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.

banana-peel_wide-d9a03d2acf5f572ca6e6c2f5cb68055ce693a996-s900-c85

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 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 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.

1229px-Logo_Sunderland_svg

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.

scandihammer_logo_2016_ny.png

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.

Ugo.jpg

 

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.

swansea-city58-3107

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.

IMG_2381.JPG

 

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

slaven-bilic-west-ham-bilic_3769664

(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

In Which its a Wahn Wahn Wahn Wahn World

Post 22

The 1963 film Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is one of Don’s favourites.

Starring Spencer Tracy, Phil Silvers, the incomparable Ethel Merman and a host of others, its a mad cap romp around San Diego in which a group of otherwise law abiding citizens get into all sorts of scrapes in a grasping frenzy for a pot of gold. The madness rears with two heads. Firstly the notion that extra money will improve their lives and secondly; that every man for him or her self will be better than cooperating as a group.

Wagner and his mentor Arthur Schopenhauer would have approved Stanley Kramer’s central critique.

Linguists tell me there is no direct translation for the German word “wahn”.  Ernest Newman: Wagner Nights in a footnote refers to “erroneous or false opinion”, “illusion”, “delusion”, “hallucination”, “error”, “folly”, “madness”. All of the above. Generally that mankind is propelled by an inner and irresistible compulsion to strive for something unseen and unknowable and that such striving is invariably at the expense of a fellow human who is striving with equally determined folly.

This resonates with West Ham’s ambition to improve itself by moving stadium. So far, not looking so good.

The anguish that there is no escape from such madness is a central, not to say overriding theme in several Wagnerian operas. Most obviously in the Wahn monologue in Die Meistersinger….to paraphrase..”everywhere people torment and flay each other until they draw blood in foolish anger…no-one has reward or thanks for it..he thinks he’s hunting, not realising its his cry of pain, as he tears his own flesh….”

Pure Schopenhauer and you don’t get that with Puccini.  

In the Ring Cycle too. Paul Heise (via Roger Scrutton’s intro) in his leviathan analysis, Wagnerheim, identifies in the Ring Cycle, in response to wahn as mankind’s destiny, a yearning for transcendence. A need to escape the forever pointless striving and return to an age of innocence. So generally the gold and specifically the Ring may not be (or not only be) symbolic of capitalist greed (as GB Shaw and others saw it) but rather of religious consciousness and/or scientific knowledge. In either case, the means whereby man has leapfrogged all other species to rule the world.

Whether you get this, you will at some level feel it. Lets put it this way. We have the scientific knowledge and curiosity to develop technical “solutions” to all the world’s problems. So what if we rape the world of fossil fuels? We’ll just create a better technology. Once the world is dead, we’ll move on to another planet. Technologically, humans will find a way.

But to what end? We are constantly striving but where are we going and is it any better? Some of us, possibly Schopenhauer but maybe also Wagner and Stanley Kramer, may wish we had not left an age of innocence when we desired nothing more than to roam the fields in our battered VW camper-vans (running on compressed sheep droppings), parking up by the river bank and strumming Leonard Cohen on a lute.

To my simple and frackered mind, it is such sentiment that is at the heart of much of what Wagner had to say and which couldn’t be further from the common conception of what he is about. Such is the fascination.

But what has this got to do with West Ham? To which Don says: any discussion that isn’t Mike Dean or the performance against Man City has got to be an improvement.

But actually there are links. Don is not about to re-write his own history and say with hindsight, he was always against the move. He understood the rationale at the time and was excited by the prospect of us little Hammers becoming a footballing giant. Which could still happen and we must judge the project after 5 years not 5 months.

But after suffering for half a season we look back to our golden age at Upton Park with not a little regret. Lets not kid ourselves that life back then was not, like now, more heartache than anything else but its undeniable that we had something magical and that is now gone forever.

There was a window of opportunity, between bids, when the TV money had kicked in and the club was not dependant on the move for survival. We could have redeveloped Upton Park to 45,000 but no, by then we were riding the Wahn wave. Don included.

