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Bach & Drinking

Bach and Booze

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 5, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
<< This is not a picture that I buy at all. My conservative guess is that everybody in Saxony drank in this era. It would have been extremely odd not to. When I made my first trip to Europe (too long ago) it struck me that entire towns went to the pub almost every day in Britain. It didn't mean that everyone was blasted (although I never saw public drunkenness in the US the way I saw it in Berlin) it's just that the pint was part of life. >>
Somebody wrote:
< The fact that there might be good reason for alcohol because "everybody" does or the town water supply is bad still does not mitigate the effects of the alcohol. Indeed, if people were drinking with every meal...I mean, today, alcohol with breakfast gets you into a 12-step program, no questions asked.
I'm not moralizing about drink. I'm sure I'd have been no different (tho I like to think I might take coffee once in a while). But, the negative effects--as well as the inspirationally positive ones--would still exist.
In Bach's favor regarding his being a "responsible" drinker, I doubt a falldown drunken Cantor would last long. I think there was something in his contract about being a good example to the boys. It would seem unlikely that his alcohol use caused embarrassment.(tho if everybody else was drinking, this could be somewhat relative)
btw, regarding "everybody", I think I may have heard something about the Thomaners of the time receiving a daily ration of (weak) beer >.
Eric Bergerud wrote:
<< I don't think we have the last word on this subject, but it does seem that genuine alcoholics metabolize sugar differently than about 85-90% of the population. In practice this means that after two or three drinks most people feel they've had enough - many begin to get a little tired. An alcoholic, however, has just primed the pump. >>
Somebody wrote:
< But, then can we really expect a "tired" Bach to maintain his notoriously challenging schedule? >
Eric Bergerud wrote:
<< I would consider Bach's life a similar journey, except it was mental. >>
Somebody wrote:
< Resisting the temptation to quote the Grateful Dead here...I think you might be onto something. >
Eric Bergerud wrote:
<< I can't imagine a drunk reaching his artistic peak at age 60. >>
Somebody wrote:
< Does "drunk" = "alcoholic"? "Drunk" strikes me as being rather public about it. But, my interest is not so much whether or not he was a "drunk" (and if you accept my "public" qualification of the word, then Bach was not a "drunk"). I'm interested in the effect alcohol played in his composing. Especially, since it now appears that he had alcohol in his blood from the time he got up in the morning until he went to bed. (and please...wine is so much more creative. Beer is...NASCAR and "om-pah-pah" bands. During the day, maybe; but, for inspiration, go with wine--unless there were other spirits available)
I'm not sure I'd agree with you about not being able to reach artistic peaks at later ages despite alcohol/substance abuse (I assume we can drop the substance abuse in connection with Bach, tho what exactly is "snuff"?) But, Hemingway sort of springs to mind. I mean, these writers go off on these benders, and when they sober up they throw out all the stuff that looks like it was written by a drunk, and what's left is pure gold. But, they don't have to be young to do this. Indeed, over time, this can turn into an effective creative technique.
I'm not saying Bach did precisely that, but I believe he became more and more aware of the positive effect alcohol had on his creativity--and that he would attempt to recreate this effect whenever he wished to compose. >
Where to start?

Hemingway or Scott Fitzgerald are pretty good examples of the kind of artists ruined by booze (although I suppose some fans might say their failing talents made the booze problem worse). Both were dead and artistic wrecks at an age Bach was working on Art of the Fugue.

We actually have pretty good figures from the colonial and early Republican era of US history and it appears that the consumption of alcohol dropped very greatly (perhaps 50%) during the beginning of the "Victorian Era."
This was very likely partially due to demographics: the USA in that era was going through probably the fastest increase in population growth (as measured by %) in world history: the population of the US at 1787 was about 3 million: in 1865 about 45 million. In any case, if you want to measure abuse by 21st century definition (quite controversial BTW) I think you could add all of the American founding fathers into the drunk tank with Bach. (George Washington was what was then called a "two bottle per" guy: two bottles of wine per day - almost certainly fortified wine like Madeira or Porto.) There were mitigating circumstances however. The physical activity of life in all classes in the 18th century would stun a modern. Simply sitting if the temperature is around 50 degrees will burn calories like crazy. Walking too and fro, riding a horse or making a fire is work, and folks back then weren't wearing synthetic fabrics that will keep you toasty in the arctic. And, for what it's worth, if you look at modern alcohol consumption figures (google away: there are lots of lists, none of which agree exactly) you will find that Americans drink considerably less than Europeans today. That no doubt explains the superiority of American public health and why we live so much longer than Germans or the French.

