In Which Mayhem Abounds but Don takes the Philosophical View. Schopenhauer time.

Post 34

It’s hard to conceive that there could be any conceptual issues combining a blog on Wagner and West Ham United but take it from Don, there are one or two. Currently imposing like an anvil on his skull, is that its easy to be topical with West Ham (unpleasant but easy), whereas the Wagner stuff takes a little longer so that, what with holding down the day job etc., by the time the Wagner stuff is considered, the once hot from the oven West ham stuff has gone cold and soggy. Such is life and we’ll just have to disappoint the dozens of advertisers…anyway…

Don discovered Africa early. Aged 22 months, armed only with compass, parents and nappy cream, he foraged to Casablanca. So with decades of experience under his belt, he can safely say that Africans do not as a rule, cause mayhem. He’s pretty sure Africans are well represented in the Nutter stakes, at least if UN debates are the standard, but not disproportionately so. Yet not everyone subscribes to the first above view and it transpires dissenters lurk within that bastion of sanity, West Ham United.

The alleged (careful!) slur on the footballing mentality of an entire continent, was made by the club’s now ex-“Director of Transfers ” (we had one? – who knew?) as the January transfer window “slammed shut” and drew to a close a bit of a mad month down at the Stratford Sarcophagus.

For the most part, January, seemed quite benign. Results were pretty good, potential transfer targets sounded sensible and we even landed one, Joao Mario, whose pedigree was only slightly tarnished. But Janus is a fickle, two-faced god and by the time the moon got fat and blue, both of these had turned agin us so that the better half of the squad got injured, Wigan Athletic (of two divisions below) dumped us out of the Cup and we committed a whole host of PR calamities. Off the top of my head;

  • Wash Your Mouth Out. Arthur Masuaku, master dribbler, shows the world but more directly the poor guy from Wigan Athletic, that he can expectorate with equal competence. The footballing world saves a special place in hell for the spitter so with unity of disgust, Arthur is rightly banned for 6 games. One is grateful I suppose, that he didn’t masticate.
  • Never Saw That Coming. In same game, the club loses Pedro Obiang to a vicious tackle. No ban, no card of any description and not even a free kick. We are not expecting to see him again this season, whereas the Spitee, mentally scarred no doubt, was of course otherwise unharmed. Looking beyond that irony, the point of mentioning this is that Pedro is the only recognised defensive midfielder at the club. Having spotted this since Spring 2017, the club compound the Carvalho Cock Up with the Dendoncker Dick Around. Really appalling mismanagement particularly in the context of our dire need and his desire to join.
  • Nail Varnish of a Different Colour. The now defunct and disgraced President’s Club. Hundreds of delightful misogynists gather to donate to terribly worthy causes but with the expectation of handmaidens on tap. Unbelievable how many of the nations best and brightest claimed not to have had the foggiest about what was going on. The good news was, for once it was nothing to do with West Ham. And yet…..? We see Jack Sullivan, son of owner, august chairman of West Ham Ladies team (what else?) and barely old enough to drink, was on the guest list. No idea if he turned up and look, we all make occasional bad call, but this event has had a reputation for years and one wonders just who thought it was a great idea for the teenage son of the owner to be associated with it.
  • Mayhem. Repeat this word often and at sufficiently fast speed and it makes no sense whatsoever. The room starts spinning, you suck your thumb and for a little while, the world feels like its made of candy floss. Unfortunately, at normal speed, it only needs to be said once about African footballers to a Daily Mail journalist and things aint as cuddly. Especially when a healthy chunk of the home changing room is African. I mean FFS, you couldn’t make it up. The only plus is, we kicked ourselves in the nuts before Sakho did it to us, as surely he will….or (by the time of publication) has. Got to be rock bottom you say?
  • Oh Here’s the Story, Of a Lovely Lady… Dame Karren. She publicly (in her newspaper column), castigates Moyes for his sexist comments when at Sunderland. Fair enough she’s entitled to a view and who would have thought she’d have to sanction his employment in due course? An embarrassing but unfortunate coincidence; no problem. What is a problem is not learning from that and not realising that football is a terribly claustrophobic world and public criticism can come back to bite you. And that we hear, is why Slimani is not a West Ham player. Not saying he’s brilliant but what if he was? Why the hell can’t she be more professional?

And this brings Don to his essential point. Five years ago, we beat Spurs to the Olympic Stadium. They were always a bit bigger than us but not immeasurably so. Look at what’s happened in that time and the advantages we’ve had whereas they’ve had to finance a new stadium (please God it should still haunt them). Point is, everything about how Tottenham is run exudes professionalism, whereas all we do smacks of an amateurish hobby.  Of course that’s just appearance and no doubt lift the veil and they aren’t so brilliant and we maybe are not the nightmare we appear. But I only deduct a couple of marks for that. Generally, the allegation remains.

Still there’s always February…which got off to a fine start at Brighton, going down 3-1 with, we are informed, one of the most abject 45 mins in living memory. Are the calamitous affairs behind the scenes having an effect on the team? They shouldn’t but one doesn’t suppose that the lack of new faces and the general sense of chaos helped either manager or dressing room.  No discredit to Joao Mario who had a pretty presentable debut against Palace in the week. Also very best wishes to Jordan Hugill who seems an enthusiastic lad and whom from his You Tube moments, reminds the ancient Don a little of the youthful Geoffrey Charles Hurst.

Well, what’s a boy to do? Shrug shoulders and get on with life, that’s Don’s philosophy. Fortunes have hidden before and will do again. The joy of our wonderful club is that despite all and long after these owners and the next lot have gone, the fans will still love the team and had better get behind David and the boys this weekend (now today; how the week flies. – Ed.) 

Supporting West Ham spawns thousands of pub philosophers. Engage brain because Don is going to try to get his head around the 19th century Arthur Schopenhauer, a man convinced he had found the answer to lots of big questions. Maybe he had.