I am not trying to equate the rape of world’s resources and pointless wars to the exit from The Boleyn but there is something familiar (and slightly nauseating) about this feeling that if one stands still, if one is not constantly striving for something else and being seen to be striving for it, one is as dead as dodo. Schopenhauer probably thought (and almost definitely said) that the dodos had it right.

So here we are. Team bereft of confidence. Ground that sucks out the atmosphere. Players that don’t look committed. Crowd that thinks its at Disney World and realisation that there is more to a manger than being cool. I fear Concerned is the new Cool.

Don will try to find some silver linings:

  • we are unlikely to go down
  • we have a good crop of youngsters. A team (3-4-2-1) of Randolph, – Burke, Reid, Oxford – Byram, Obiang, Kouyate, Creswell – Lanzini, Samuelsen – Fletcher/Martinez; has potential with more plus experience on the bench.
  • we have Payet; should he wish to play for us. If not, time to move on.
  • Board may realise it cant pick the transfers.
  • 10,000 day trippers may have had enough, allowing 10,000 waiting list fans that know what they are in for, to step up.
  • At some point, team will realise its in their hands and they cant blame the ground.
  • the manager is still a bit cool, for not being so cool.
  • We are West Ham United.

So breath deeply, don’t panic and don’t let the Wahn grind you down.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

 

 

In Which Don and Little Don embark on a Never-ending Journey (or Swansea)

Post 21

A Merry Christmas one and all.

In the opera The Flying Dutchman, the Dutchman, commands a ship condemned to forever sail the seas and so cannot arrive at port (save a quick pit-stop every seven years). So it felt on Boxing Day as Don and Little Don set sail from the picturesque fishing village of Muswell Hill, north London towards the great port of Swansea, way across the M4 ocean. Swansea! Bloody Swansea! That’s 200 miles away through foreign lands with names such as Ystrad Mynach and Nant-Ddu. If the Riders of Rohan had swept past en route to Isengard, Gondolin or some such place we wouldn’t have bat an eyelid. Actually as Port Talbot heaved into view I was thinking more 1970’s Dagenham but even if this were a good story, we won’t let the truth get in the way of it. [And on serious note, we wish PT a speedy recovery]

And we set off in high spirits. Don had almost behaved the night before and was bright eyed and bushy tailed for the voyage ahead. Like the opera, this would be our new dawn. Wagner intended to dispense with traditional operatic niceties, and produce something more meaningful and true to himself. With 180 odd years of perspective we can say he that he succeeded though at the time it was only him and a couple of mates that saw it this way. Thus were it to be for Slaven. Yes we beat Burnley and Hull City but only because the stats say it; anyone that was there knows it ain’t so.

This was our Dutchman. This was when the real West Ham, the West Ham of last season, flings open the saloon doors, chews some baccy and spits it on the floor. Slav’s back. Swansea were just gonna have to take one for the team, hit the deck, suck it up and any more Americanisms we could think of as we sailed gracefully past Swindon. [Editor note for the uninitiated: Swansea have (spoiler alert – had) a manager, Bob Bradley from over the pond. More of him later]

Raging tempests, the roar of the sea, towering white horses. All conspicuously absent on this fine Boxing Day morning; the americano barely rippling in its cup-holder. Never was a day less like a bedevilled ghostly ship being catapulted across the unforgiving watery chasms than this. I’ll admit, there was a moment that Don considered abandoning this post but then again, sod it. We shall somehow shoehorn Der Fliegende Holländer into Swansea away.

So we arrive in good time at the out of town retail park that is the Liberty Stadium. There however, the similarity with the Hammers own home from home, ends because we could park very conveniently right opposite. Mrs Don had thoughtfully packed us turkey leftovers in various guises, all of which were ditched in favour of a Balti chicken pie. Here we can again relate with The Flying Dutchman because the salt content of that pie would give the North Sea a run for its money.