Rick Canyon wrote (January 6, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< In any case, if you want to measure abuse by 21st century definition (quite controversial BTW) >
It's controversial because some see it as unfair. Today, we have the benefit of three centuries of further experience. Thus, to point a finger with moralizing superiority at those who went before is the height of Monday morning quarterbacking. On the other hand, applying what we have learned over those three centuries about alcohol abuse seems not inappropriate either.

< I think you could add all of the American founding fathers into the drunk tank with Bach. (George Washington was what was then called a "two bottle per" guy: two bottles of wine per day - almost certainly fortified wine like Madeira or Porto.) >
You probably could. Indeed, some might suggest that leaders of that era were far greater because they didn't have to fear attack ads regarding their alcohol consumption. (tho, isn't it rumored that both Washington and Jefferson grew marijuana, also?)

< There were mitigating circumstances however. The physical activity of life in all classes in the 18th century would stun a modern. Simply sitting if the temperature is around 50 degrees will burn calories like crazy. Walking too and fro, riding a horse or making a fire is work, and folks back then weren't wearing synthetic fabrics that will keep you toasty in the arctic. And, for what it's worth, if you look at modern alcohol consumption figures (google away: there are lots of lists, none of which agree exactly) you will find that Americans drink considerably less than Europeans today. That no doubt explains the superiority of American public health and why we live so much longer than Germans or the French. >
Correct me if I'm wrong, but what I think you are saying here is that physical activity metabolizes alcohol more quickly than sitting as we do today watching football while drinking. Thus, in the more active eras of yore--active in the sense that common activities required much more physical exertion--alcohol had less of a longterm effect than today.

While the physical exertion might be largely true, I'm not sure I find this a particularly compelling reason to dismiss alcohol use among the populus of earlier eras as inconsequential. Keep in mind that what I am suggesting for Bach is that alcohol was as much a partner in creating his compositions as were his clearly deep Lutheran beliefs.

Perhaps, try this for Bach in Leipzig:
At breakfast--and apparently, this was a rather light meal, with a more substantial meal (brunch, if you will) comilater in the morning after the early classes...at breakfast, Bach drinks coffee.

At this later meal, he drinks beer--or, perhaps wine. Somewhere on the website, there is a story (by, I believe, Thomas) wherein Bach, after this meal and drowsy from wine, takes a walk in the parkland (just outside the Thomas gate). While the story goes in another direction after this point, the idea that Bach might use these midday moments to gain inspiration is appealing. (indeed, Beethoven seems to have used the Vienna woods in much the same way)

By our standards, dinner would seem rather late. (question: since Bach might not always be available for dinner at regular times, would his family, students, and guests necessarily wait for him on the really late nights?) At dinner, Bach begins turning definitely in the direction of wine rather than beer. Why? I would suggest because of the bloating effect of the beer. Bach is far from done with composing for the day and a bloated feeling sucks the life from his inspiration.

After dinner and probably some lively music making among those in attendence (more wine)(another question: who cleans up after dinner? did Bach have any servants? or, did AMB and the daughters fill this role?)...After this, Bach&wife retire to the marriage bed. (true, some nights he may have had to supervise the Thomaners with their prayers, first)

But, Bach does not remain in bed afterwards to sleep. At this point, all is quiet (finally) and Bach uses this time--accompanied by another goblet of wine--to act upon his inspiration from the earlier stroll in the parkland. I think you will find most creative artists--and I don't see Bach as an exception here--require, even DEMAND, a large degree of silence/isolation/privacy when they work. For Bach, late night would be the only time he could count on such.

With this scenario then, small wonder he would want to start the day off with coffee rather than more alcohol. But, also with this scenario, I feel comfortable reconciling Bach's alcohol intake with his creative output. It's just that I feel one has to acknowledge alcohol's contribution to the finished product (so to speak).

