cycle to let his thoughts settle. He would say his world view was not changed but clarified by Schopenhauer which meant the direction of the Ring Cycle needed to be arrested. It would be 12 years before he was ready to adjust Siegfried’s path and the first opera he produced in the interregnum was Tristan. Of course with Wagner, rivers do not run smoothly and there were also pragmatic reasons to create an “easier” opera , such as putting food on the table but the fact remains that Wagner thought differently for the rest of his life after initially reading Schopenhauer and the first piece he produced was Tristan.

The legend of Tristan extends beyond, well, beyond the legend. Tales of Wagner’s composition of it as well as early performances also play on its psychological force and add grist to the mill.

As he concluded the work, Wagner wrote to his muse Mathilde Wesendonke in 1859, only partly in jest….”Child! This Tristan is turning into something terrible! This final Act!!! – I fear the opera will be banned, unless the whole thing will be parodied in a bad performance -. Only mediocre performances can save me! Perfectly good ones will be bound to drive people mad.” And it did.

Whether or not acted upon, it is a comfortable leap that for Wagner, the Tristan/Isolde/Marke triptych, was himself, Mathilde and his long-suffering wife, Minne. Moreover, a decade or so later, after it finally debuted,  the first conductor, Hans von Bulow, assumed the real life King Marke role as he gave up his wife Cosima to Wagner, if not willingly then at least with good grace. As life to an extent imitated art, he loved his wife but worshipped the composer.

The first ever Tristan, in the opera associated as much as any other with the ultimate sacrifice, Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld lasted four apparently memorable performances before a tragically early death, aged just 29.

Musicians have gone insane, lives have been lost under their own hand; all attributed to this opera.

In Thomas Mann’s novel Buddenbrooks, Pfuhl, the music tutor, engaged to teach the young student Hanno recoils at the prospect of playing Tristan to his young charge. As he says to Hanno’s mother… ”I won’t play this Madam. I am your most obedient servant but I will not play it. That is not music…It is pure chaos! It is demagoguery, blasphemy and madness! It is a fragrant frog with thunderbolts! It is the end of all morality in the arts. I will not play it!”  The young boy Hanno, is later exposed to the forbidden musical fruit which leads to his death.

Mark Twain, on a visit to Germany, heard Tristan at Bayreuth and commented: “I know of some, and have heard of many, who could not sleep after it, but cried the night away. [Wikipedia]

So what the hell is it about this piece that provokes such extreme emotion?

It all starts with the Tristan chord. A few notes, a few seconds and music changed forever. A chord that doesn’t settle but ends in a question; a question that will not be answered for over four hours and then after trial, tribulation, tension building on tension, finally, finally finds an end, resolving in death, the ultimate peace. A grateful longed for death.

For the players, orchestra and audience it has been a psychological and emotional experience like no other in opera. Here’s a hint of what they are going through.

Marke: a proud King. Trusts Tristan implicitly. When Tristan betrays that trust he  questions what is trust, what is loyalty when the personification of both falls short. Ultimately forgives his nephew, lieutenant and friend.

Isolde: Her hatred for Tristan has several strands. He represents the imperialist conquering force. He killed the great Irish warrior (and her lover/betrothed?) Morholt and then mortally wounded himself, deceived Isolde into using her magical powers to cure him and in curing, love him. Above all though, she hates him for returning to her, not as lover but to claim her for another. Yet even her hatred wilts under the radiant intensity of her love for him. A love she did not seek but a love that claimed her.

Tristan: A loyal servant to his King, to whom he has devoted his life he too does not seek love but it is thrust upon him, he cannot be both loyal to his King and be with the women he loves. Only in secret night can they share a half-life and only in ultimate night; death, can he find moral resolution, and only in death does that half-life become whole.

Only in death can the half-life Purgatory finally end and the lovers find release and peace.

Only in death can it be Tristan and Isolde, Isolde and Tristan. Only in death can he become Isolde and she Tristan. Only in death (or at least the final curtain), can the audience be released from the tension of the Tristan Chord. Happy Days!

 

West Ham? The best we can say is the season is dead and buried. Resurrection and fresh optimism awaits in August.

STOP PRESS STOP PRESS

As we write, a penalty rolls into the bottom left corner and with it Mr.Wagner and Huddersfield Town roll into the Premier League. Tristan and Isolde bites into the soul but in terms of nail-biting drama, its hard to beat what I’ve just watched. Will Don be good to his word and abandon West Ham for Wagner and Huddersfield? How will he Tristan like, deal with those opposing loyalties? Those good Yorkshire folk will understand when I say..”Welcome Mr Wagner, welcome Huddersfield Town. But don’t be so soft, lad. Tristan and Isolde? Don bleeds Claret and Blue.”

 

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

 

In Which Wagner Plays Wembley and the Fat Lady Sings

Post 28

Someone once said Fat is a Four Letter Word. Not sure why, when or where but it probably wasn’t en route to the spelling bee. It may have been on the way back, suitably humiliated. Prat, Twat, Knob. These are words that utterly revel in the finest traditions of four letters and quite aptly describe any proponent of the aforementioned hypothesis.

Anyway, when Don ponders where any of this may be going, he may consider the common (as muck) usage of a Fat Lady Singing, as being the hi-jacking of a dubious operatic cliché; to mean something is drawing to a close. And my friends, when it comes to West Ham’s inaugural season at the Olympic/London/Mahindra/Vodafone/YourNameHere Stadium, the end can’t come soon enough.

FatLadySings-1.gif[credit and apologies to copyright owner]

Lets face it, it’s been a right royal fuck up of a season. From our Uefa Cup exit back when we were still nursing sunburn, through glorious four or five goal home defeats at the hands of clubs too numerous to mention, including Watford. Yes I said Watford for Pete’s sake. To a squad more depleted than a Corbyn shadow cabinet and above all, fondly remembered for a complete and utter absence of anyone capable of sticking the ball in the back of the fecking net. Don had to miss the Palace game which means for an entire season of home league games he never saw us win by anything other than 1-0. Just let the paucity of that statement sink in but not for too long or you may lose the will to live.

Talking of losing the will to live, Don has recently paid two visits to the opera house at Covent Garden. Don’t think we’re finished with West Ham, not by a long chalk but Don is all over the shop today; that’s the way he rolls.  Earlier this week a pretty creditable performance of Don Carlo; suitably dramatic and lovely music, though (and I may be a little biased) I swear there is more decent music in a single Act of Die Meistersinger than the whole of Don Carlo. That whole Verdi/Wagner thing. Lets not go there.

But it wasn’t life threatening. No, that was the week before at the performance of The Exterminating Angel. Based on the iconic Spanish film from the early 1960’s, the premise is intriguing. Dinner party guests at the end of the evening, find they can’t go home. No-one is obviously compelling them to stay but as much as they want to go, they somehow just don’t. Evening turns into night and then the following morning. Still there they are; and increasingly anxious about the situation, to boot. What is happening? We don’t know, they don’t know. Do we care? Well yes, I actually did.