Why him? Well he profoundly influenced Wagner from his Ring Cycle onward, so including Die Meistersinger, Tristan, Götterdämmerung and Parsifal and when I say profoundly, hardly a day passed without him reading and writing about Schopenhauer or as Cosima referred to him in the diaries, Sch. and he never tired of telling anyone that would listen, how it changed his life and therefore his art, though that is a loaded statement as we shall see. Don has mentioned him several times in previous posts whilst nervously swerving what he was saying. I warn you now, its heady stuff, often counter intuitive, at first glance ridiculous and difficult to get one’s head around. And yet, and Don has really only scratched the surface, you feel old Arthur may have been onto something. I say old; he wrote his masterpiece, The World as Will and Representation in his twenties and spent the rest of his pretty long life refining it but not changing the essentials and was just as convinced he was right at his death in 1860 aged 72.

Sch. the Younger                                                                  Sch. the Elder

So here’s an initial stab at the gist but first what does this love, nay obsession, with a philosopher say about Wagner? I lot, I would say. Whilst other composers have the intellectual gravitas to understand Sch. (because no doubt there have been lots of clever composers) but to be sufficiently interested in what he had to say? And not alongside and separate to his world of composing but integral to his art and giving it life. That synthesis of music and philosophy seems pretty unique. Though lets not go overboard. Wagner was an intellectual but no philosopher. His life was driven by music and his philosophical interest was what is the role of music in society.

A couple of other initial points.

  • Don is no philosopher, indeed he and intellectualism of any kind are uneasy bedfellows. So Dear Reader is advised to consider commentary below, more Karl Pilkington than Karl Popper.
  • Following this, Don naturally, has not read the direct sources; primarily The World of Will and Representation but nor the essays etc. He is inspired to do so but for now is generally indebted to Bryan Magee’s The Philosophy of Schopenhauer. Sch. himself was scathing of people not going to the original source but I’m afraid its baby steps and meantime, I have found Magee enlightening and for the most part intelligible.

Wagner first came across The World of Will and Representation 1854. He had completed the “Romantics” – Der Fleigende Hollander, Tannhauser and Lohengrin. He had finished the colossal poem of the Ring Cycle (a huge work of art even had it never been set to music) and was embarking on its score, something that would take at least another 10 years to complete. What he absorbed caused him to not so much to make significant change (though one can make a decent case that it did), but Wagner would say, because Sch revealed to Wagner what Wagner had in his deep recesses felt all along but could not hitherto grasp.

So what in essence was Sch. saying? Here’s an ultra-simplified snippet.

  • everything we can perceive, the known universe and including time and space, he called the phenomena.
  • Whilst not necessarily the case that the phenomena only exists as our perceived experience, that is all we can know of it.
  • there is an underlying reality to everything which following Emanuel Kant, Sch. calls the Noumena. He also refers to it as “the Will” and the “thing in itself”. We may get an occasional whiff of it but as it is beyond time, space and human comprehension, we can never know it. But it is our only reality. Everything else is guess and presumption.
  • But while we are presuming, the types of whiffs we may get are gravity, the sex urge and sometimes, music. Which was music to Wagner’s ears.
  • we also know something of the Noumena by knowing ourselves; we do not make a conscious decision to itch a scratch; we do it because at a very deep level our bodies are running themselves. We know the inside of ourselves in a different way than we can know anything else. We feel hungry, sad, envious, pain. Our cells evolve, our hair grows. We do not “decide” to do these things, we just do them, in much the same way that a leopard does not “decide” to eat a gazelle. We sleep and when we do we are guided by an entirely different force; a century later Freud would pick up on the power of dreams.
  • All our everythings are driven by the noumena. It is a blind energy; a constant striving, present in all organic and non-organic matter, including animals and mammals and so also, us. The constant expansion/contraction of the universe.
  • It is our urge to exist, survive and so to multiply. Inevitably it means constant insatiable desire and so we are never truly happy. Not for nothing is he known as the pessimistic philosopher (though watch Die Meistersinger, replete with Sch. analogy and tell me you don’t come out happy). For someone dealing with an utterly impractical subject matter, Sch. is ever practical and full of examples. The rich are never rich enough, birthday gifts delight us little beyond disposing of the wrapper and we are thinking of the next one.
  • What we perceive as reality is simply our perception. The only corroboration that such exists, is that others seem to share that experience (a group of us can kick a tree) but that too is simply perception.
  • The phenomena is the perceived part of the noumena. It cannot be distinct, because the noumena is all. It is the tip of the iceberg that we can see
  • We are only different in the phenomena. By “we” I mean rocks, plants, animals, humans. In the Noumena there can be differentiation.
  • Therefore our reality, the phenomena, begins with our birth and ends on our death. Before and after these events we are all part of the noumena. Sch. gives an interesting analogy as the rainbow above the waterfall. It has a sense of permanence but actually is millions of water drops existing for a millisecond. The phenomena like the rainbow is intrinsically ephemeral, no matter how permanent it seems.
  • This includes time and space. Things in the phenomena can only exist because of them. I only exist because I inhabit a particular space (with a beginning and end) and do so for a given time. If space is discredited by its own definition – it cannot be limited because of the tautologous implication that there is nothing beyond the limit – then one can, with a somersault or two, see how our existence (beyond perception) is called into question.
  • The title to his magnum opus The World as Will and Representation can now be understood as The World as Noumena (the Will) and its representation in perceptible form, the Phenomena. If nothing else, we can understand the title.
  • Because the Will means our natural state is a constant striving for more. life is inherently unsatisfactory. What to do? Sch. suggests renunciation of the Will so far as possible [little old me renouncing the all-powerful Will? Not sure about that…Don], so trying not to be so grasping and striving in life. Put better perhaps, recognising that we are all one, there is no need to be competitive and our guiding force should be compassion for others.