Stephen Benson wrote (January 6, 2007):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< That no doubt explains the superiority of American public health and why we live so much longer than Germans or the French. >
I was under the impression that the current state of American public health was far behind the Europeans, and that, in fact, the life expectancy of Americans was lower than that of either the Germans or the French.
(A quick check of one list on Wikipedia shows 2006 life expectancy of the French as 79.73 years, the Germans as 78.80, and Americans as 77.85.)

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 6, 2007):
Canyon Rick wrote:
>>At dinner, Bach begins turning definitely in the direction of wine rather than beer. Why? I would suggest because of the bloating effect of the beer. Bach is far from done with composing for the day and a bloated feeling sucks the life from his inspiration. <<
...But, Bach does not remain in bed afterwards to sleep. At this point, all is quiet (finally) and Bach uses this time--accompanied by another goblet of wine--to act upon his inspiration from the earlier stroll in the parkland. I think you will find most creative artists--and I don't see Bach as an exception here--require, even DEMAND, a large degree of silence/isolation/privacy when they work. For Bach, late night would be the only time he could count on such.

>> With this scenario then, small wonder he would want to start the day off with coffee rather than more alcohol. But, also with this scenario, I feel comfortable reconciling Bach's alcohol intake with his creative output. It's just that I feel one has to acknowledge alcohol's contribution to the finished product (so to speak).<<
There was a discussion a few years ago on the subject: "What are some possible reasons/causes for Bach's genius in music?" While I would not want to discount many of the theories that have been set forth, I do not remember any which included alcohol as another aid (certainly not the only one!) contributing to Bach's prodigious output while fathering a large family, instructing pupils and other young musicians and still being able to compose great music.

Two comparable situations (unfortunately not directly from Bach's time and place) that come to mind are Friedrich Schiller, the great playwright, writer and poet who penned "Ode to Joy" that Beethoven used at the end of his 9th Symphony. What follows is not hearsay, but information that was uncovered by researchers who have described this in scholarly articles. Schiller, it was observed, kept a few apples in the drawer of his desk at which he worked. To enhance his inspiration, he would, now and then, take a whiff of these apples each time he opened the drawer. These apples, in their most effective state, had turned rotten and had a very special odor about them. This is what enhanced the flow of creative ideas whenever he encountered an impasse.

Another example I remember in quite some detail. It is the case of a great Romantic writer, musician and composer: E. T. A. Hoffmann (the Hoffmann who wrote the stories behind "The Tales of Hoffmann"). Among other things, Hoffmann had a rather high status, but dull and routine governmental position which occupied him all day long (somewhat like Franz Kafka who worked during the day for an insurance firm - the latter wrote up reports of injuries all day long), but in the evening, after having dinner with his wife, he withdrew into his private chambers where he was all alone. He kept a diary/journal in code which literary historians were able to decode long after his death. For quite a while these historians were baffled by repeated markings (something like 2, 3, 4 x's or plus signs) at the top of each evening's page in the diary and the subsequent writing/composing session. Finally they figured out what these markings meant: each mark was to indicate a glass of wine which he had before beginning his artistic activities. He escaped from his rather dull day-personality to become the night-genius that few would have recognized. Possibly he did not want his wife or anybody else to know about his secret.

Bach, I believe, would easily fit into this type of category, where the wine could enhance/make flow more easily the flow of musical ideas that had already been in gestation and were simply waiting to come out. The wine acted as a facilitator for the genius that was already present.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 6, 2007):
[To Stephen Benson] It is not just life expetancy, but life's expectations, that count. Do you correct for the number of years the typical French worker is on strike, for example?

Eric Bergerud wrote (January 6, 2007):
[To Stephen Benson] I was kinda kidding.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 6, 2007):
[To Eric Bergerud] Moi aussi! (Me too!)

Rick Canyon wrote (January 7, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Bach, I believe, would easily fit into this type of category, where the wine could enhance/make flow more easily the flow of musical ideas that had already been in gestation and were simply waiting to come out. The wine acted as a facilitator for the genius that was already present. >
I would say that it releases the genius from 'earthly' inhibitions. Perhaps that is why I remarked that wine probably made those texts look lots better. If I were a music student searching for a thesis topic, "The Role of Alcohol on the Musical Compositions of J.S. Bach" might prove novel.