The Hammers started in traditional festive manner, allowing a Swansea side, bereft of confidence, the freedom of the park until some bloke, for whom Little Don tells me they paid £15 million (or in old money, 1.5 Payets), sliced well wide just as Randolph was clearing a large space in the goal to accommodate him.

That seemed to jolt us into action. Certainly Little Don was getting very excited at this point screaming at our defence using language I can only assume he’s picked up from his mother. Well it may just have worked because we then do what I had assumed (based on decades of research) was only reserved for teams against us – we scored just as the other side were getting on top. It also reversed the Jermaine Defoe cardinal rule; that no sooner have we sold someone, they score against us. For it was none other than that erstwhile Swansea hero, Andre Ayew who lashed in a thunderbolt from a yard. But why am I telling you this? You know this.

I’ll tell you why, because either I talk about the game or prattle on about Wagner. Yes. Thought so.

Half time and we are still leading. The interval itself being relatively uneventful, in the sense of that time honored father and son tradition; barely a word passing between us. Do you know the other scores? No. Can I have a fiver? Yes.  Arthur Miller it ain’t, though now I think about it…

Come on now, a little bit of culture? Just a little? So the Dutchman has blasphemed or done something terrible at some point and as punishment must forever sail the seas until he finds the love of a good women or dies trying. “Yeh but guv, I only got blokes on the boat and most of them wouldn’t launch a fleet (if you know what I mean).” “Your problem.” “Yeh but guv?” “Aw alright, you can put in to shore every seven years to see if you can find someone and if I were you, I’d wash the night before.” “Cheers guv.”

Having been mulling over the theme for while, Wagner is inspired by elements of his experience of sailing with his young wife Minna from Riga to London (en route to Paris) in summer 1839. Wasn’t much of a summer though and amid terrible storms, the ship pulls into a Norwegian harbour for some running repairs. Fjords are just the thing to inspire a young composer it seems. Only some elements of the journey inspired, much of the rest was filled with dread of very near death. Had that happened, so early in his career, this blog would have been lost to the world.

So in the story, its a seventh year and the Dutchman’s boat is dashed against another boat in a Norwegian harbour. The captain of the other boat is a Norwegian called Dalland. He has a lovely daughter called Senta. There is another bloke called Erik.

But in Don Pantomime Productions, the dramatis personae is as follows;

The Dutchman, a ghostly captain: a Croat called Slav

Dalland, captain of a Norwegian vessel: an American called Bob

Senta, his daughter: a (French?) Ghanaian called Andre.

Erik, another bloke: a Norwegian called Harvard Nordveid, recently of Rush Green.

Act 1.

Bob: Darn it, someone just reversed into my Buick!

Slav (bursting open Norwegian saloon doors): So Bob, how much for your daughter Andre? I got the big bucks.

Andre: Daddy, just look at the wad in his pocket, I ain’t never seen one so big. That got to be at least £19 million, at least.

Harvard: Visit Norway in the Spring, the fjords are beautiful.

Bob: Ok Slav, we got us a deal, Andre you now offence for Red Bull Hammerettes United.

Slav: Joke is on you Bob, for I am the ghostly Dutchman and this deal will come back to haunt you. For instance on Boxing Day I return to beat you 4-1, with your daughter Andre here “on frame” as you Norwegians like to say.

Bob: Bugger.

Slav: You have been.

Harvard: Oslo is also nice.

Curtain falls as entire cast skip hand in hand in Norwegian countryside.

 

I very much doubt it but if you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016

In Which Don muses further on Die Meistersinger. Good v Evil (part 2)

Post 20

Die Meistersinger von Nürmberg. Last time we laid some groundwork. Now what the hell is it all about? Unfortunately with this opera, the elephant in the room is the baggage it carries so lets firstly have a go at that and then look at the many more uplifting aspects.

And while we are musing, we shall spare a little time later for the Hammers’ sterling (don’t rub it in Don) performance at Anfield and the 1-0 slaughter of Burnley.