It’s a new opera and conducted by the composer Thomas Adès. That’s exciting! When it becomes the next Tosca we were there when the composer conducted. Alas not. Don likes to think he is open to new, even strange ideas. He’s even grappled with Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica but he found this too much. Naturally when the material is a surrealist psychological drama which makes no sense, the music is not going to be all Mimi and Rodolfo but the dissonance and no doubt clever technical appreciation required, was way, way too much for Don as well as various ladies of certain sensibility. The notes just came at you like random daggers. Several weaker souls flung themselves off of the Sir Donald Gordon Grand Tier onto unsuspecting but grateful guests in the stalls below.

exterminating-angel.jpg[copyright Evening Standard – would be lovely if George could find it in his heart not to be offended]

They may have been stuck in a dinner party on stage but off-stage, Don ran for his life at the first interval. It’s a truly terrible thing to trample on another’s creativity and Don isn’t proud. And he would have liked to have known what happened. Nevertheless there it is. The night was younger than expected, there was time for a pint, a good length of Subway’s finest and be home in time for Mrs Don’s repeat viewing of Housewives of Downtown Benghazi or somewhere so actually, whilst Don was curious as to the Spanish dinner party, the night turned out pretty well.

Back to the Hammers. If we must. Well it’s a West Ham blog; admittedly not one read by anybody but still; standards. How do we know that tree fell in the woods? Well look, there’s a bloody tree on the floor.

One more game; Burnley away. A dead rubber if ever there was one. We are literally playing for money and nothing else. Corinthians it ain’t. Turns out there’s several squillion pounds per place in the Premier League and the difference between our finishing 16th or twelfth may mean we buy that young unproven Spanish forward as opposed to the 35-year-old British has-been. So a lot riding on it. Most of the first team squad is in hospital having operations whether they are needed or not. Apparently its a sponsor requirement. The Club feel on balance the season has gone pretty well; ticket sales for the Player of the Year event (£350 each) went ok and now if they can have a final push on those season ticket renewals that meeting with the bank should be a doddle. Come on You Irons.

As to lesser on the field events, that Liverpool game was a joy. Capitulation on a scale not seen since the Battle of Little Big Horn (ok I saw the film – I’m not actually 150 years old – and actually that might have been the opposite of capitulation but hey.). Some wally had the nerve to tweet about fickle fans leaving before the end. He (for I make that sexist assumption), needs to learn some respect. Don was there in ’69 for the 0-4 home defeat to Man City; he saw live and in cold blood, all 9 goals against us v same opponents in the Cup semi-final 3 or 4 years ago. He even forced his kid to watch all nine;

“No, Daddy no! Don’t make me!”

“Its character forming son. One day, when life seems really tough, the spectre of a rain drenched Roger Johnson will appear, and your petty problems wont seem so bad.”

Little Don still resents. 

Not to mention bearing witness to most horrific defeats in between and since. So re Liverpool the other day, if Don wants to leave at 0-4 with 15 to go, he bloody well will!

Right. Well! That cleared the air.

Wagner playing Wembley eh? Who would have thought?  It’s a hot ticket so be ready to pay over the odds. Its live and will be a debut performance. Tristan? Götterdämmerung? Which will it be? Will Barenboim conduct? Stemme? Meier?   Ok Ok, its David Wagner manager of Don’s new favourite team, Huddersfield Town AFC. If you want fickle my twittering friend, I’ll give you fickle. I’m changing to Huddersfield fucking Town AFC. They’re managed by a Wagner so that’s good enough for Don. Come on you Terriers!

It’s all gone a bit low brow this month. Way too much swearing, barely a breath of Parsifal et al. Not sure Wagner News will be tapping the resource, this week. This is what The Exterminating Angel and that Liverpool game can do to you. If it wasn’t for Housewives of Downtown Benghazi, the week would have been a right cultural right off.

Could it be election fever has got to Don? Lets keep politics out of this and just say, after careful analysis of the various leaked manifestos (manifesti ?) (just what is the etiquette for several manifestos?), Don has decided the only dignified move is the spoilt ballot. It falls a little way short of pithy, tries to sound clever and is ultimately utterly pointless. So in the fine tradition of this blog.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! (and/or you Terriers depending if you get promotion – conditions apply and weather permitting)

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

In Which Lanzini Earns his Spurs, Tristan Sees the Light and its Top ‘alf Only

Post 27

Oh what a night! Late September back in ’63…

Sorry wrong record but what a night! We rocked, we rolled we twisted we shouted.

 

On what was no doubt Don’s first ever Friday night football match, the Olympic Stadium provided a dramatic setting to entertain our much-loved neighbours from up the road in N17. It’s always an event when Spurs are in town but this year the tension, the expectation and above all the apprehension was palpable. They arrived Cock-a hoop. Awesome is an over-used and oft inappropriate word but nine wins on the bounce indeed inspires awe. Don was afraid, very afraid. The pain of seeing Tottenham “coming for Chelsea” at our place would have been too much to bear.

But some optimism was justified. This time last year, their circumstances were similar (ours weren’t) and we’d stopped them in their tracks. Moreover, our form had improved recently, no goals but a solid defence. The return of Reid into a back three brings dependability and positional awareness that inspires confidence. One may say Adrian has also contributed but his jury is still hovering near the door.

Three clean sheets in the previous four games is excellent. Yes two nil-nils but sometimes Nil-Nil Satis Nisi Optimum, as they say around Everton. Our back three had Lukaku in their pocket so why not the far inferior Harry Kane? The phrase knocking around after the Everton game was that we “out Everton’d” them; meaning pre-Koeman Everton with the high pressing, hunting in packs and the style that has become a watchword of this season, personified by Spurs though ironically Everton have since been slightly more refined.

EvertonStroke

Against Stoke we were expressive but couldn’t finish off the chances we created.

So Spurs was maybe not the foregone conclusion it initially appeared…though probably would be.

But first a philosophical question: why does Don dislike Spurs with such vigour? He is envious of Chelsea so at least there’s some logic to that hatred and Arsenal do not raise the hackles with any real spirit. Brother Don (he of the dodgy Incest Post 7 ) supports them, could that be it? Not really. He only started supporting them 40 years ago to pinch that nerve. And it’s not as if they’ve had any real success to cause upset.

No, I think the issue runs deeper, in something neither Spurs or anyone can help. There was a Dr Who episode from 2006 in which miners have developed technology to dig very deep beneath the earth. Much deeper than any respecter of nature and unknown forces, should go. It’s the Wahn taking hold. Eventually, they discover why they should not have been drilling, for it is Beelzebub, the Devil himself that resides there; he has been disturbed and is not best pleased. Well that of course is fiction but sorry to report folks but I have it on pretty reliable authority that in actual fact the Devil resides deep beneath White Hart Lane and nothing good will come of the deep piling currently underway. Not Spurs’ fault; just the way it is and no team of the Devil will curry favour with Don.

the-devil

(sorry to rip whoever has copyright of this. I’m guessing BBC)

Don sincerely tries to warn his several Spursey friends (especially the three with whom he shared delightful pre-match Riojas at Enrique Tomas) but they won’t listen.