One might also wonder if Bach wasn't something of a caffeine freak. It would explain how he found the energy to keep up with his schedule while existing on 3-4 hours of sleep. One would suspect that decaf wasn't a common option then. And in this respect, he would be little different from the StarBucks' patrons of our age. (I'll leave the possibility of a touch of OCD for a different time)

The image of the cellar of the Thomasschule filled with beerkegs is rather amusing if viewed from today's perspective. I mean, teenage males and kegs of beer... I recall seeing a movie starring John Belushi about a similar s:)

 

The Thomaner and their alcoholic beverages

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 5, 2007):
I found this some time ago, but simply have had no time to get around to translating these two articles about St. Thomas School in Leipzig. If I can get around to it sometime, I will try to share the original German passages as well. For now this will have to do.

From "Das in gantz Europa berühmte, galante und sehens-würdige Königliche Leipzig, 1725":

"Not far from this church [St. Thomas Church in Leipzig] is the school building which was made possible by a donation at the same time the monastery was constructed in 1222. From that time until now there have always been eight teachers (praeceptores), who, like their counterparts in the St. Nicholas School, have always been thoroughly educated scholars who teach the young people in various subjects (ad altiora = to lead them higher?). The laws and statutes which were first established in 1539 were revised in 1634 and 1716. In this school [St. Thomas School] a number of pupils have scholarships (paid for by trust funds/endowments that have been established) which pay for food and lodging at the school. In return they are responsible for providing music in the churches and are required to accompany funerals ["Leichen" = corpses] to the gravesite. Three times every week, on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays they walk about while singing through the streets hoping that the owners of the houses in front of which they sing will give them some sustenance [food?, money?] as is the common custom in other cities. Regarding this the book of school rules has more to say."

From Anton Weiß's "Verbessertes Leipzig, 1728"

"In 1701, the honorable City Council of Leipzig had a new cellar built under St. Thomas School to provide a place for the pupil's alcoholic beverages [the beer barrels] to be stored. All of this has happened because a respectable patron could be found who was sufficiently moved to this noble deed to be willing in this 18th century to provide [alcoholic] drinks for the poor pupils [those on a scholarship at this school]. For as long as these poor, languishing pupils have been provided for daily with food by a generous and kind endowment ever since the creation of this school until 1702 by the honorable City Council of Leipzig, and even on special occasions having special, splendid meals where they could eat all that they wanted, [it] nevertheless [was obvious] what was always missing was the [alcoholic] beverage even with the custom of the "Table Coin" which donors occasionally sent to the school and which proved inadequate because a pupil would have to wait many weeks until his turn would come up [most likely to be able to drink beer instead of water]. And since suffering from thirst, particularly on hot summer days, became unbearable, an experience common to many poor children who had no way of going home to get something to drink, it thus became necessary for them to go back frequently to their rooms [at school] where they had a jug with standing water to drink from. There they could share their drink with the many rats which were found there in great numbers back then. This was frequently the cause of many serious diseases. These children had to suffer through a lot. The miserable situation faced by these pupils moved one sympathetic donor so much that he set up a trust fund which stipulated that the thirst of these poor children must be quenched. Carrying out the stipulations of this fund [by an anonymous benefactor], Mr. D. Leonhard Baudis, Chairman/President of the City Council of Leipzig and distinguished judge and respected member of the city council, on January 1 (New Years Day), 1702 purchased and had delivered to the school 54 Biersteins ["Krüge" = also 'jugs' or 'jars'], according to the total number of students attending the school at that time. Each boy was presented with one of his own. A further decree was issued that, beginning from that day forward, every pupil would receive during the main meal on every Sunday and Feast Day one "Nösel" ["Nösel"= it is not exactly clear what amount this is] of Leipzig beer, but during the week they could have as much as they wanted of "Kofend" ["Kofend" = "near-beer" a beer with low alcoholic content]."

Santu de Silva wrote (January 5, 2007):
What's all the fuss about alcoholic beverages?

I can't quite understand what the issues are. Are there members on the list who think that it is impossible to consume alcohol without drinking to excess? Are there members who think that drinking in any quantity was considered a vice in the time of Bach? I am confused, and I would be very grateful if someone would set out a *brief* reply outlining what the various opinions expressed have been. (It's particularly difficult to follow the discussion, because excess, of course, is a relative concept.)

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (January 5, 2007):
[To Santu de Silva] I believe that I became acquainted with Wolf-Ferrari's opera Il Segreto di Susanna before becoming acquainted with JSB's Coffee Cantata (BWV 211).