A normal reaction to all of this is, how can he know? This tree is real, watch me kick it. Which is a compelling argument and one which Sch. as an eminently practical man, would have taken very seriously.

But by a process of elimination he shows, following Kant, how perceived reality deceives us; it is simply to what we have become accustomed and so we assume real. He makes an intelligent start in his analysis; namely that if one sets out to find answers to life, the universe and everything, one needs to recognise the answer when one sees it. And as answers may not be absolute, there ought to be parameters (Sufficient Reason) that one can say, ok that is an answer that I accept. It might not be 100% but otherwise we’ll be here all day. Ever practical, he gives two examples; firstly code breaking. It is logically “impossible” to crack a code. No matter how likely a solution may appear, at the next check the theory may fail. Nevertheless, if one has checked it 1000 times and it works, a reasonable person may consider that sufficient; just know there is theoretical fallibility. Number 2. Water is wet. we know this. Well we don’t. All we know is that it has felt wet the previous times we have touched it but who knows what will be next time?

By logic, he discredits both religion (pretty easy) and science as reliable modes of explanation of anything. Science he demonstrates, can take one so far but falls short when it comes to the big question of explaining what a given item actually is, which is where philosophy kicks in. In essence, science explains things by describing either the thing’s constituent elements or what is their function; as opposed to what it is. Either he or Magee describes a nice vignette whereby you walk into a room full of strangers to whom you are extensively introduced. Within time, you know every relationship between them and all that is possible to know about their connectivity. But beyond explaining this one is that one’s mother-in law etc. no-one can tell you who they actually are. That we are told, is science. Magee discusses that what Einstein discovered in the 20th century, Kant and Berkeley discussed  philosophically 200 years earlier.

So a brief Wagner recap. In 1854 when he first read Sch. he had written the poems for the four operas comprising the Ring Cycle and about half the music. He had obviously completed the earlier operas because they were in performance. Crucially, he also had a pretty good idea of the essence of the all his remaining operas, though the scores would yet take many years. 

Philosophically, dare one say politically, he was with Feuerbach with a dash of Bakunin. Man was capable of anything; of turning any given situation, righting wrongs and saving the day. The pre-socialism socialist, which dare one say it, is not a million miles from the pre-fascism fascist. Siegfried would grasp power from the tyranny of the Gods; the time of Man was now. This was Wagner’s intellectual thought process. His ideas of musical theory and performance were also highly considered and in his various essays, he set out the ideal and how to achieve it. That from an apex in classical Greece where the various arts synthesized in performance, modern art (and he blames Christianity and then commercialism), has separated music poetry dance etc into separate art forms. And in separation, each under achieved. It was opera, if done right and (with less vigour) in the right political context, that had the potential to re-unify the arts; music, poetry, drama, acting, spectacle into one supreme art-form. He despised Grand Opera. It was a commercially driven excuse for true art and had fallen as far as is possible to fall from the Greek Tragedy ideal.  Words and music bore little relation to each other, never mind an equal relationship.

And then he read Sch. To show how this affected him, one can do not better to look at a couple of excerpts from his letter to his friend Rockel, in prison 23rd August 1856.

“Now would you suppose it possible for an artist to be helped to a clear understanding of his own work by an intelligence other than his own?….I must confess to having arrived at a clear understanding of my own works of Art through the help of another, who has provided me with the reasoned conceptions corresponding to my intuitive principles.

…as an artist I felt….that all my creations took their colour from my feelings, as a philosopher I  sought to discover a totally opposed interpretation of the world…though to my surprise I found it had invariably to go to the wall when confronted by my spontaneous and purely objective artistic intuitions.

….I had built up an optimistic world, on Hellenic principles; believing that in order to realize such a world it was only necessary for men to wish it.  I ingeniously set aside the problem why they did not wish it. I remember that it was with this definitive creative purpose that I conceived the personality of Siegfried, with the intention of representing an existence free from pain. But I meant in the presentment of the whole Nibelung myth to express my meaning even more clearly, by showing how from the first wrong-doing a whole world of evil arose and consequently fell to pieces in order to teach us the lesson that we must recognise evil and tear it up by the roots and raise in its stead a righteous world. I was scarcely aware that ….I was being unconsciously guided by a wholly different, infinitely more profound intuition and that instead of conceiving a phase in the development of the world, I had grasped the very essence of the meaning of the world itself…and had realised its nothingness; the consequence of which was, that I was true to my living intuitions and not to my abstract ideas in my completed work…”

[he then goes into detail concerning Brunhilde and the conclusion of the Ring Cycle which is so important, Don will devote a separate post to it]

“My reason for imparting to you this mental to make my own position clear to you. Once this problem of the difference between intellectual conceptions and intuitions had been solved for me by Schopenhauer’s profound and inspired penetration, I ceased to think of it as a mere abstract idea, for I realised it as truth.”

On the face of it, Feuerbach and Sch, are polar opposites. One being about the here and now; reality is what you see and if it (society) ain’t good, the ability to change it is in our hands all we have to do is grasp it. The other is that perceived reality is an illusion, we are capable of little or no independent thought because mankind, along with everything else, is a mere physical and very temporary representation of an infinitely greater but unknowable force. So changing society, even if possible, is pointless.

So far as art is concerned, Sch. consigned it to the same fate as everything else, it was a mere physical representation of the noumena. Yet not necessarily music. Music can be a glimpse, an His Dark Materials portal, into the world of the noumena. Music takes us where words cannot; our love for poetry and drama is true but cerebral. Music has the power to move us in ways beyond comprehension and intuitively, we have always known this. So contrary to Wagner’s musical theories, where words and music should be equally supportive of each other, Sch. was saying that there is a clear leader and it is music.