To the game! One may report that Don was really up for the fight but with 30 seconds gone he remembers looking at the clock, willing it to be over and we’d take the nil-nil.

But we swiftly grew into something resembling ok. Letting them have the ball in non-dangerous areas and closing down vociferously when needed. Noble of course had read the Julian Dicks pre-match relaxation routine and nearly permanently crippled Dyer. Mark, we all hark back to 1992 but this is 2017 and we’d quite like to keep 11 players on the field. Little Don remarked early on that their defenders were playing very high up, especially Walker and we could easily expose that with the right ball. Both Ayew and Calleri had chances to slot people in but didn’t quite have the guile but Noble and then Ayew did manage it, both times for Lanzini. We were not only holding them quite comfortably at the back (the Adrian flick over the bar aside), we showed signs of hurting them. The atmosphere began to cackle.

A word about Calleri. Its been hard to fathom why he is consistently preferred to Fletcher but no-one can argue with the shift he put in, as he did against Everton and Sunderland.  He single-handedly more than occupied Alderweireld and Vertonghen allowing opportunities for Ayew and especially Lanzini. It’s a shame we won’t keep him (which is probably correct to allow room for Fletcher and Martinez to bloom) but he will have learned a lot from his time with us and there’s a decent player somewhere in there. Somewhere.

In the second half we went up a gear and it surprised Tottenham, who looked increasingly ruffled, even before the goal. I thought Slaven’s tactics were spot on. We have four players; Byram, Creswell, Noble and Kouyate who are all decent but very capable of ill-discipline and getting wrong side. But they all stuck to the task manfully and both this and the back three formation allowed centre backs to attack the ball quite high up knowing someone had their back should it not work out. It invariably worked out. The rest of the ream replicated this attitude.

The passage of play just before the goal was an example. Ayew, without much hope of getting the ball put Vertonghen (was it?) under pressure into making a poor clearance. We collected possession and the rest is history. Don has seen precious few goals from his seat in the East Lower and no others (even Payet v Boro) resulted in him dancing in the aisle.  It was a wonderful moment as his Cha-Cha-Cha is indeed a sight to behold. And what can we say about Lanzini? The cliche is that was everywhere. Except he wasn’t; he focused on doing what he does best in positions where it could hurt them and often that was drifting into the space Walker had just vacated. He has emerged admirably from beneath the rock that was last season’s supporting role to being the main attraction. He deserves the plaudits and he will win goal of the season.

Considering what was at stake for them, the Hammers coped with the Spuds quite comfortably because we were simply pretty good. The fact is that our defence and midfield (even without Don’s favourite Obiang), is capable of competing with top 6 sides. It is up front that we are woefully short and surely that will be addressed in a few weeks. (Deja vu).

At the final whistle the place was rocking and it was a night no West Ham fan will forget. Maybe this spectacular stadium that contrives to be a monstrosity of a football ground, can feel like home. What choice do we have?

Suddenly albeit temporarily we are ninth. Top half eh? That takes me back but its the least we are entitled to expect. Tomorrow Don is going to see one of his favourite films, Brassed Off at the Albert Hall complimented live by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. What an absolute bloody treat. Should my Dear Reader have the impeccable taste to have seen the film, he/she will recall the quote from the lovely, nay gorgeous, Tara Fitzgerald, in recalling pubescent playground experimentation. “Top ‘alf Only!” Listen up Daves and think on…Top ‘alf Only!

gallery-1476463454-brassed-off-2.jpg

(apologies to whoever has copyright – don’t worry, only Don’s Mum reads this.)

Last week Don went to a Wagner Society lecture on Tristan and Isolde given by wonderful Anthony Negus and the equally wonderful Carmen Jakobi. Both of Longborough Festival Opera and its production of Tristan and Isolde next month, to be conducted by Anthony and directed by Carmen. Don can’t wait. An amazing opera and starring Lee Bisset who first came to Don’s attention as Sieglinde way back here and its fair to say she stormed that Ring Cycle in Nottingham.

In stark contrast to the forgettable pre-Meistersinger study day (which was just a run through of the synopsis – no questions allowed), this focused on a particular episode (Act ll/3 &4) and was wonderfully interactive. Two pre-prepped members of the audience read through the scene trying to make sense of quite mystical and tricky concepts and saying what it meant to them. It is the dialogue between Tristan and Isolde after the signal torch has been switched off and seemingly unfathomable dialogue concerning Day and Night. It all sets up the famous Love Duet in scene 5. Carmen explained that this is how she starts rehearsals with the cast and how important it is for the singers to understand the meaning of not only what they are singing but also what others on stage are singing.  But what depth of understanding is necessary? The torch is the signal to Tristan that it is safe to come to Isolde. Not when it is on but when it is extinguished. This is fitting because it is the illuminated Day that keeps the lovers apart while the secret unlit Night allows them to play out their time together without real world responsibilities.

What was of interest to Don was that it became apparent that the singers were not expected to have any understanding of Schopenhauer. Fair enough, at face value, it would surely be preposterous to suggest one needed a philosophy grounding to sing an operatic role. And yet Wagner’s head was so full of Schopenhauer when writing Tristan that it guided his thinking and one can see it in almost every line, particularly the considered scene.  It begs the question of whether detailed knowledge of the author’s thoughts can improve performance. To momentarily switch operas, what are the credentials for singing the Wahn Monologue in Die Meistersinger? Simply learn the lines, belt it out and head for the pub? Don is not musical and so ill-equipped to know but it is weird (at least to Don) to think that a singer can give a stellar performance without really understanding what Wagner was getting at with all the Day/Night material.

If one reads through scenes 3 and 4 without any broader background, one will get the gist that Day is bad and Night is good. One doesn’t need to understand Schopenhauer to see that the night is for illicit lovers and that the day is real, it carries responsibilities such as being loyal to King Mark, whereas at night one can escape into a dream and live out alternative realities. That much is clear and pretty obvious.

But take the line; “The spiteful day, filled with envy, could part us with its deceptions, but no longer mislead us with its lies!” It’s as though the Day is a character and has force and compulsion in its own right. That surely is Schopenhauerian Wille. Does not knowing that detract from performance? Probably not.

A little naive pondering doesn’t hurt every now and then,

Remember Daves, top ‘arf only!.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

In Which Twenty’s Plenty for the Travel Wear-y

Post 26

Wagner liked a Wanderer and travelled extensively himself. Not only the enforced exile that tends to follow picking the losing side in a revolution but he traversed Europe trying (usually failing) to put on commercially successful operas. He also regaled in Mein Leben many tales of hiking throughout the Alps. Of his main characters, Wotan often operated under the pseudonym “Wanderer” (and lived up to that) and several others, including  Tannhäuser, Parsifal, Siegfried, the Dutchman and Lohengrin all put in the mileage. I guess a good yarn is a journey in itself so travel is an oft used device.