On the face of it, bloke wins singing competition and gets the girl. The goodies are good, the baddie is more laughable than bad. Its sunny (even the night seems well lit), written largely in a style that is generally bright and uplifting and has lots of catchy tunes. That sounds more Gilbert and Sullivan than Wagner. Because of this, some Wagnerites cast aspersions upon it because its not sufficiently Tristan. For same reason, non-Wagnerites consider it the most accessible of his cannon. Performances sell out and it is one of the most popular operas going. What’s not to like?

Well that it was used by them to glorify the Nazi cause may have something to do with it.

Lots to consider; the dark side, charged with anti-Semitism and being fuel for the Nazi cause, boils down to two points:

  1. The humiliation of Beckmesser; and
  2. The glorification of things German (Aryan) in Hans Sachs’ final address.

But first a little Nazi background for those that may not know. Wagner was Hitler’s  favourite composer and for all of the reasons the Nazis are associated with Nuremberg (see Donner the Hammer, Post 19), it is hard to disassociate 16th or 19th century Nuremberg from Nazi Nuremberg. And in 1940’s Nuremberg, Hitler commissioned performances of Die Meistersinger during the Nuremberg rallies – much to the chagrin of officers and men who no doubt would have preferred to be down the beer keller.

In Post 19, Don posed 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 the personal traits of the artist?

Academics have devoted careers to these questions so this is dipping toes into big water but your average West Ham fan is cleverer and more curious than your average bear so lets give it a go.

First Question.

On the face of the matter, this is the easier one. It was written over several years in the 1860’s; Wagner dies in 1883, 50 years prior to Hitler’s Chancellorship in 1933, so lets criticize the Nazis for sullying a great piece of art but the other way around? Surely not. However, art triggers reaction; gut feel, If it doesn’t its pointless and the better the art, the more profound the reaction. Wagner wanted that reaction, he wanted his art to change society, that was his raison d’etre. So if people hate Wagner’s work by association, that is to be respected and is of course their prerogative.

He was an anti-Semite but that was far more normal in his time than thankfully in ours (though we are rising up that shameful league). He was a German nationalist and whilst one cannot claim that to be an exclusively liberal cause, there were liberal aspects to it and he aspired to those. He certainly did not perceive it as a forerunner to fascism, his political thinking was far too left of the spectrum for that. Divorced from his personal antisemitism, his operas generally speak to tolerance, compassion and humanity.

So what then should we make of the final monologue in which Hans Sachs warns of respecting not only German art but German masters? Moreover being wary of foreign influence and rule. An apologist would say this must be considered in context. Which is, that it was a private conversation with Walther who had just rejected the offer to become a Meistersinger. Sachs was telling him not to be disrespectful; that it is the traditions of the Masters that had preserved German art and that good art and consequently good society comes from a blend of following ones heart and emotion and believing in our intuitive spark of genius  (- so of course for Walther, read Wagner) but also in respecting tradition. The apologists may also say that for “foreigner” read French, not Jew. German nationalism was a product of the post Napoleonic Wars era as much as anything else. German lands were not the only part of Europe to feel they had been under French influence for too long and valued their own traditions.

The non-apologist says Who are you trying to kid? Mid 19th century German nationalism may have had positive aspects but Wagner was at the dodgy end; consider his antisemitism (see below). Moreover, the passage may have been said to Walther but was said by Sachs (which counts), was resounded by the entire community and to boot, are the closing remarks of the opera. So where does Don stand on this? Read on

Second Question

That he was antisemitic is beyond doubt; he wrote, profusely explaining his views on everything, this included, so we know. It would be too easy to dismiss this as a defect plain and simple but a genius such as Wagner deserves the effort to be understood, at least. Let us try.