And yet from the letter to Rockel, we don’t see a man in despair, whose life’s work he now believes to be wrong.  On the contrary, we see a man who has been dissatisfied with his work but couldn’t figure out why. He was writing it to fit philosophical and musical theories that intellectually he wanted to be right and thought they were right but now sees that actually, despite the intellectualism, his gut intuition was the greater force and now that Sch, had shone light on it, he could see. He felt he was Shopenharian all along and was fighting it with intellectualism. This meant that not only were his future (and undoubtedly best) works obviously guided by Sch. but he could see the same in his previous works.

Another time, perhaps the next Post, Don will consider the implications of this for the Ring Cycle because they are profound.

For now, we can see and have discussed before, how Tristan, Die Meistersinger and Parsifal are subsumed by Sch.’s influence.

Tristan –

  • Day/Night. Day being our phenomenal reality which tricks us into believing it is real. Night being true reality.
  • Renunciation of personal life because we are united in “death”. Not in a religious sense of paradise but on a different plane altogether. As Magee points out, T&I cannot be personally united as they in the Noumena are at one with everything.
  • Music has power over words to the extent that much could be performed as a concert piece.

Die Meistersinger

  • the role of Art in society
  • pre-eminence of music
  • Sachs renunciation of self-interest (and the Will)
  • power of dreams
  • Wahn monologue
  • The crowd having a Will of its own.


  • Here time and space do not exist
  • Kundry time travels
  • Reincarnation
  • Buddhism
  • Salvation through compassion
  • Renunciation/asceticism, particularly of sex
  • The pain of anyone is all our pain.

So, a brief consideration of Sch. Maybe we know a bit more than we did before. Maybe Wagner’s works make a little more sense.

To continue the frivolity, number 42. Sch. had things to say about 42. Namely that man continues to form in all respects until that age. Beyond then, he can evolve, refine, re-interpret but not essentially change. Most religions have things to say about 42 and of course for Douglas Adams, it was the answer to life, the universe and everything. Wagner discovers Sch. aged 42. Just saying.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! © 2018

In Which its giant killing season; the Hammers take on Man City and Don tackles Die Meistersinger (part 1)

Post 19


All we needed was a bit of luck for an FA Cup run. Hundred and something teams to choose from but bugger my old boots if we don’t draw Man City. So that’s that then. Half a season, where the pinnacle of our existence is fighting relegation. Just shoot me now or pass me that Schopenhauer essay. So, in recognition of our huge undertaking in the cup, Don attempts to tackle one of the biggest of the big in the opera world – Die Meistersinger von Nürmberg. A bit of West Ham below but its mainly pwoppa culture this time.

Meistersingers is big in every sense. Packed full of controversy, its long – even by Wagnerian standards. It fills the stage, it requires a full orchestra. The Ring you say? Well ok not that big obviously but that’s four operas put together. Unlike another biggy, Tristan, which packs a huge punch but only has 3 or 4 main characters, Meistersingers is chock-a-block with leading characters, a dozen lesser ones, chorus, dancers, fighters, jugglers; you name it, its got it. This reflects, and this is something to bear in mind throughout, that its about a community, so it stars a community. Consequently its expensive to put it on and doesn’t come around too often. In short, its a right production.


But stick with it my friends and there are rewards beyond heaven.

Of course its a forlorn task. One cannot do any sort of justice to Die Meistersinger in a short blog so this is little more than some random thoughts. This time setting the scene and next time, maybe for Burnley (come on you Irons, we need that win!), interpretation and commentary (which is of course the whole point).

Lets start with the controversies and off the top of my head…

  • Its set in Nürmberg or Nuremberg as we would have it. Like a Hans Sachs poem, that counts for something. Nuremberg, the place in which the main raft of anti-Jewish legislation was first enacted by the Nazis. Nuremberg, site of the huge Nazi rallies, choreographed in part based on some of Wagner’s stage direction. This was no accident; Hitler adored Wagner and saw in this opera an idealised German community, pure in thought and deed and free from foreign influences. Nuremberg, site of the post-war trials where a few Nazis (not enough) got what was coming to them. Nuremberg, flattened in hours by allied bombs near the end of the war.
  • In the last scene, the great hero, Hans Sachs and I hope to show he is indeed a hero, presents a monologue, warning the burghers of Nuremberg against anti-German art and foreign influence. What a god-send for Hitler and more so because it was written mid 19th century, not 1932.
  • The anti-hero is Sixtus Beckmesser, the pedantic town clerk who is mocked throughout and receives appropriate comeuppance. Cleverer people than Don recognise Jewish traits in Beckmesser and cast the entire kit and caboodle as a thinly disguised anti-Jewish tirade, This they say, is to be expected as Wagner was an outrageous anti-Semite. And indeed he was.

So these beg two questions;

  1. Should Wagner and particularly Die Meistersinger be damned because of the adoption by the Nazis? and
  2. To what extent should evaluation of art be affected by by the personal traits of the artist?

To consider these we need a reasonable understanding of the material.