Don and Little Don also like to travel. Harbouring thoughts of a European Tour, we (well Don anyway) envisaged this season, following Wagner’s footsteps and was thinking in terms of Zürich Grasshoppers, Dynamo Dresden and someone nice near Venice, say Verona or Udinese. Any would have fit the bill, though we drew the line at Riga. But no, typical West Ham, we depart the Euro scene with the ink barely dry on the Referendum Act, going out to that footballing giant Astra FC. Good God. I mean just give me strength.

Fortunes always hiding but still we blow bubbles and all that (Slav accent). We decide that this year we shall discover the green and pleasant land that is England (and Wales)! Unfortunately Cotswolds FC, North Cornwall United and Delights of Snowdonia Athletic are still building up to Premier League status. So it has been slightly less bucolic idylls  including Liverpool, Manchester, Swansea and last week, Sunderland.

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But pleasant sojourns nonetheless and hard to credit this season (as opposed to last) but I don’t think we’ve seen a defeat. Of course we lost at Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal but those are mere stretching one’s legs rather than proper travel.

So after a very nice lunch and a pint in gloriously sunny Newcastle we arrive at the Stadium of Light. It has lost a little of the Roker Park soul, fondly remembered by Don in the early ’80’s but is a pretty impressive ground and the support deserves better than the rubbish they’ve been served the last few years. It afforded Don the opportunity to explain the Bob Stokoe statue to Little Don (with whom it barely registered) but folks, it is of such annoying and futile gestures that maketh a parent (or not). Don was optimistic. He’d predicted a 2-1 Hammers win earlier in the week on the fabulous Stop! Hammer Time podcast  Hammers Stumble in Relegation Push and he was sticking with that. Predict Sunderland to score? But they haven’t scored in over a million seconds of apparently active football! Only a madman would back them to score. Surely?

And it couldn’t have started better. After knocking the ball around with some fluency, Carroll nodded the ball back from beyond the far post to Ayew who with the time, space and a carefree attitude that only a sunny bank holiday weekend can provide, adjusted his footing, lurched, stumbled, scuffed something..and the ball rifled into the bottom corner some way below the legion of travelling Hammers fans. We sang, we laughed, Slav was declared to be Super, the boys were knocking the ball around with some assurance, even at speed and (blow me) in a forward direction!! And all was well for a while. The apex was a flowing move that ended with Snodders (to his friends) clipping the ball just wide with the goalie nowhere.

Then the rot seemed to set in.  Khazri, one of those annoyingly effective players began being annoyingly effective. But even he would not have expected to score as he did. With Sunderland settling comfortably into their second million of seconds without a goal, they innocently win a corner. Khazri swings in a decent ball, which Fernandes (of whom Don is otherwise a fan), ushered through, lest not to interrupt its flow and Randolph (more of whom anon) under substantial pressure from the substantial Anichebe flaps at nothing and the ball goes straight in. Who scores direct from a corner? I mean beyond the playground, who does this? Maybe we were unlucky not to get a foul. Maybe.

Slave is declared to be not quite so Super and we limp through to half time.

In what was becoming a battle of who could have the most laughable defence, we were 2-1 up shortly after the re-start. Ginger Pele nodding home. The only pressure he felt was the band of high pressure nestled somewhere way over the North Sea. Again Slaven was Super. And without too much trouble (relatively speaking), we were edging toward a correct score prediction and the moral high ground for Don. Step up Darren Randolph. Now don’t get me wrong I like Darren and Don remembers from his youth that being in-goal is a thankless task. Don also remembers Darren keeping us in a cup game at Anfield last year. However, this year’s Anfield was a different story; one that has had too many repeat readings and with a chapter added last Saturday. With the game drawing to a close, and under real pressure, he elects to catch not punch, at almost at 18 yards from goal. The ball falls to Borini and they are level.

Don recalls a similarity with Adrian. Both keepers are rightly criticized for hugging their line and not dominating the six yard box, never mind the penalty area. Bowed low with such criticism, every now and then, they decide they are coming for the ball. It may be around the half way line but they are coming for it. Just to shut people up.  It rarely ends well.

Don’s prediction in tatters, it ends 2-2. Oh well, survival will have to be guaranteed another time and its time to go. We leave the weary Wearsiders and head back to Newcastle, where Sunderland’s failure to take probably their final survival chance was greeted with widespread joy. We took a slightly later train which proved uneventful and home in Muswell Hill by eleven.

This is great improvement on Don’s last trip to Sunderland (Roker Park) after which night game, he had to hitch-hike through the night to get home, which was then Lancaster. Some travel even further. Take for example Scandinavian Hammers who have kindly let me re-produce their logo as it has more than a touch of Nordic Wagneritus around its gills. These hardy folk think nothing of several thousands of miles over the season which I could understand if we were decent.

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Now apparently the good folk at Virgin Media recognise the monotony of the long distance runner as they were offering a tenner back on every away ticket purchased for last weekend. Anyone hear about it? Don saw no publicity whatsoever at Sunderland and only after tickets had been disposed of did someone mention to him the  Twenty’s Plenty campaign. Forgive Don’s cynicism but he ponders if this is one of those publicity stunts aimed at everyone other than those that might take advantage. Cue Don and Little Don rooting through bins looking for grubby tickets because it seems other proof of purchase does not qualify for the refund. Why the hell not? Come on Virgin, be a sport. And if your ticket is not in the bin, claim your tenner!

Enough retrospective. lets look forward! A relaxing shluf on the tube tomorrow before a Rioja or three down Enrique Tomas at the Westfield (you can take the bloke out of Green Street…)..before a nice three points at home to Everton. If ever there was an easy team for us…Come on guys, send those Scandi Hammers back to Tromso happy; they’ve made a big effort.

This episode of this Wagner blog has been painfully short of Wagner. That’s the way it goes. Some days, the Swan glides along the river bearing the Knight, other days it falls dead from the sky. You got to roll with those punches. Last time was all Parsifal. Don’s heard whiff of a Götterdämmerung study day on Sunday at Fulham Opera which might be cool and on election night he’ll be watching Lohengrin at Longborough (one can do away days in the Cotswolds!), starring the fabulous Lee Bissett.

But a sad note on which to end. We hear today of the way too early death of Ugo Ehiogu. As nice a guy as his name was difficult to spell and with whom Don was lucky enough to play a couple of rounds of golf. RIP Ugo.

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If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

In Which there’s No Fool like a Pure Fool

Post 25

Ludwig Swan copy

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2015

 

A recent survey indicated that No Religion is now one of our most observed “religions”. Which goes to show that either the survey was rubbish or that we think of religion in  a broader sense. The phrase “Keep the Faith” is bandied about for all sorts of reasons and for many, including Don, his immediate family and Fan, supporting West Ham is a kind of religion. Usually the self-flagellation type but with very rare moments of spiritual rapture.

We like Slaven, we back Slaven, we keep the faith. But Lord, how you test us! After another defeat (at Arsenal) with Spurs, Everton, Liverpool etc all to come in short order, it was looking grim. As regards two of those; Spurs and Everton, this was the season (Don not unreasonably hoped) in which we would make great in-roads into the “stature” gap between them and us; even over-hauling Everton. Instead the gap has widened to a chasm (such pettiness is of interest to Don). Yet here we are. Are we foolish or what?