As I recall, they are pretty much about the selfsame subject:
Susanna smokes (not dope) cigarettes.
Bach's girl imbibes (not booze) coffee.
Modern USA country music seems to be all about drinking, whoring, regretting, and the like.
Somewhere between Bach's cantata and Wolf-Ferrari's opera I have failed to observe the subject of recreational substances as the libretto for a classical vocal musical work.
Of course we do not have list members here. List members are the silent 700+.
We have 10 pubmates who chill together from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof and therefore they gotta discuss something and they do find things to chat about.
Give them a break.
They need it; the list is their addiction and someone should write a cantata about that subject.

Affectionally yours in all virtues,

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (January 5, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< We have 10 pubmates who chill together from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof and therefore they gotta discuss something and they do find things to chat about.
Give them a break.
They need it; the list is their addiction and someone should write a cantata about that subject.
Affectionally yours in all virtues, >
Now that's a solution I can live with. Very creative. Are you volunteering yourself?

Thomas Braatz wrote (January 6, 2007):
I had translated:
"...every pupil [Thomaner] would receive during the main meal on every Sunday and Feast Day one "Nösel" ["Nösel"= it is not exactly clear what amount this is] of Leipzig beer, but during the week they could have as much as they wanted of "Kofend" ["Kofend" = "near-beer" a beer with low alcoholic content]."
Here is the amount of liquid measure that "Nösel" represents: 1 Nösel = circa 450 ml., but regional differences exist; for instance, in Leipzig during Bach's time 1 Nösel = circa 601.9 ml. or 0.6 liter which is a little more than a pint.

Rick Canyon wrote (January 6, 2007):
[To Santu de Silva] Somewhere in this discussion is an assertion that people of this era drank at every meal (including breakfast, I would presume) and never drank anything unless it contained alcohol. The fact that this was not considered a vice is moot (tho I do think "any quantity" might eventually reach a quantity where it was considered a vice).

The effect of alcohol exists regardless of whether we call it a "vice" or not. To simply dismiss Bach's alcohol use with a quip fails to consider the reality. See the previous post to Eric B. for greater detail. (I'd respond more fully to you but I've been experiencing a sciatica attack from sitting at the computer for so long--another reason to keep the number of posts down)

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 6, 2007):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Here is the amount of liquid measure that "Nösel" represents: 1 Nösel = circa 450 ml., but regional differences exist; for instance, in Leipzig during Bach's time 1 Nösel = circa 601.9 ml. or 0.6 liter which is a little more than a pint. >
Well, <a pint's a pound, the world around>. Easy to remember, if a bit lacking in accuracy.

0.6 L is substantially more than a USA (American English?) pint, but pretty close to the old UK 20 oz. pint. Which was substantially more than a pound. Weight, not money.

I have not been around the pubs (UK) for a while. What is the standard pint? I'll bet a guinea (1.05 pounds sterling) it is still 20 oz.

Santu de Silva wrote (January 7, 2007):
Thanks to Canyon Rick for replying. (In what follows, please do not conclude that I'm being critical of any particular poster!)

"Santu de Silva wrote:
> What's all the fuss about alcoholic beverages? I can't quite understand what the issues are. ... >
Canyon Rick wrote:
"Somewhere in this discussion is an assertion that people of this era drank at every meal (including breakfast, I would presume) and never drank anything unless it contained alcohol. The fact that this was not considered a vice is moot (tho I do think "any quantity" might eventually reach a quantity where it was considered a vice)."
Me:
This is not unheard of even today, and would not be considered
excessive in certain circles. Drinking alcohol with breakfast would not
be condemned either (in some places); what might have been looked upon
askance is drinking to inebriation. Since each person's tolerance is
different, we must assume that "inebriation" would be measured by
behavior, not by consumed volume of alcohol.

Canyon Rick:
< The effect of alcohol exists regardless of whether we call it a "vice" or not. To simply dismiss Bach's alcohol use with a quip fails to consider the reality. See the previous post to Eric B. >
Me:
Perhaps indeed it is appropriate to dismiss Bach's alcohol use (without a quip). Even if we desired to do an in-depth study of the degree to which Bach's creativity was fueled by alcohol, we can do very little, without normative data (and reliable data of Bach's creativity with and without alcohol). Unless some evidence has been turned up that Bach's level of alcohol consumption was noted by some contemporary as excessive, I would vote that this is a fruitless direction for research.

