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Classical Notes

Zechmeisters in music

Posted at 8:37 PM on April 25, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Confession time: My family name Zech could come from the mining industry, but it's maybe even more likely to have something to do with drinking. There are a number of German operas/operettas where they sing about zechen, which is German verb meaning "to drink." A Zeche is a bill you would get at a bar. A Zechpreller is someone who skips out without paying the bill and a Zechmeister is, as a German friend once reminded me, a "master carouser." Needless to say, a number of my friends have called me "The Zechmeister" without knowing how close they were to the truth--ahem.

In the music world there have been quite a few Zechmeisters. Bach liked his beer and wine, Brahms had a wine cellar, and there's a famous story by the prominent New York critic James Huneker about a pub crawl he took with Dvorak when the composer was teaching in New York City in the 1890s. Dvorak had whisky cocktails while Huneker drank beer. Nineteen drinks later the critic was ready to call it quits when Dvorak started looking for Slivovitch because it "warms you after so much beer."

Huneker said, "Such a man is as dangerous to a moderate drinker as a false beacon is to a ship-wrecked sailor. And he could drink as much spirits as I could the amber brew."

Graeme Garden has piece in the UK Telegraph about some of the great drinkers and trenchermen of music. Can you tell it in there music? Read more here.