Can you possibly imagine the jolly, smiling God of wine under the stern, brooding veneer of Beethoven? And yet, his own words have set the stage for comedy and also inspiration for my new wine and music blog: IamBacchus.com
So said the Maestro: “Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken.”
Somehow, a red-cheeked, rotund and gregarious Beethoven is hardly the image we have. When it comes to Beethoven, his German Romantic soul and furrowed brow suggest more tragedy than comedy.
Indeed, Beethoven may have tragically learned to drink by family experience. Most historians agree his father was also an abusive alcoholic. Young Beethoven started consuming great quantities of wine after the death of his mother when he was 17 years old. Over the next decade, his symptoms of tinnitus began to develop, becoming severe by the age of 27. Rumor has it he soothed his savage breast with three bottles of Franconian wine each night. Small wonder then his manuscripts are barely legible.
He also used to regularly drink with friends at the “Zum Weissen Schwann” in Vienna. One of these was the cellist Nikolaus Zmeskall who worked at the Hungarian Chancellery. In a letter, Beethoven wrote, ”Let us meet at seven this evening at the Schwan and drink more of their disgusting red wine.” Apparently, this was a very acidic, cheap wine made from grapes grown locally on the foothills of the Kahlenberg at the eastern end of the Vienna Woods. Today, only international varieties (Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon) and hybrids such as Blauer Zweigelt, Blauburger and St. Laurent are grown there.
With all that wine going in, and notes going out, you have to wonder what impact all that alcohol may have had on the music. We do know, thanks to research made on his hair, that it probably had an impact on his health and early demise.
The last recorded words of Ludwig van Beethoven on his death bed were “Pity, pity, too late!”, as the composer was told he was given a case of twelve bottles of good wine. He died on March 26th, 1827 from causes that have been the subject of much speculation since.
Researchers at the Pfeiffer Treatment Center at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, USA, have made conclusive proof that it was drinking wine that did it. A detailed analysis of hair and a fragment of bone from Beethoven’s skull tested in an X-ray machine three years ago showed Beethoven died of massive lead poisoning.
The killer lead was probably not from chewing on graphite pencils, but most likely came fro lead in the cup Beethoven used to drink his wine, and possibly from the wine itself. In Beethoven’s time lead was used widely for sweetening wine without an understanding of the damage it could cause. Russell Martin investigated this lead link in his book, Beethoven’s Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved. That book changed what we think about Beethoven almost as much as Beethoven’s music changed the way we think about ourselves.
Beethoven was hardly the first composer to love the noble grape, and certainly not the last. Brahms too was a sobriquet of sorts, known for his drinking. He also had a difficult childhood and his early teenage years in the port brothels of Hamburg probably had a similar impact on his habits later in life.
Speaking of Brahms, here is a funny story to go with our humorous Bacchus as Beethoven theme: A wine connoisseur once invited Brahms to dinner and brought out some of his best bottles, pointing to one in particular. “This is the Brahms of my cellar,” he announced to the composer. After taking a sip, Brahms muttered, “Better bring out your Beethoven.”
Thus, in the spirit of these two titanic tipplers and keeping with the theme, I present to you the “Beethoven” from the cellar that takes away the elitism of both classical music and wine in a swish of the glass and the pop of a cork. No doubt the label will give you a laugh.
The Fat Bastard. An award winning cabernet sauvignon, grown in the Languedoc -Roussillon of France, is rich and complex, spicy and deep in tannins, perfect for a goulash in a Viennese tavern, or, as Brahms might have preferred, with a cooked sausage over the stove, And yes, you can buy this French/British specialty wine in Europe via a retailer who can order or simply go to www.fatbastardwine.com
The name was reported to have originated from an experiment when winemaker Thierry Boudinaud tasted the juice and declared: “Now that is what you call a fat bastard.” The label says that the British expression describes a particularly rich and full wine. It might have also described Bacchus. Or even Beethoven.