As a youth, I was very critical of alcoholic beverages and those who indulged in them (partly due to unfortunate experiences of friends and family). But I took an occasional drink around the age of 30, and have now progressed to around a glass of wine or beer a day (and perhaps two on a Friday). While I do have a friend who drinks a couple of glasses of something or other each day, and happens to suffer moderate memory loss (at age 60), there is no firm basis to attribute the memory loss to alcohol. I know no one personally who drinks to excess in my opinion (though I'm a little worried about the aforementioned person). I'm trying to establish that I'm not prejudiced one way or the other any more at present.

In my experience, and according to what I have heard, alcohol consumption per person in Germany was (1) higher in the past than it is now, and is (2) higher now than in the US --though I could be wrong, yet (3) fewer traffic fatalities are attributed to alcohol.

In some cultures, drinking (alcohol) is done specifically in order to become senseless. (I am reliably informed that undergraduates in American institutions of higher learning pass through this phase.) In such cultures, losing control and misbehaving is part of the joy of drinking. Germany appears most vehemently to not be such a culture. I dare not record which cultures I refer to, for fear of reprisal ...

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 7, 2007):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< Drinking alcohol with breakfast would not be condemned either (in some places) >
See, for example, the motto of the USA brewers: <Beer! Not just for breakfast anymore.>

< In some cultures, drinking (alcohol) is done specifically in order to become senseless. (I am reliably informed that undergraduates in American institutions of higher learning pass through this phase.) >
I have been a frequent champion of the Graduate Student on these pages. In this instance, I think you are letting them off far too easily. Reckless drinking on campus is by no means limited to the undergraduates. In truth, not even limited to the students!

Peter Smaill wrote (January 7, 2007):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< Unless some evidence has been turned up that Bach's level of alcohol consumption was noted by some contemporary as excessive, I would vote that this is a fruitless direction for research. >
Well now. The only item in Wolff tending this way is the account of Bach's trip to Halle, sometime around December 1 1713. His bill at the Inn of the Golden Ring for a two week stay was 18 groschen for beer. 18 groschen would buy thirty-two quarts of beer. There was a further 8 gr for brandy.

Despite this excellent hospitality Bach refused the appointment and we do not know what Cantata he composed under these influences. He possibly did, however, obtain from his local champion, the pastor of the Frauenkirche D. Johann Michael Heinnecius, the text of the Cantata we now know as BWV 63, "Christen, aetzet diesen Tag". This souvenir of the trip is stated by Wolff but queried by Dürr for lack of evidence and it was quite possibly originated in a secular work as the text is scarcely suited to Christmas; on which day it was performed in 1714 (?) and 1723.

Rick Canyon wrote (January 8, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< See, for example, the motto of the USA brewers: <Beer! Not just for breakfast anymore.> >
Is this why my corn flakes were always floating in suds?

<< In some cultures, drinking (alcohol) is done specifically in order to become senseless. (I am reliably informed that undergraduates in American institutions of higher learning pass through this phase.) >>
< I have been a frequent champion of the Graduate Student on these pages. In this instance, I think you are letting them off far too easily. Reckless drinking on campus is by no means limited to the undergraduates. In truth, not even limited to the students! >
I've always had an image of institutes of higher learning back then as sort of the domains of party animals. Almost a class thing--a perk for being a student.

As I recall, Thomas Braatz once mentioned that in Bach's Leipzig, there were something like 30+ pubs for the common people and eight for the upper class (did Zimmermann's count as a pub?). This produces an amazing per capita rate of 1 pub for about every 75 citizens. Quite probably, several of these establishments remained solvent because of the trade fairs (like having the super bowl in your city three times a year). Still that's an impressive number.

It might be interesting to know how much Bach would tolerate from his students and prefects; if he had a standard; or perhaps simply a performance standard. That clash over his prefect striking (or was it beating up?) a student is perhaps worrisome. (as something of a footnote: a century after Bach, a St. Thomas cantor (initially) rejected the teenage Richard Wagner as a student because of the latter's carousing)

Rick Canyon wrote (January 8, 2007):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< Me:
Perhaps indeed it is appropriate to dismiss Bach's alcohol use (without a quip). Even if we desired to do an in-depth study of the degree to which Bach's creativity was fueled by alcohol, we can do very little, without normative data (and reliable data of Bach's creativity with and without alcohol). Unless some evidence has been turned up that Bach's level of alcohol consumption was noted by some contemporary as excessive, I would vote that this is a fruitless direction for research. >
Well, I don't know. I think even if Bach's consumption was common for then era... I'm not looking to discover a vice, necessarily; just an effect.