So what a relief to beat Swansea on Saturday. After weeks of abstinence, Don can again look at a league table and he has returned to the joys of Gary Lineker et al on Match of the Day. It wasn’t a superb display but it was a distinct improvement over the second half at Arsenal. There was passion, guts and we had a messianic Ginger Pele at the back to remind what playing for and supporting this club means to all of us. Don’s moment of the day was a dead ball moment. With 15 minutes to go, their captain Jack Cork (decent player) was down injured. The sound of “Super Slav” resounded around the ground at Jericho threatening volume. In the context of the pressure the gaffer’s been under, this was a stirring moment and showed, not that the recent dross is acceptable but that we are all in it together. It could have brought a tear to a Madonna statue (non-weeping variety).

Don and Little Don are up to Sunderland at the weekend, fools that we are but at least now a prospect of a decent day out (naturally the only day this week with rain forecast), as opposed to the day of judgement.

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A little sense of serendipity as the Swans bring relief and we move on to Parsifal..

Parsifal, der Reiner Tor, the Pure Fool, was Wagner’s final opera. He may have intended that because whilst he had over the years mused over other operatic projects, his tendencies in his final years, hinted at a more symphonic direction. It was also his only opera written specifically for his newly created Festspeilhaus at Bayreuth aka the Wagner Cathedral, which is fitting. Those coming to Parsifal for the first time may find the slow-paced, reverential feel quite challenging, or if in contemplative mood, quite wonderful and may be forgiven in thinking it is a religious piece, set as it is around the Grail, and Good Friday – a hint of Passion Play. Academics have long argued as to its religious credentials. As Ulrike Kienzle (1) comments : it is beyond doubt that it is a work of a sacred nature, “but what form of “sacred”are we dealing with here?” One may find it cleansing and cathartic; calming and strangely sensual without really knowing why.

Unlike his other operas, there is no obvious narrative that pushes proceedings towards a denouement; indeed the crux of the matter (Kundry’s kiss), takes place in the middle of Act 2. Acts 1 and 3 reflect each other in several ways so Act 1 builds to the kiss and Act 3 is in contemplation of its revelatory consequences. Time and history are of less significance than event. One may be forgiven at the end for thinking, “that was an amazing experience but I don’t know why and haven’t a clue what it was really about”. Don’s regular reader will understand that Don’s boundless ignorance does not preclude his mouthing off, so with Good Friday and Passover fast approaching, its time for some initial impressions on Parsifal.

To whet appetite; religious fanaticism, castration, lust, sex-slaves, re-incarnation,  androgyny, necrophilia and an over burdening Oedipal complex. Not to mention the nihilistic killing of an endangered species. So as “Swansongs” go, its your normal trip through Wagner’s neurosis. Yet, someone watching it fresh, may take it at face value,  love the beautiful experience and pick up on little of the above. That in Don’s view, is equally worthy.

Lets start with the briefest of over simplified synopsis. Then we will have a bit of a think as to its meaning..

Act 1.

In a remote and desolate part of Spain (Montsalvat), a group of committed believers guard the holy Grail, the vessel which, following the last supper, was used (in another vortex) to catch the blood of the dying Christ on the cross as he bled from a wound in his side; apparently inflicted by the Roman soldier Longinus piercing him with a spear. The guardians (Knights), live an ascetic existence of self-flagellation, celibacy and occasional glimpses of the Grail and also their other holy relic – the said spear (until they lost it). They derive succour from the relics’ other worldly qualities and the very ritual of bringing them out on a regular basis sustains them, spiritually and actually (which is helpful as god knows the place looks as though nothing would ever grow there). It brings to mind Freya’s apples from Das Rheingold. The Grail when brought forth glows blood-red and flows as Eucharist wine. The Grail King,  Amfortas, should preside over this ceremony, like his father Titurel before him. However, Amfortas suffers from a wound that will not heal and inflicts perpetual pain but which will not bring the longed for relief in death. Guess what? It’s a wound in the same place from the very same spear (significantly it still drips blood from its tip). So he has to be respectfully dragged out to perform the ceremony. With the King’s reluctant leadership, the community is fast falling into decline, the landscape into desolation and its all becoming a bit of a chore.

Enter Kundry. She flits in and out of the community, they don’t really know why or from where she comes. She ostensibly helps but always seems to be absent in times of trouble. So a target for mockery and suspicion but grudgingly respected by Guernemanz , the chief lieutenant Knight. In defending her from taunts, he provides the following little back story; to wit….

A former Knight, Klingsor, angered at being omitted from the community (he’s not thought to be of the right stuff, especially on the celibacy front), has established camp over the way and plans to capture the holy grail and spear. His tactic (a sure-fire winner), is a brothel (inhabited by the Flower Maidens) which tempts the weaker Knights which, after a quick knee trembler, are in Klingsor’s thrall.

Sad to report Dear Reader, but the king Amfortas himself, to his eternal shame and on a supposed trip to defeat Klingsor no less, succumbs to fleshy temptation and (though the Knights don’t know it) with none other than Mata Hari in chief, Kundry. While she is tempting him with a bit of how’s your father, Klingsor nabs the holy spear laying by Amfortas and stabs him in the side. He returns to Montsalvat.

Debit column: lost holy spear. Credit column: gained perpetual wound. Note to the Accounts: Klingsor, in futile attempt to convince the knights that he is serious about celibacy, has at some time before, castrated himself.

So back up to date (whenever that is because it’s all a bit fluid, time wise), the Knights are preparing for the ceremony. A commotion and a thud, as a dead swan hits the deck. A boy with suspicious bow and arrow is hauled by the Knights to Guernemanz. Who are you? Why did you kill an innocent swan? Further similar questions, all of which are greeted by a shrug of the shoulders by the boy who doesn’t even know his own name. Kundry has seen all and realises she knows the boy and his parents. She explains to Guernemanz how the boy was raised by his mother who after his father died in battle, was so over protective of her son, she insulated him from knowledge and life. But alas, the boy having left her, she has subsequently died of a broken heart. Devastating news to the boy. Guernemanz remembers a rumour that Amfortas would will only be healed by a pure fool and something about knowledge through compassion. So on a hunch he invites the boy to observe the grail ceremony.

Moving on. Reverential slow-paced ceremony at which Grail is revealed, still glows red, Eucharist etc. but with no Spear with which to couple, is then returned to its place of safety. Guernemanz in hope, asks the boy, “Weißt du was du sahst?” Do you know what you saw? The boy shrugs his innocent shoulders and Guernemanz guesses he’s a fool but not the fool. The choir resounds not with Super Slav but with knowledge through compassion, the pure fool. Suggesting Guernemanz may have missed a trick.

Act 2.