Wagner was an artist über alles. It framed his world view on almost everything, including Jews. True art, he thought, gushed unrestrained from the soul, the artist being almost passive in the process; a mere conduit from which the creative spark spontaneously burst. So for more than one opera, he would start with a few notes in his head, not quite knowing from where they had come and felt compelled to write and create around and from the little tune. Some of his best work would (so he tells us) gush out and fill the pages without him giving it a great deal of thought. Literally composing from the heart.

True art was for the people and by the people. He refers to ancient Greece as the pinnacle of culture not only because Greek Tragedy brought together music, words, drama in a way other art did not (and had not since) but it involved much of the community as actors and chorus, with the rest of the community watching (and so participating in) the performance. I think he was getting at this with Die Meistersinger in which the community (volk) is almost a character.

So where did he think this left Jews? Firstly, no matter how assimilated, he considered them, rightly or wrongly, to be outsiders. Therefore their art was disadvantaged. Secondly, the process of assimilation must make it contrived. Jews were creating art not from the soul but from the brain. The Jewish artist felt compelled to ask, “What does the community want to hear/watch/read that will make me more accepted?” And then produced that. So there was a sincerity gap. There is a short step to saying Jews produced only commercial art, which opens the murky trap door of just being in it for the money and Wagner was all too prepared to cross that line.

Overlaid are his personal circumstances (chickens and eggs, naturally). Poor to the point of destitution and on the run as a political deviant, he could only look on with envy as the darlings of the European opera, Meyerbeer and Halevy, both Jews, had success after (commercial) success while the genius Wagner was in early years, largely ignored. Ironically not ignored by Meyerbeer who offered to help him but the altruist becoming the sworn enemy is a well trodden path by would be genii.

We have considered before his contempt for contemporary music.   Over commercialised, audience more important than the art etc. etc.

So, limited by brevity, lets take it that he’s an anti-Semite and we know a little about why that is. The question that leaves, is does it influence his art and even if so, does that make the art worse (obviously, yes). If it doesn’t influence the art, are his views relevant as commentary upon that art?

So again because he writes about everything, we have it from the horses mouth. He denied there were any Jewish characters in his work. Firstly because much is myth based, personal characteristics in that sense are less important. Even the apparently obviously Christian characters in say Parcifal are not necessarily representing Christians. Secondly because of the outsider status of the Jew, the character was insincere and so offered insufficient  depth to be of use in his art. Bizarre but that is my understanding of what he felt. So for all one seeks in Kundry, Mimme, Alebrich or Beckmesser, Wagner himself denied.

And for all the praise lavished on him by the Nazis and for all they would have wanted to make the point, it was never claimed by the Nazis that there was any Jewish element to his work.

Yet many see just that throughout Die Meistersinger and in particular centring on the character Beckmesser, the anti-hero and butt of much of the humour. Some of the many reasons given are

  1. the Jewish cantonal style of his singing.
  2. his poor physical characteristics at the start of Act 3
  3. his treatment as the outsider
  4. the use of the “hilarity” leitmotiv.

So in turn..