Setting the Scene

  1. It is in a minority among Wagner operas in that it is set in a fixed time and place and deals with real people. Wagner preferred myth. Myth is timeless; if one is trying to convey thought process and emotion, real events can be a distraction. Wotan is not a particular person, he is every-man; what Tristan and Isolde go through resonates in all of us so powerfully because it cannot be confined to time and space. Meistersingers however is set in Nuremberg and because it is 16th century Nuremberg, the city itself is a character (in the way Brabant in Lohengrin is not). How so? Well, at that time, it was pretty much the capital of the faltering Holy Roman Empire and so as one would expect, Church was pivotal and it was a centre of commerce; but it also had a pretty unique reverence for art. The “Master singers” did exist. They were real people representing various guilds and trades; they were considered to be masters of poetry and song and this gave them an exalted position in society.
  2. The time was significant. This decade of the 16th century was when Nuremberg and much of Europe began to recover from the ravages of the plague. Hans Sachs was a real person who lost his wife and all children to the plague. He re-married and had further kids but the opera is set in the year or two in which he had lost everything. The time is also significant in that it is set centuries before German statehood (see below).
  3. It was written in mid 1860’s just a few years before the unification of Germany. There was a nationalist fervour. This, Don feels, is why most of the controversy arises. Having lived through subsequent events, it is nigh on impossible , especially when it comes to Wagner, for us to appraise pre-Nazi German art other than as a pre-cursor to the Nazis nor 19th century nationalism, especially German nationalism other than in racist or proto-fascist terms. But if we are to judge Die Meistersinger on its own terms, this we must do. This means understanding what German nationalism meant back then and this point must be (and of course is) made in any appraisal of Wagner’s works and of him personally.
  4. Its a comedy! There are more lighter moments in Wagner operas than one may generally assume but this is his lightest and most jocular. It is also bursting with great, accessible music; arguably more than any other opera.
  5. Don’t let the time/space specifics fool you. It is highly allegoric, still dealing with highly charged senses and emotions. However, unlike say Tristan where by the end, one may feel like an emotional punch bag from which it may take a week to recover, most on leaving the theatre after Meistersingers, will feel uplifted, walking on air and ready to take on the world.  They may not know why they feel that way but you might after reading this. Don’s a modest chap.

Brief Synopsis

Act 1. Walter, a knight from Franconia, arrives as a stranger in Nuremberg and spots Eva in church (St Katherine’s – sadly subsequently flattened by allied bombs). He asks her if she is engaged. How rude says her chaperone (Lena). I can speak for myself thank you, says Eva. Its complicated because her father, Pogner (not Pogba but call him that if it helps), richest bloke in town and Meistersinger has offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to the winner of a singing competition to be held next day on Johannestag (midsummer’s day) provided, that Eva can veto anyone she doesn’t like. After several winks and sultry pouts from Eva, Walter decides he will enter the competition. No chance! says Lena, its for Meistersingers only. So I’ll become a Meistersinger, says Walter. No chance! says Lena but seeing as it looks important to my boss Eva, my boyfriend David will help you. He’s apprenticed to Hans Sachs, the cobbler and best poet going so if he can’t help, no-one can.

It becomes immediately apparent to David that Walter has no understanding of the voluminous rules, regulations, ritual and convention, necessary to be a Meistersinger. He has studied nothing but has simply listened to birdsong. It takes years and Walter expects to do it in a night? We soon see how he does because that night there is a “trial” before the Die Meistersinger to see if anyone can be admitted to their number. The weighty conventions are again explained and its time for Walter’s song. A Meistersinger is on rota to listen out for mistakes. Its Beckmesser’s turn to be Der Merker and he sits with his slate and chalk ready to note errors. More than seven and you’re versunken. The not so hidden agenda is Beckmesser also fancies Eva and hopes to sing to win in tomorrow’s contest. He doesn’t need this handsome young  upstart rival from Franconia. Walter breaks all the rules because he just sings impulsively. The Meistersingers reject him utterly; save one, Hans Sachs the cobbler. Sachs recognises that something this new and fresh plays by its own rules. Nevertheless, he is a lone voice and Walter is effectively out the game.

Act 2. Its twilight and because its Midsummer’s Eve, mischievous spirits are at play. The town is agog for the next day festivities, particularly this year with the best looker in town to be bride to an unknown groom. Much drinking and frolicking about the town. David breaks the bad news re Walter to Eva and Lena. It is also plain that Beckmesser will enter and they’ve heard that (what with the proviso and all), he plans to serenade her this evening to see if he can woo her. Eva and Lena hatch a plan to swap roles so Beckmesser will be unwittingly serenading Lena. There follows a touching scene between Eva and Sachs. They discuss a number of important subjects, all in the guise of shoe repair (if nothing else, you leave this opera with a good working knowledge of soles, pitch and wax).

  • why Sachs a widower, is not entering the competition. Her charms are very apparent to him and for her, well he’s been the guiding mentor of her life and quite handsome to boot. But no, the age gap is too great and Eva is now pretty taken with Walter.
  • will he abandon her to the horrid Beckmesser?
  • was Walter utter rubbish? Can nothing be done?
  • why is Sachs being so horrible and not helping?

Night closes in. Eva secretly meets Walter in an alley next to her house. Much despair re news he’s messed up the competition. Only answer is elopement and it better be tonight. They hear Beckmesser tuning up. Eva thinks she will throw up. Walter wants to beat him up.

Fortunately Sachs hears all and in guise of some outdoor late night shoe-mending (he’s reparing Beckmesser’s shoes for the big day tomorrow), sufficiently interrupts the serenade with a very loud cobbler song about Eve (Eva) leaving the Garden of Eden without any shoes and hurting her feet. This has following intended effects

  • annoys Beckmesser
  • secretly tells Eva not to elope as he’ll work something out for her and Walter
  • alerts his apprentice David upstairs to the fact that Beckmesser is actually serenading his girl Lena.

Cue pandemonium, a mass punch-up (by this time half the town is off its face drunk- mischievous spirits? – yeah, right) and the curtain ends Act 2.