Klingsor’s camp over the way. He’s been observing goings-on down Montsalvat and he too has spotted the kid’s potential. Having secured the spear, he considers the time to be right to get the Grail but (rightly) perceives Parsifal as a threat. He awakes Kundry from her coma like death sleep in which he keeps her shackled until her sexual charms are needed. Her task; to seduce this Parsifal kid who is heading this way, mowing down several of Klingsor’s Knights en route and then amid coitus, he can go the same way as Amfortas. Lets not think of Klingsor as an out-and-out baddie; he wanted to join the gang and they wouldn’t let him or, he was one of them and they booted him out. Think Captain Black to Parsifal’s Captain Scarlet.

The lovely flower maidens in the walk-thru brothel try to tempt him but to no avail but then he sees Kundry at her sultry best and it looks like he’s a gonner. Amid telling him about his mother’s love (vague memories return to him), it becomes a little confusing; is Kundry mother or lover? Which is of course the point and see below for discussion. They embrace in a passionate kiss which probably stands for the Full Monte just short of penetration. When….at the last second he pulls away and exclaims “Amfortas, the Wound!!”  That is, he’s had an epiphany re what happened to Amfortas, what Kundry is up to and how he Parsifal can provide redemption. A whole raft of complex stuff ensues between them re faith, seduction, compassion and redemption which is beyond this short synopsis (but which is the key and peripherally considered below). Klingsor curses Parsifal and throws the sacred spear to kill him. As Parsifal catches it above his head, Klingsor, the Flower Maidens and the whole kit and caboodle (other than Kundry) turn to dust (sounds biblical).

Act 3

Having regained the spear, our boy is making his way back to Montsalvat. Considering its just over the way, he gets badly lost because it takes an unknown period of time and by the time he bumps into Guernemanz (who has just bumped into Kundry) in a lovely flower meadow (note contrast to desolation and to tawdry Flower Maidens),Guernemanz  is an old man.

Guernemanz sees Parsifal has the longed for Spear and realises that Parsifal is the pure fool who can redeem Amfortas from his sin, save the community and (Parsifal) can take his rightful place as Grail King. Much anointing and in best Saviour-like tradition, Parsifal washes Kundry’s feet (and vice versa) before the three of them follow the yellow brick road to Montsalvat.

Once there, a further grail ceremony is performed which also doubles as a funeral for the ancient Titurel. The Spear is re-united (by which we mean inserted into) with the Grail, Amfortas is healed, Kundry is forgiven and finds her longed for redemption in death and Parsifal is anointed the new Grail King. All is well.

The End.

So it’s not much of a story. Its carried (in Acts 1 and 3) by sublime, slow, transcendental music with the Dresden Amen much in evidence and one feels it intends to impart deep messages of a spiritual nature. Don would not pretend to be able to attempt to decipher but lets at least raise some notions and pose some questions.

It looks like a piece of Christian art. Without mentioning Jesus by name, we have a Saviour and a Eucharist; and baptisms of sorts are performed. This is an unnatural bedfellow with the agnostic Wagner of his Feuerbach and Schopenhauer decades (and he was influenced by Schopenhauer to the last).  But his essays in his latter years suggested a pivotal role for the established (non-Catholic) church in the new German society. Nietzsche was convinced the older Wagner had “fallen” into Christianity and for him, it was the last straw, though we know by this time, he was looking for any reason to criticise his erstwhile idol. One could look at it purely at this level but I think that would be superficial.

Nationalism and blood. Parsifal, perhaps more than any other Wagner piece has been interpreted differently over the years and generally there’s sufficient ammo to bolster any existing perspective if that’s the reviewer’s aim. To generalise for the sake of it; in the 1880’s and 1890’s, the Church supported its christian ethos. Pre-WW1 its purely artistic and aesthetic qualities were appreciated. In the increasingly antisemitic Weimar years, preservation of pure race/pure blood issues were emphasised and honed  with the rise of the Nazis. Interestingly while the Nazis banned a lot of overtly religious art, Parsifal was permitted. So what are the racist/nationalistic aspects?

We have a community trying to survive, it is based on principles of purity and to its mind, decency. It preserves the pure blood of its long-lost leader/god head, which has purifying qualities. It is exclusive, it has cast out those not of the right stuff (Klingsor) and is wary of the outsider (Kundry). Its headed by a leader who is not only not leading but has fallen short of the principles, due to his weakness. The community reveres two relics, the grail and spear. Both are linked to the blood of the mythical godhead. If the Grail community doesn’t remain strong in the face of outsider (other race) temptation, it’s very essence will be lost. Who will save them? Enter Parsifal, yes a fool but because he has been kept pure from the corrupting influences of the outside world he will gain wisdom to illuminate the path. Watch him gain in authority as the piece progresses. He is the outsider hero who can resist the temptation that befalls the incumbent leader, thereby save the community from unwanted outsiders and by end, all are prostrate before his absolute authority. Weißt du was du sahst? One can see what the Nazi’s saw.

Others look at it quite differently. There are few operas that have inspired Freudian literature like Parsifal. Conferences have been held on it is influence on psychoanalysis.

Tom Artin, in his book What Parsifal Saw considered this and it is worth brief consideration now (and a longer look another time).

Don knows about as little of psychoanalysis as he does musical technicalities but hey…

Artin makes 2 initial points re Freud.

  1. Human experience is like an iceberg with the conscious experience being the visible tenth and the unconscious being the great mass under water that is nevertheless the greater part of the whole and dictates everything.
  2. Freud says: The overwhelming unconscious human experience that dictates our thinking is the Primal Scene. This is, wait for it..and no West Ham blog would be complete without it..the child’s image of its parents having sexual intercourse. The played out “Mummy, where do I come from?” It is a disturbing image for the child and perceived as violent. To spell it out, Daddy is stabbing Mummy to create a wound. It goes on but you get the gist and we’ll leave it there.

Having set that scene, Artin sets out 6 principal themes in Parsifal:

  • Ignorance of the pure fool
  • Seeing. What Parsifal saw.
  • Maternal sacrifice.
  • Sex as parlous.
  • Seduction
  • Redemption through compassion.

 

Ignorance of the Pure Fool

Wagner has given us ignorant heroes before but more nuanced than Siegfried, Parsifal acquires the right knowledge. Initially he knows nothing; not his name, who is father is, that it is wrong to kill a swan. But he learns. Without knowing what he saw at the initial grail ceremony, he instinctively knew to make his way to Klingsor.

Seeing

So what does he see in the epiphany? He screams Amfortas! The wound! Artin says that having almost re-enacted the Primal Scene (Kundry/ his mother, Parsifal/ his father), that is what he sees; Kundry having sex with Amfortas, which leads directly to the wound.

Maternal Sacrifice

Kundry explains how his mother sacrificed herself for his protection and ultimately enacts her name, Herzeleide, by dying of a broken heart. In the seduction scene, Kundry almost becomes the mother (in Parsifal’s eyes). Freud’s Primal Scene moves inexorably in an Oedipul incestuous direction for the child’s protection which is a huge sacrifice on her part. Kundry certainly wants to sacrifice herself in repentance of historic sin. She is supposed to have seen Jesus being crucified and laughed at him. About as un-compassionate as can be. Her punishment; to re-incarnate over generations and be denied peace. She is awoken on two occasions in the opera and both times from a “death sleep”, so perhaps sacrificed many times over and simply used, in death, as a sexual vassal.

