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

Post 34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sch. the Younger                                                                  Sch. the Elder

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

A couple of other initial points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tristan –

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

Die Meistersinger

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

Parsifal

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

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

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

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! ©DonnertheHammer.com 2018

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