Act 3. Johannestag – Midsummer’s day. Last night’s mischievous spirits have been burned off by the sun. Will Hans Sachs resolve all of last night’s problems, just as his namesake, John the Baptiste, for whom the day is named,  redeemed believers with baptism? Sachs, the poet cobbler, sits in his workshop reading. He thinks aloud the “wahn” monologue in which he observes the madness that is human nature, compelling us all to ultimately self destruct in a frenzy of striving for something unknown and unknowable. All very Schopenhauerian and a marvellous passage in opera; Wagner at his most effective. Sachs cannot stop the madness but can he try to guide it in the cause of something noble? Lets see. He receives a series of visitors:

  • first up Walter, who slept little but deep and well and had a wonderful dream. Sachs senses a plan and as Walter tells (sings) his dream, Sachs is interpreting, prodding moulding it to conform with some basic rules and hey presto there is the embryo of a master song. It will need work though. Walter you’ve done a great job with the initial verses, go away and think of a third verse to resolve the meaning and bring it together. Meanwhile…
  • Beckmesser, fresh from last nights beating but determined to woo to success, comes for his shoes. In Sachs’ absence, he sees the draft of Walter’s song and assumes that Sachs is entering the competition and that last night’s ruckus was a ruse by Sachs to eliminate the competition (Beckmessser). Sachs enters and a plan formulates; he denies (truthfully) that the song is his and to show good faith,  says Beckmesser can use it in the competition if he wishes. Initially cynical, the scribe ultimately gleefully takes it, for a song by Sachs, that counts for something and will have a better chance than his own effort. Be careful says Sachs, that song needs subtle handling (he suspects Beckmesser is not up to that). Exit town scribe and enter…
  • Eva. More shoe talk that is allegoric for far more worldly matters, on topics similar to when they last met. Amid shoe fitting, Walter’s back. Cue glazed look and misty eyes between the (spoiler alert) soon to be lovers. Sachs also sees that as much as he loves Eva, he’s got no chance now she’s got Walteritis. It probably doesn’t help that she tells him she’d definitely have chosen him if not for gorgeous chops over here, who’s 20 years younger. So he focuses on being noble and working out how Walter can win a competition he’s not allowed to enter. First up Walt, lets get that song finished.

That done, there follows a lovely scene in which the song is christened (and baptised – it is Johannestag after all), Eva and Walter are told the plan and Lena and David get engaged. In short, if all goes well at the festival all problems will be solved, save that Sachs remains alone but has done the right thing, the Schopenhauerian thing.

And its off to the festival for the competition!

The only competitor is Beckmesser; cue Eva disappointment but she knows she can veto. He has Walter’s half baked song that Beckmesser think is by Sachs. He applies his own music and of course the many stifling rules of Die Meistersinger; this make a pigs ear of the whole thing and he is laughed off court. Its not mine, he exclaims, its Sachs! Sachs!!?? exclaim all, surely he would not write such rubbish. Sachs takes the floor. “I agree that sounded crap but as my reputation is on trial, at least let me call a witness; the true author of the song and who will show that if properly delivered it will sound wonderful”. Enter Walter, not as competitor but as witness, sings wonder song, redeems Sachs’ reputation and the community insist he must also take the prize. The girl was always mine, he says (and Eva readily agrees) but I don’t need to be a Meistersinger who have been boorish to me. They are all rules and no impro – and I’m an impro man. Steady says Sachs. Impro is good but you have to respect what tradition can do and you will be improved by having a good blend of the two. Cue dodgy monologue (see controversies) re respecting German art, German Meisters and beware foreigners. Townsfolk all say well done Sachs, you saved the day. And well done Johannestag, you saw off the mischievous spirits of Johannesnacht.

Bish, bash bosh. much applause and we go home.

So you get the picture. Many points of discussion which we will do next time. There’s no rush, we don’t play City until January.

Meantime, Slav has been given the dreaded vote of confidence. Everyone is laughing at us but hey, Don says its the mischievous spirits of Midsummer’s Night that are lingering far too long and as next is Liverpool away, they may hang about a bit more. But then Burnley at home and we, Slav and the whole of east London shall be redeemed. you heard it here first.

If you have been, thanks for listening.


© 2016








In which Don compares thee to a summer’s day; in the beginning there was Woglinde and welcomes Big Sam

Post 4

How could I start this week other than at Ewood Park? Particularly now Slav has discovered poetry and creative writing. They all told me I was crazy to start this blog. Hammers fans and culture? You’re mad!.. they said. Yet, two short weeks after the “launch” and none other than our esteemed manager/saviour is smitten. Only yesterday did he ask if I could get him two in the dress circle for Giselle. Sorry mate; no can do.

Yes, he has signed up for a poetry course just so he can soliloquise (I thank you) in sufficiently grandiose fashion to do justice to the phenomenon that is…Dimi Payet.  Are we going a bit over the top? You can’t move these days for pregnant blokes in ill-fitting Payet emblazoned West Ham shirts. He is a very, very nice player…and how we’ve missed that at Upton Park in recent years; no offence Benni, Roger and Radoslav.  I don’t want him to get big headed and I do respect the restrained power of the understatement; so lets just say he’s a nice player….a very very very nice player.

Talking of nice players, so good to see Lanzini back. When I say, see, I mean on TV. Regular readers will know of the trauma in Don towers this week over our Blackburn tickets. There they were pinned to the notice board, pleading with Little Don and I to be taken to a turnstile up north. We however, feared we may be unable to oblige, what with life getting in the way….it was touch and go until Friday, when…it was gone. A happy ending however as we found a good home and one very excited nine year old went in our place. We insisted his dad went too because, well, you can’t have nine year old kids doing 500 mile round trips on their own.

The team was great, the fans were great, hey even the kit looked great..(claret and blue..who would have thought?) And my man Lanzini came on for a lovely little cameo and was… great. There was one heart in mouth moment when some northern yob fouled him but, like the little jewel he is, he got up. We wept with joy.

Where’s his song? Someone somewhere mentioned a few weeks back The Jean Genie which I though was great but I haven’t heard down Chav Corner. I’m no Sammy Cahn but come on, it practically writes itself!

He’s Lanzini, he plays on the floor, he’s Lanzini, he shoots and he scores; he’s outrageous, he pushed the lino (Liverpool away), he’s Lanzini let yourself go! Oh oh etc.etc.

Those that do this sort of thing..please sort it out.