Sex as Parlous.

In most grail legends, the King (the Fisher King) is wounded in the thigh or groin and is somehow incapable of functioning. Sterile. Wagner moved it north to the side, in replication of Jesus and perhaps to spare 19th century blushes but the implications are clear. Have sex, get stabbed in the side, lose holy relic, lose power, destroy community. Freud would liken the wound to the vagina, bleeding as menstruation. The Spear penetrates the Wound etc. etc. Yet at the end the Spear penetrating the Grail is the climactical coupling that saves the community, so who knows? Klingsor considered it sufficiently parlous to castrate himself.

Lets add to the mix that Schopenhauer considered the sex drive the most obvious and most powerful example of the Will (see Don’s various Meistersinger posts and others), which is irresistible and by nature, destructive.

Seduction

Kundry’s seduction and then her kiss, is the crux of the piece. It is this that brings knowledge. She tells him his name, she reminds him about (and of) his mother. One feels she has deep knowledge spanning lifetimes and has witnessed (and partaken in) a lot of evil as well as good. Something of an active but flawed Erda. Her role is to teach Parsifal, to bring him to maturity and to Redeem the Redeemer. The mutual washing of feet and mutual baptism suggests she and Parsifal almost merge into one and several commentators comment on the androgyny. See for instance the Syberberg film.

Redemption through Compassion

In the epiphany he feels Amfortas’ pain, admittedly in the heart (where his mother died) rather than the side and sees his role to forgive Amfortas and Kundry and redeem them both as well as the community. He also needs redeeming (contrast with Jesus). At the end the choir (and we know for Wagner the significance of the choir) sings Redeem the Redeemer. Why does he need redeeming? Ok he killed the swan but he pulled back from sex, if sex is bad. On that note, if that’s what Wagner thought, he certainly didn’t practise what he preached. But Parsifal sinned, he broke his mother’s heart and after all she did for him and what greater sin than that?

So that’s it folks and all Don can say is Gosh. Lots to ponder, hope it wasn’t too x-rated for some sensibilities.

It’s a lovely opera but can stir strange emotions, especially if one is open to it.

Suddenly West Ham v Sunderland has a charming simplicity and here’s hoping for redemption for Slav and all of us. We’re all in it together.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

  1. Ulrike Kienzle. “Parsifal and Religion: A Christian Music Drama?”

In Which Kasper and Slaven play Fast and Loose with the Plot

Post 24

I have to report that Don and Kasper Holten have lately been moving in opposite directions. Kasper is the respected and departing Director of Opera at Covent Garden. Die Meistersinger von Nürmberg is his swansong and his work done, he has left for his native Copenhagen. Don is a know-nothing gobby bloke from Muswell Hill, recently travelled with Mrs Don from Copenhagen to London after a very pleasant few days sightseeing. Two cities, two journeys, one mind. And its Kasper’s. Nevertheless, no point being gobby if one isn’t opinionated and so Don gives his personal insight into the latest controversies down Covent Garden.

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Don likes Slaven Bilic. Who wouldn’t? In much the way that one likes or is at least in awe of the cool guy at the bar with the earing, guitar and no beer belly. Oh how we wish these were the only credentials required to manage in the Premier League. Alas not. The plot has gone a little wobbly lately in the Olympic Park. Don considers why, what is to be done and how much of David Sullivan’s money can we waste in doing so.

Kasper

Firstly, Die Meistersinger. Don’s ardent fan will recall Don’s introduction to it some months back [here]and in a subsequent post, his take on the controversies; particularly the nationalism and potential or otherwise, anti-Semitism [here].

It is by any standard, a magnificent opera and stupendous piece of art. Some get carried away. Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the Polish pianist, considered it the greatest creation of art in all humanity. That’s quite a statement but in any event, its pretty good; probably Don’s favourite. At least this week.

Don has had two opportunities to consider the Holten production; the final rehearsal and then a proper performance this week. Indeed in a bizarre few minutes, Don booked tickets for Sunderland away (accompanied by Little Don), set off for the opera house and learned of the terrible events on Westminster Bridge. Let me add my words of comfort to the bereaved and grateful thanks for the heroics amidst this monumental act of nihilistic barbarism on the part of (as background begins to emerge),  a pathetic little man. Hannah Arendt wrote that the best rebuttal of totalitarian acts was active engagement in society by ordinary people. Later that night, on the packed streets of Covent Garden, it felt a little like that. Londoners were not cowering, they were re-claiming the streets of their city, Don’s city.

The benign gloss on Die Meistersinger is that it is primarily a music drama about Art, specifically music; yes Art in German society but also the role of Art in society generally. After that it is about German nationalism. The less charitable, place it the other way around. One can make a good case for both. The enduring fascination with Wagner is one doesn’t have a nice night out, enjoy the music and move on to dinner; Wagner compels one to think deeply about what one has seen.

What we saw was DM in a modern setting. This immediately presents challenges which Holten of course intended. In Don’s humble opinion, DM works best set well before the 20th century. Its nationalism can then be (easier) set in context and Sachs’ final speech (easier) dealt with. The modern setting places a national socialist burden upon the end of the opera that is difficult to shift. The question is, does it deserve to be shifted? Of course Wagner cannot be blamed for the Nazi co-option of the opera, beyond all other art, just as Haydn cannot be blamed for the subsequent adoption of his music as the German national anthem, which also had gruesome overtones during the Nazi era. Whereas that music has been rightly redeemed, people remain uncomfortable with Wagner.

I think with justification. The representation of the intended new Germany as a romantic Nuremberg idyll, was bound up in wonderful essences of purity, heroism and modesty but also fear of the outsider and worse yet, the dispatch of the outsider. By outsider Wagner certainly meant free of French influence but also undoubtedly Jewish influence. Whilst he could not have anticipated the horror of future decades (and I do not believe he would have been a Nazi supporter), the lineage from Wagner’s 1860’s romantic and heroic ideals to the 1930’s is clear and when Hitler heard Wach Auf in 1932 (or thereabouts), one can understand he thought not (or not only) of Luther, Beethoven, Sachs or Wagner but of himself and of the dawning of National Socialism. Goebbels said as much.

One assumes Kasper intended to meet this challenge head on by setting it in modern times. Directors of opera tend to want to direct, especially in their parting shot.

So lets look at a couple of challenges this presented.

  1. Unlike the timeless mythical essence of most Wagner drama, DM is set in a real place, involves real people and so should at least to some extent ring true. That a father might give his daughter’s hand in marriage as a prize in a singing competition is barely creditable even in the 16th century. Passing it off in 21st century London/Nuremberg (I’m not sure which), unduly stretches the credibility threshold, which in turn undermines some of the serious themes of the piece, including the feminist one.
  2. Don considers the greatest aspects of the opera to be Sachs’ humility and his modest heroism in renunciation. He recognises he must supress his desire (if not his love) for Eva because he has lost her to the younger man; and rightly so. He understands and wonderfully conveys the concept of Wahn; how it is natural to the human condition but that maybe it can be harnessed as a force for good and order and not simply chaos. The pivotal and for Don, the most moving scene is in Act 3 where Eva pours out her heart to him and love for him but is still drawn away to the younger man. It is so Tristanesque, they say so! In short, Hans Sachs up until the final scene is a role model for all generations, certainly for Don. Wagner then does him no favours in whatever century, by the final racist monologue. The vigour of which is unnecessary in any context and I wish he had not done it. It confirms nationalism as the thrust of the piece however much we may want to laud the other aspects.

