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

 

Post 29

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

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

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

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

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

So the two legends;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

STOP PRESS STOP PRESS

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

 

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

 

In Which 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