  1. I have been Jewish for as long as I can remember (blame the parents) and suffered many more synagogue services than I would wish. Beckmesser’s musical style is staccato, jerky and unmelodic. It conveys his character; petty, slightly malicious bureaucratic. We have little sympathy. However, none of it particularly calls to mind a cantoral style, though admittedly one cannot compare eras. Nor have I seen documented examples as to how it does, other than in general terms. The entire last scene of Act 2 runs to a backdrop of Beckmesser’s song in which the whole community join. This doesn’t seem likely if Wagner intended him to represent a Jew.
  2.  This is ridiculous. He was beaten up previous evening. Anyone would have been limping the next  morning.
  3. He is not an outsider. He is a Meistersinger; steeped in that tradition as much as the rest of them, including Sachs. His name is simply a German name. We know from early drafts of the libretto that he was initially called something much closer to Eduard Hanslick, a famous (part Jewish) music critic of the day. Hanslick unfavourably reviewed Lohengrin and was never forgiven by Wagner, who wrote the book on bearing grudges and seething resentment. So undoubtedly an interesting development. but is it telling us anything beyond an artist’s hatred of critics, especially one unfavourable to himself? One of the main thrusts is Walther’s natural ability v The Meistersingers (and especially Beckmesser) singing by the rules (or by rote). I see this as the point and Hanslick’s Jewish connection as merely not helping.
  4. This is quite interesting. Newman (see Glossary) identifies the hilarity motif in Wagner Nights. It is a very short passage that appears in the body of the work only once, when Beckmesser walks out to sing his prize song at the competition. Cue general mocking hilarity and jeering from the gathered crowds to this little tune. He then slips off the little platform and cue further mirth. It is a little nothing ditty.  Except that it does appear elsewhere; right at the end of the overture and again, having been preluded a few bars earlier, in almost the closing remarks of the opera. Now that is interesting; the themes developed in the overture are otherwise all highly significant. Why put something in the overture that is used just once in the work apart from it closes the whole opera? And, just after Hans Sachs’ anti-foreign outburst? Interesting! Especially when it is so cutting and so insulting to Beckmesser. It is inconceivable that this is coincidence. Might Wagner be saying “Ok whatever else you take from this, don’t forget we’ve got to blame and get rid of the outsider…the Jew”???  I can’t dismiss that but I don’t really buy it, much because for the reasons above, Beckmesser was not an outsider. There is also much evidence in the libretto that whilst it would be nice if he could learn not to be such a petty fool, he will nevertheless, always be welcome as part of the community. So I conclude anti-Beckmesser but not more sinister.

Finally, having said there are no Jewish references in the opera, that is not quite true. There are several references to King David. He is the old bearded king on the Pogner coat of arms (which whilst not an entirely positive message is still quite an endorsement). But more significantly, early on Eva likens Walther to David. Not to the old fella above, not to Lena’s David but to the beautiful young man in the Dürer picture; the young David about to slay Goliath. The Nuremberg born renaissance painter held a special place in German hearts at the time and certainly in Wagner’s. I have not been able to identify the picture but Eva refers to him as very handsome and fair; hardly an anti-Jewish reference and a link by Wagner of the main hero Walther (who is a thinly disguised Richard Wagner) to a Jew! Maybe somewhat simplistic but there nevertheless.

Time is running out and Don has not got to the uplifting essence on the nature of Art and how Die Meistersinger helps us to understand that essence. Maybe a Part 3. For now, I am pleased to report that Don does not see this wonderful opera as an apology for anti-Semitism, in fact in the main, quite the opposite and it is these opposites we will look at next time. Moreover, that Wagner’s personal prejudices are entirely distinguishable from a wonderful piece of art.

So, the Hammers. Finally a win! Following hot on the heels of a great point at Liverpool. Have we turned a corner? I hope so. Slav says we are a team afraid to win but that now we have done so, the players who played so fearlessly last season will we hope lose some shackles. A bit more Walther, a little less Beckmesser. The goalie position remains an issue but I would persevere with Randolph who deserves to establish himself as a Premier League and international keeper. Adrian’s fear of approaching (never mind going beyond) the six yard line is the downfall of an otherwise decent keeper. Witness when he does, it is usually in a forced and forlorn cause which inevitably costs us.

Pedro Obiang continues his calm and assured campaign for Hammer of the Year (who else?) and our summer signings continue to underwhelm.

A run of games now to put our poor, poor start to bed. Lets hope we take advantage.

Don never thought this blog would see Easter, never mind Christmas and the fact that no-one knows it exists is neither here nor there.

So if you have been, thanks for listening and have a very merry Christmas, Chanukah and whatever else flicks your switch.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016

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.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In which Don just doesn’t think he understands

Post 8

So my whole life I supported this ok but fairly crappy team (note to self – mention brilliant quote about Spurs from In Bruges). Some good times, some amazing times but there were months, years, even decades in between.

Chelsea could say the same but they can point to a clear obvious factor that changed their fortune. We can’t.