One has to admire how Holten tries to handle this second point. Eva is equally disgusted with all three; Walter for accepting the honour of the guilds, her father for the original misogynist concept and with Sachs for his unsavoury comments, that she strikes the feminist blow and storms off. The audience, certainly those hearing the monologue for the first time, is metaphorically right behind her. As the final moment in the opera, it is unforgettable, if nothing else. But it is problematic. She has hitherto not been disgusted with her father (albeit the misogyny was obvious from the outset) and she was previously upset when Walter was not accepted by the guilds. Fundamentally however it undermines Sachs and all the emotion, love and respect that has previously passed between him and Eva and between him and us. Kasper may say it was Wagner that lost Sachs that respect by adding the final passage. Hard to argue but we’ve invested a lot of emotion in the previous 4 1/2 hours only to be told in the last 30 seconds it counts for nought. If one undermines Sachs to this degree, I fear the whole piece becomes at best, messy and at worst, fatally flawed.

3. Did the change of setting obfuscate important themes?

a) The opening scene in Church was transplanted to a gentleman’s (men only) club choir rehearsal. The hymn (of course) was still about John the Baptist (so setting the redemption credentials crucial to any understanding of the opera), so I think that worked.

b) Act 2 was not the traditional street scene but was somehow still in (was it??) the gentleman’s club. Poor old Sachs was some sort of portable cobbler dragging his tools around and trying not to smudge his tux. Little wonder he was pissed off at the end of Act 3. I’m sorry  but this Act needs to be outside; the scent of the Elder tree, the Linden tree, the balcony scene, the alley, the houses. Most importantly, the outside space for the Midsummer Night mischievous spirits to take hold. Well it was kind of outside-ish; we had a lilac plant and if it wasn’t, the night watchman and half the town were trespassing but I must say, even after the second viewing, Act 2 left me confused.

c) a fight scene with no fighting? Well Beckmesser was the sole recipient of a beating (plot essential), there was some slow motion pandemonium and we did get some fornication thrown in, so one shouldn’t complain.

d) Act 3, scene 1 is not in Sachs’ house but rather at the back of the Festival auditorium. But sure enough, cobbler Sachs is there..with his tools. This bloke is the traveling cobbler par excellence. More St Christopher than St Crispen. It all seemed a bit darker than it should have been for the glorious full swathes of strings when Sachs’ Johannes Nacht gives way to Johannes Tag (and can Beckmesser “steal” a bit of paper left in a public auditorium?)  But generally Act 3 is such a musical wonder of the world, its hard to go far wrong.

Plusses;

  1. The orchestra and choir. Simply magnificent. If I’d had my hat on, Wach Auf would have blown it off. The horns from the upper amphitheatre resonated a little with the SS guards doing same from the Bayreuth balcony in the 1930’s but lets not dwell.
  2. Beckmesser. The role is such a comedy show stopper and Johannes Martin Kränzle  has it down to a tee.
  3. Pogner. Don is not over technical music wise (!) but even he could hear Stephen Milling has a proper voice. Look forward to more.
  4. Rachel Willis-Sørensen’s Eva. Really came into it in Act 3 when that scene with Sachs is the only game in town. She nailed it so that by the time of the five-way Dream Song baptism we are utterly wrecked. Moreover she has been nice enough to respond to some of Don’s tweets so what’s not to like?
  5. Bryn. A very acceptable if not astonishing Sachs but he’s been there, done it, got T-shirt etc etc  and hey, what does Don know?
  6. Kasper Holten. He’s pushed the boundaries, did something and of that I suspect Wagner would approve and so probably would Hannah Arendt.

Slaven

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(reproduced with kind permission of whoever this belongs to. Much appreciated)

We can’t keep dining out on last season and we can’t keep blaming the pitch, the new ground and Payet. It is also not acceptable to say how well we played for most of the Leicester game. We did; I accept that but its not acceptable. (If you want tautology, this is the place). In the Premier League if you have an off 10 minutes you are very lucky not to be punished. To be 2-0 down after 8 minutes is either pathetic or really unlucky. We seem to concede goals in short bursts on a regular basis; West Brom and Spurs away this season, Leicester (again) and Bournemouth at home last season spring immediately to mind and I’m sure there are a host of others if Don bothered to look.

We famously tracked a world beater of a striker for most of the summer; indeed several of them. We got none.

We obviously needed a right back (since Jenkinson got injured, in what seems years ago) and famously did no tracking at all. Ok Arbeloa (rests case).

We clearly are still in dire need of both after another fruitless transfer window. We still have none. We are scoring with reasonable regularity but concede alarmingly so; often exposed where a decent right back should be, which makes otherwise half decent central defenders look fools.

I like Byram but he’s definitely better going forward. Its obvious to all (including Slaven) that he’s not yet ready at this level (though I think he’ll get there). I completely dislike Antonio, Kouyate, Noble, Carroll or any other non-right back at right back. Again obvious.

Up front, aside from Carroll, have any strikers even scored this season? I don’t count Antonio as a striker. Whisper it at risk of general bombardment but I don’t rate him that much as footballer. Top marks for effort, is a tremendous athlete, has speed and strength in abundance and seems an absolute top bloke. But his first touch and decision making are not great. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating selling him but if he’s our first team striker, then lower mid-table is about as high as our aspirations go and if he’s England standard….He is a right winger or nothing in my view and he’s not the best out there.

The ground does us no favours but what can we do? Get on with it, that’s what. Never mind increasing capacity to 66,000, Don would focus on 50,000 fans that actually stay the 90 mins and have more than a passing interest in the final score, as opposed to giving little Johnny a fun day out. If you think that’s fun son, you’re a bit bloody odd. We may even generate a bit of atmosphere if fans were still there towards the end.

No-one needs Don to tell them we need a decent right back, a proper striker and an Obiang quality midfielder to play alongside or a little in advance of Pedro. I fear maybe a goalie as well but only if in Joe Hart class or we’re simply juggling around for the sake of it.

And the $64,000 question. Having hardly excelled in previous two windows (though the lovely Pedro was his first purchase??), will Slav be there to spend Dave’s money? The harsh view is, if he’s not done enough to warrant a contract extension, why are we messing about? We are not yet safe from relegation this season which means under Slav, we’re among the dreaded runners and riders for next. So lets do better. The benign view is, he wore an earing, plays the guitar and seems a top bloke…

Will be an interesting next few weeks and have it sorted by Sunderland away Slav, its a bloody long way for nothing.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017