Skip the Wagner bit for BFS below or…

Wagner wrote 13 operas. The initial three were to try to make some money and written prescriptively for what Wagner thought would sell rather than what he felt was right. I know of them rather than know them. Little more to say. The “mature ten” are what this blog is going to be about and I know some of those far better than others, for example I don’t know Tannhäuser and Lohengrin that well at all…yet. Its a twenty year journey and I’m taking it nice and slow. There’s tonnes of literature on every imaginable facet of his output so what can I expect to contribute that is not already out there? Answer is nothing but I will give my tuppence anyway and just cherry pick things that take my fancy.

The Ring Cycle, a composite of four of those operas, represents his magnum opus and is not only the most magnumy of all opii (sic., very) but arguably the greatest piece of artistic drama ever produced.

The first of the four or Prelude, is Das Rhinegold and it starts in the primordial slime. The theatre is dark and even before the curtain goes up, we are gradually aware of a sound – a long low constant note. E flat major. It becomes an arpeggio and evolves into a sound evoking water and rolling movement. It is nature at its purest. Raw, primitive and eternal. Before time began, let alone before humans. Is it before God? There’s a question. Wagner at this time was influenced by the philosopher, Feuerbach, who considered it absurd that a perfect god could have created an imperfect world. That E Flat major is intended to convey nature moving of its own accord unguided by some divine hidden hand. It suitably conveys that we are at the beginning of something huge and we’d better settle in and get comfortable.

The prelude to the Prelude continues; nature evolves, the river Rhine is stirring and suddenly a voice. Woglinde, a Rhine-maiden there with her mermaid-like sisters. Her sound is initially unintelligible, suggestive of the gurgling of the water but it becomes words as out of nothing so language and significantly art is born. It is known as Woglinde’s Lullaby, so called, commentators suggest, because she is attempting to send the world back to sleep, to keep harmful “progress” at bay. Too late, a solitary stout figure is there silhouetted…Alberich (he of Post 2) has arrived.

Big Sam bears no resemblance whatever to Alberich, who was after all a vertically challenged person and no-one ever mentions “short fat Sam.” There are those who nevertheless consider they share some pantomime villain characteristics. Not here in Don towers! As a kid I was proud of West Ham. We had never won the league and were usually nearer the bottom than the top but were untouchable in the manager stakes. No other club and had had so few managers. We won that league by miles. We’ve unfortunately redressed the balance somewhat in the last thirty years but nevertheless, ex-West Ham managers are something of a rare breed and are to be treasured.

It is in this spirit of magnanimity that I would like to welcome back Sam Allardyce this Saturday. And I speak as a booer (more in sadness than disgust) at the “ear cupping” victory over Hull. Magnanimous because I rejoice in the football we are now playing; a generous host because whatever Saturday’s result we will have no relegation concerns. I can therefore say Sam was good for us. The right guy for the right time. well done our Glorious co-Leaders recognising the right time to take him on and the right time to move him on. Thank you Sam, welcome back (with other teams) any time.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

Don the Hammer


© 2016




In which Don considers the whereabouts of Alberich, the Norwich game, Dalton Trumbo, Sylvia Kristel and has cup fever.

Post 2

According to the psychoanalysts (and to be fair also some sane people), the Ring Cycle represents a human life. It starts in a safe watery place and ultimately it all returns to dust, ready to be re-cycled. Ring Cycle re-cycle – it even sounds the same, so must be right.

And who disturbs the sanctity of the womb? Why its arch baddie Alberich; right there in Act One, Scene One. His exchange with the Rheinmaidens  starts it off and sets the tone for the whole tetralogy. But is he there (alive) at the end of Götterdämmerung? I’m pretty sure I spotted his son Hagan, going under the waves of the Rhine, gasping for last breath but Dad was conspicuously absent.


  1. Does it matter?
  2. If he’s not there, where/when did he go?

1.  Yes it matters. This is the guy that struck the original bargain; renouncing love to gain the power to rule the world. It also became clear that he didn’t intend his to be a benevolent rule. We had a taste in Das Rhinegold of his treatment of fellow Nibelungs where even his brother wasn’t spared the whip. So the prognosis for humans and others was not good. He tells us explicitly what is in store for women. He has renounced love but not sex and intends to force his lust upon whomsoever takes his fancy. Because for Alberich sex equals Power;  the Rhinemaidans spurned him so women will be forced. Wotan (der wuthende Rauber) robbed him, so men will know his revenge in equally violent and coercive fashion. Would he have been so horrid if not himself taunted beyond endurance by the Rhinemaidens? That consideration is for another day.

By the very end of the story, the Ring is returned to its rightful place, Brunhilde has destroyed the Gods (fulfilling Wotan’s wish?). We are back to square one in the primordial world but the clock has not been turned back; what has happened, happened. So it matters whether the arch baddie is still around awaiting his next opportunity, or is not.

2. When/where did he go?

To paraphrase Oprah Winfrey “what do we know for sure?”

He is released, cursing as he goes, by Wotan and Loge in Das Rhinegold. We hear of him but don’t see him in Die Valkyrie. In Siegfried, Wotan offers him first dibs at persuading the dragon to part with the Ring (pretty reckless of Wotan) and after a contretemps with his brother, we see him no more…or do we?

At some point, either during or before the 20 or so years between Wotan putting Brunhilde to sleep and Siegfried awakening her, we know Alberich begets a son, Hagen, by a prostitute. We don’t know if the mother is forced (his gold has been taken but presumably he is not penniless) but the son attests that she is brave and that “she yielded to his cunning.”

In the Prologue to Götterdämmerung, the first Norn asks her sisters: what happened to Alberich? tantalizingly, just as we are to get the answer, the rope snaps,  the ability to see ahead, behind and sideways is lost and we never know. One can’t help but wonder why Wagner had the rope snap on that question…

So to Act 2 in Götterdämmerung and the whole discourse between Alberich and his son Hagan. All we know of this for sure is that it is heavy with ambiguity! The overriding impression is that father appears to son in a dream but if that is not so and if he is really there at that point in the proceedings, Wagner must have intended that he survive the immolation because nothing afterward indicates to the contrary.