Lets imagine for one perverted moment that we go on to become a mega club. Envious people in five years time, will say its because we got the Olympic Stadium for next to nothing. But in the here and now we know the new stadium is not a meaningful factor in our transition from relegation form in the last half of last season to pushing for Champions League, this. We have transformed into a great team, a great squad, a settled and seemingly united board and out of nowhere, more fans than you can shake a stick at.

What has happened? How have we come good so quickly? Will it last or are we simply being teased? I don’t know but hazard some guesses.

First and obvious; the owners. Looking back, in these (and those) days of mega rich foreign owners, I was very pleased proper local people bought the club for what seemed the right reasons. Of course they saw the potential opportunity of the Olympic Stadium from the outset and whilst that was a fair bet it was also replete with risk and a potential black hole for their not inexhaustible fortunes.

I felt they dispensed with Zola too quickly and questioned their judgement with the appointment of Uncle Avram. But since the appointment of Sam they have not put a foot wrong (give or take the odd errant tweet). If Sullivan really was responsible for Sakho and one or two others, that is remarkable and @dg has via twitter engaged with fans in a brave move that has endeared him to many.

They have also had some luck. Top of the list is the appointment of the manager. Clearly not first choice, Bilic has been a perfect fit and in him we may well have struck gold. He is tactically aware and seems equally comfortable handling squad and media. Open and friendly it is also clear who is in charge. His knowledge and reputation secured Payet and Lanzini while other richer suitors missed their chance.

The announcement of the increased stadium  capacity to an amazing 60,000 is a testament to the hitherto untapped power of the club. We are going places and uncharacteristically, it is not via the relegation trap door.

A note of caution; we are West Ham and maintain a noble tradition of teasing defeat from the jaws of victory.  I don’t discount that this could be a life size version of 3-0 up against Wimbledon 1998. But for now, we are a happy ship and the outlook is clear, calm and sunny.

Looking forward to the Mark Noble testimonial tomorrow. Richly deserved and a full house means he can make a meaningful difference to his chosen charities. Will be so good to see some old favourites. Trevor, Billy, Paolo, Rio etc. Mrs Don will be making a rare and final appearance at The Boleyn. We have gone for Bobby Moore Lower to experience all parts of the ground in this final year. I don’t think I’ve “sat” there more that once or twice since the north bank. Then its on to three home games that will define our season. Can’t wait and more anticipation of that next week.

Regular viewers will know I am not over familiar with either Lohengrin or Tannhäuser. The David Alden 1995 Tannhäuser blue-ray was available at a pretty good price so I gave it a go. The reviews weren’t great, the general theme being that Rene Kollo’s voice had all but gone. I’m not so technically aware and hoped that wouldn’t detract too much. I had heard a little of Alden’s political edginess and was looking forward to that.

For a production over 20 years old, the opening scene certainly packs a punch and one can only imagine the impact on opening night. Tannhäuser is in Venusberg in an endless orgy but to prove one can have too much of a good thing, somehow yearns for simple rural bliss where the birds and bees are just birds and bees.  He pleads with Venus to let him escape and eventually she relents. Will life on the outside match up? Can Christianity cut the mustard now he’s dabbled with Pagan fun? That’s for Acts 2 and 3. For now, the erotically charged power of Waltraud Meier’s Venus was overwhelming; her singing powerful and evocative. Throw in the post apocalypse set, the Freudian imagery and the Pilgrim’s Chorus and one has an opening couple of scenes that must be up there with the best in all opera. Don recommends it to those new to Wagner and of a liberal disposition.

Finally to the Spurs quote from one of Don’s favourite films, In Bruges  (this is going to look a little silly if those swine go on to win the league. Come on Leicester!)

Ken: Yeah. And what’s the other place?

Ray: Purgatory.

Ken: Purgatory… what’s that?

Ray: Purgatory’s kind of like the in-betweeny one. You weren’t really shit, but you weren’t all that great either. Like Tottenham.

coyi!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016