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

Post 33

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How does Wagner fit into all this madness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding thoughts..

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

And then …Everton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chelsea.

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

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

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

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

In Which there’s No Fool like a Pure Fool

Post 25

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© Copyright Peter Crawford 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Act 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Act 2.

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

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

Act 3

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

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

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

The End.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artin makes 2 initial points re Freud.

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

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

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

 

Ignorance of the Pure Fool

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

Seeing

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

Maternal Sacrifice

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

Sex as Parlous.

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

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

Seduction

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

Redemption through Compassion

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

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

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

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

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

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

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

Post 24

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

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

Kasper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So lets look at a couple of challenges this presented.

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

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

3. Did the change of setting obfuscate important themes?

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

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

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

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

Plusses;

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

Slaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

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