There is no doubt Hagen is asleep (for sure at the beginning): the stage direction says so. That doesn’t mean Alberich is not there, though it may suggest so. If he is not there, it means Hagan is dreaming of a having a dream (because it is not a normal conversation; Alberich is wishing him a nice sleep). Can one dream about having a dream? Could Hagan be asleep initially, wake up but pretend to still be sleeping? I really don’t see the point of that; surely they’d just have a normal conversation.

So here’s a test: If its all in Hagan’s head, he could not learn anything he doesn’t already know. Does he?

What does Alberich tell him?

  1. That he was robbed by Wotan whose power has since waned. That surely is not news to the son. Presumably they had discussed the revenge plan ad nauseam as it was what Hagan was born to execute.
  2. That there is a wise women (Brunhilde) that may urge Siegfried to return the Ring to the Rhine (and so spoil the Alberich/Hagen plot). Of course Hagen knows all about Brunhilde but surely not in such detail that he would know of her attitude toward the Ring? The only people who discuss that with Brunhilde (on stage) are Siegfried, her sister Valkyrie, Waltraute and maybe much, much earlier, Wotan. However, I don’t think Alberich is telling Hagan that Brunhilde would urge Siegfried to return the Ring to its rightful owner, he is conjecturing that she might. There is no indication that either Hagan or Alberich previously met Brunhilde but it is realistic that news of her bravery and wisdom has spread, so no definite new knowledge here. [By the way, I am prepared to accept that the world no longer knows she is the former demigod, daughter of Wotan, otherwise surely that point would have come up here].
  3. That Siegfried doesn’t know the true power of the Ring and treats it as a trinket. We know this at least has the potential to be untrue because in Siegfried Act Two, Scene Two, the Woodbird tells Siegfried that with the Ring he can rule the world. Did Seigfried take this seriously? The stage direction is “quietly and with emotion” which I think suggests sincerity and he replies, “My thanks for your counsel my dear little bird, I gladly shall follow your call.” Siegfried will shortly stress test the Woodbird’s other claim that Mime is a fraud and that turned out to be correct and moreover, he seeks Brunhilde because the Woodbird says so. So it is very likely that Siegfried accepts the Woodbird’s credentials and so knew in the previous opera that the Ring was no mere trinket; but rather, something extremely powerful.

So why did Alberich say something untrue to Hagan, or if it was all in Hagan’s head, why did he make this mistake? I’m not sure but what is germane to this post is did this information inform Hagan of something he didn’t previously know? if so, Alberich must have really spoken to him. I cannot find anything definitive.

By the end of Act 1 Götterdämmerung, both Siegfried and Brunhilde are aware of the Ring’s significance so Alberich is in the dream passing on old (and by this time inaccurate) news concerning Siegfried. I can’t find evidence that this signifies anything other than not all characters are kept up to speed in real time, which simply reflects real life.

Bottom line is I can find no smoking gun either way. One wonders therefore at the point of the scene at all. Bearing in mind the dastardly plan is already underway, how are we helped by understanding that Hagan is doing it for himself and not for Dad? Unless the very point is the implication that Dad is still around…?

On the basis that I don’t see him die and I am troubled by the concept of dreaming of having a dream, I am going to conclude he is really there. But its hardly convincing.

Either way, I suspect Wagner did not want to close the door on the possibility of the baddies (in whatever guise) returning. If he wanted a happy ending, Brunhilde and Siegfried would have returned the Ring to the Rhine in triumph, glory and love. But that’s too easy. Whilst at the end of Götterdämmerung, we are all redeemed through Brunhilde’s supreme and selfless sacrifice and we are optimistic of a better world, we also have a nagging concern that this brave new world is just as susceptible to the corrupting influence of Alberich, or someone quite like him. And so we Re-cycle..



Naarwich away. Didn’t get to this. In fact I only heard it up to half time. Mrs Donner, sniffing retribution for my recent absence at Anfield and the impending one at Ewood Park, gave me a look that meant one thing and one thing only: DTH was in for some pre-Valentine’s Day shopping in Islington followed by a bit of Dalton Trumbo at the Arthouse, Crouch End. As it transpired, both company and film were pretty good. The film was actually very good (as was the company – oh shit..). If you suspected that John Wayne was a wanker but weren’t sure why, go and see this. Stars the excellent Bryan Cranston and the magnificent Louis CK . So phone switched off promptly at 16:00 and I was reconnected with the world at 18:15. You know how you want to re-live it in normal time but real life gets in the way (Likely Lads style)? So the first thing I saw was a tweet how Moses turned the game and I got all excited (a bit much in the Arthouse) about a win, before the slightly anticlimactictical  realisation of 2-2 draw. Still the West Ham spirit, don’t know when we’re beaten  etc. etc.

First outing for Emenike. Welcome to WHU Emmanuel. [aah Sylvia Kristel…behave Don] May you score a hatful of goals in claret and blue and mainly against Spurs.

In my goodbye to Carl Jenkinson last time, I forgot the equally valued Mauro Zarate. Little Don and I went to Goodison last season, when he came on from the bench and ran the game – naturally we lost but an heroic defeat. Not sure why he’s gone, especially for such little money. Suspect its to do with FFP and the Carrick deal (from 10 years ago!).

Getting a bit excited re FA Cup. We’re part of the seven thousand trekking north at weekend. In hope and expectation. Gosh! Good luck Slaven and the boys. Will we see anything of Sakho and Lanzini?

Wrapping it up there. I doubt anyone will read this but if you have, well done.

Donner the Hammer



© 2016