Noting that another poster had mentioned Bach's bill per Wolfe, I similarly looked. (and there is indeed tobacco and snuff use on Bach's part also). Besides the barbill, Wolfe mentions specifically the huge amount spent for a huge amount of wine for Bach's second wedding (presumably there was quite a bit left over for the newlyweds). He also talks of "Bach's liking for strong waters" as well as the "special" friendship he retained for those in the wine country.

Finally, Wolfe states, "When Bach retreated into the solitude of his composing studio, all by himself, he apparently preferred to do so with a bottle of brandy." (aha...so it was brandy, not wine!) I kind of like this image.

< I'm trying to establish that I'm not prejudiced one way or the other any more at present. >
Oh no. I don't think you are prejudiced at all. It is quite possible to discuss Bach coherently regardless.

I have thought it interesting that no one has suggested that perhaps the alcohol content of drink was less in that era--tho it's just as possible it was greater.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 8, 2007):
Canyon Rick wrote:
< Finally, Wolfe states, "When Bach retreated into the solitude of his composing studio, all by himself, he apparently preferred to do so with a bottle of brandy." (aha...so it was brandy, not wine!) I kind of like this image. >
This could be the missing piece in the campaign to get Martell XO to sponsor (or at least provide the Cognac) for a discussion of Bach's XO.

Santu de Silva wrote (January 8, 2007):
I said:
< Unless some evidence has been turned up that Bach's level of alcohol consumption was noted by some contemporary as excessive, I would vote that this is a fruitless direction for research. >
Peter Smaill replies:
< Well now. The only item in Wolff tending this way is the account of Bach's trip to Halle, sometime around December 1 1713. His bill at the Inn of the Golden Ring for a two week stay was 18 groschen for beer. 18 groschen would buy thirty-two quarts of beer. There was a further 8 gr for brandy. >
Suppose he spent all his money on beer, since you did not provide information about how much brandy you could buy with the amount he spent. (I leave the experts to decide whether this would be an underestimate or an overestimate of the possible results in terms of alcohol consumed. Some of the money may have been for friends, too, though one expects that conversely Bach may have imbibed at the expense of the friendly locals, if there were any.)

That gives us roughly 46 quarts of beer over two weeks, or 3 quarts a day, excessive by modern American standards. But was it noted by a contemporary as excessive? (I may have missed something in the discussion.) If there was not a lot to do all day except drink, it might not be that excessive, and very likely not indicative of his usual drinking habits. Also, many men I know usually drink in excess when away from their families. Finally, maybe Halle beer was either weaker or better than the beer JSB was used to; in either case he might have drunk more.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 8, 2007):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< That gives us roughly 46 quarts of beer over two weeks, or 3 quarts a day, excessive by modern American standards. >
Funny, I always assumed that Bach's bar bill was hefty because he was entertaining friends and colleagues.

Rick Canyon wrote (January 9, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< This could be the missing piece in the campaign to get Martell XO to sponsor (or at least provide the Cognac) for a discussion of Bach's XO. >
Cognac...yes! We are so sophisticated here.

Ed Myskowski wrote (January 9, 2007):
Canyon Rick wrote:
< Cognac...yes! We are so sophisticated here. >
Not so much sophisticated, as preparing to suck up to the Martell folks. They are French, after all. You may have missed a while back when I first proposed the idea, that I have some Martell on my Quebecker side (mother).

Do they still use analogy questions on entrance exams for Graduate Students? If so, sparkling wine:Champagne::brandy: xxx? might be a good one, correct answer Cognac.

Rick Canyon wrote (January 9, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Do they still use analogy questions on entrance exams for Graduate Students? If so, sparkling wine: Champagne::brandy: xxx? might be a good one, correct answer Cognac. >
Well, no wonder I never got into grad school.

 

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Last update: ýJanuary 9, 2007 ý08:34:23