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 1936 Arturo Toscanini, arguably the greatest 20th century Maestro, travelled to British Mandate Palestine to conduct what would become the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Performances included the preludes to Acts 1 and 3 of Lohengrin. He conducted Wagner in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. He was aware of some resistance to Wagner among the populace of the then embryo of the Jewish state but he was determined to play because “nothing should interfere with music”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How does Wagner fit into all this madness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding thoughts..

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

And then …Everton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chelsea.

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

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

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

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

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

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

Hello folks. Been a while.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLEAVON LITTLE & CHARLES MCGREGOR BLAZING SADDLES (1974)

I don’t know, Don doesn’t know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

 In Which Pomegranates are not the only Fruit.

Post 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

7

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

 

 

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

Post 30

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

 

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

Post 27

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

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

 

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

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

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

EvertonStroke

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

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

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

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

the-devil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gallery-1476463454-brassed-off-2.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember Daves, top ‘arf only!.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

In Which Don learns to cope with disappointment and stinking the place out.

Post 23

March 1970. Don was 9 and a half years old. Life to that point had smiled upon this little boy. Immediate relatives all alive and in good health, no major crisis. Yes, tonsils and adenoids had gone missing at Whipps Cross hospital several years earlier but the plethora of toys garnered as a result more than made up for the loss. Unlike the East End a generation earlier, Clayhall did not suffer a Luftwaffe blitz, Don was not plucked from his family and evacuated to Bedfordshire and West Ham had won most trophies on offer, both on domestic and world stage. The sun generally shone. What could possibly burst this bubble of contentment?

One of Don’s heroes upped and left, that’s what. Martin Peters transferred to Tottenham for a then record of £200,000 with an ailing Jimmy Greaves coming the other way. Up to that point, it was inconceivable to Don that anyone would want to leave the Hammers, never mind to Spurs. £200,000?? What did money even have to do with football?

martinpeters

Martin Peters, born Plaistow, grew up at West Ham, idolised by the fans. Yet there he wasn’t. Gone. It was a watershed moment. It dawned on Don that it was possible that players’ relationship with the club was different from fans’. Whether concepts such as ambition, career advancement, security and family planning (steady), formulated properly in Don’s mind or simply huddled into a general queasy feeling, history does not record.

Either way, Don was disappointed and grew up a little. And so must we with Dimitri Payet. Of course these days your average nine year old is so well versed in FIFA football finance, they could draft his new contract so it is the under sevens and over 30’s that deserve our sympathy. He is going and we won’t see his like again down the London Stadium for a long time. Despite (or perhaps because of) the bitterness currently festering, we mustn’t lose sight of what a wonderful player he is. Like Tevez, it was a bit of luck that such genius wound up with us and we must cherish the golden season we had. Last season was always going to be epic but none of us could have anticipated the quality of the football, results and memories created by the team, largely instigated by Payet. He was our Toscanini, our von Karajan.

This season the genius has gone missing. Can we cope without this Payet? Easily. In creative terms he has been average and defensively a disaster; time and again losing the ball in dangerous areas and exposing a dragged out of position defence. Can one replace Payet of last season? Impossible for a club like us. Domestically, only Coutinho comes close. I wouldn’t put Özil or Erikson in the same class, good as they are.

And cope we did against Crystal Palace.

crystal-palace-fc

Don missed it, visiting a daughter who is being a hippy in the desert, so it was left to Little Don to represent the family. By all accounts a stirring second half performance incorporating (inevitably as Don wasn’t there), the goal of the century. I won’t go on – who needs to read my account of not being there?

Earlier in the week it was with great pleasure that Don returned to the Stop!Hammertime studios to record a podcast looking back on various recent defeats – so a laugh a minute. Actually not as depressing as it sounds and if you didn’t catch it, you can do so here:  Mike Dean: Schrodinger’s Prat .

To compound matters, we have our transfer activity. Little annoys Don more than seeing our constant and even official communications on what business we are trying to do. Its like we have a policy of keeping Daniel Levy in the loop so he can scoop us at the last minute. Fortunately (sic), they have I fear, moved out of our league on the transfer front but I swear other clubs are not as vocal as we insist on being. I read with disappointment and amazement Jacob Steinberg’s piece in The Guardian, that in the history of the Premier League we have not had a 20 goal a season striker – that’s 25 years! Read the full horror here . So why am I surprised we have failed to nail down that sharpshooter in the last window or this? Misery doom and gloom; and all this before we have seen Trump in action.

And yet, in what we at Don Towers assume is now PPE (post Payet era), does one detect a new cohesiveness and bunker spirit, hitherto absent? Its almost as though the stadium needed a jolt to set it on fire and maybe this has been it. There is a yearning among the support to be passionate but needs a catalyst. Passion is needed from the team to unleash passion from the support. We have had a taste. Slaven in his almost tearful press conference is a rock on whom one can rely in difficult times. Several skillful members of the squad, now out of Payet’s shadow, seem to be chomping at the bit to show what they can do, .

So there you have it, despite a week of disappointment, Don is really looking forward to the next few games.

It should not be hard to link Wagner to a post on disappointment. It characterised most of his adult life as project after project failed for every conceivable reason other than himself, until finally getting it right. But I’m not sure I am going to. This is about Payet.

There is much to look forward to re Wagner in future posts. Die Meistersinger is coming to town in March and as well as seeing that (several times), Don is looking forward to a one day study guide to that masterpiece in February. The wonderful Opera North production of the Ring Cycle is coming to our screens. Don saw that last summer in Nottingham and reviewed it extensively on here. Why one would watch semi-staged on tv I’m not sure but there we are, more on that in real time.

So there you have it. We’ve shed tears, we’ve rented our collective hearts asunder and we’ve cracked heads on walls. All fun activity no doubt but none of it shall return us the Payet of last season. So lets get what we can for him and move him on asap. Don doesn’t always agree with Redknapp but Harry had it right when he said if Payet plays for us again, he’ll stink the place out.

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.

Beckmesser

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.

Burnley_FC_badge

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.

Hilter

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