Jul 142018
 

Today is the birthday (1918) of Ernst Ingmar Bergman, a Swedish director, writer, and producer who worked in film, television, theatre and radio, and considered to be among the most accomplished and influential filmmakers of all time. Bergman directed over 60 films and documentaries for cinematic release and for television, most of which he also wrote. He also directed over 170 plays. From 1953, he forged a powerful creative partnership with his full-time cinematographer Sven Nykvist. Among his company of actors were Harriet and Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Gunnar Björnstrand, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin and Max von Sydow. Most of his films were set in Sweden, and numerous films from Through a Glass Darkly (1961) onward were filmed on the island of Fårö. His work often deals with death, illness, faith, betrayal, bleakness and insanity.

Bergman was born in Uppsala, the son of Erik Bergman, a Lutheran minister and later chaplain to the king of Sweden, and Karin (née Åkerblom), a nurse who also had Walloon ancestors. He grew up with his older brother Dag and sister Margareta surrounded by religious imagery and discussion. His father was a conservative parish minister with strict ideas of parenting. Ingmar was locked up in dark closets for “infractions”, such as wetting the bed.  Ingmar wrote in his autobiography Laterna Magica,

While father preached away in the pulpit and the congregation prayed, sang, or listened I devoted my interest to the church’s mysterious world of low arches, thick walls, the smell of eternity, the coloured sunlight quivering above the strangest vegetation of medieval paintings and carved figures on ceilings and walls. There was everything that one’s imagination could desire—angels, saints, dragons, prophets, devils, humans.

Alth­­­ough raised in a devout Lutheran household, Bergman later stated that he lost his faith when aged 8, and only came to terms with this fact while making Winter Light in 1962. His interest in theater and film began early. At the age of nine, he traded a set of tin soldiers for a magic lantern, a possession, he claimed, altered the course of his life. Within a year, he had created a private world in which he felt completely at home, he recalled. He fashioned his own scenery, marionettes, and lighting effects and gave puppet productions of Strindberg plays in which he spoke all the parts.

Bergman attended Palmgren’s School as a teenager. His school years were unhappy, and he remembered them unfavorably in later years. In a 1944 letter concerning the film Torment (sometimes known as Frenzy), which sparked debate on the condition of Swedish high schools (and which Bergman had written), the school’s principal Henning Håkanson wrote, among other things, that Bergman had been a “problem child”. Bergman wrote in a response that he had strongly disliked the emphasis on homework and testing in his formal schooling.

In 1934, aged 16, Bergman was sent to Germany to spend the summer holidays with family friends. He attended a Nazi rally in Weimar at which he saw Adolf Hitler. He later wrote in Laterna Magica, about the visit to Germany, describing how the German family had put a portrait of Hitler on the wall by his bed, and that “for many years, I was on Hitler’s side, delighted by his success and saddened by his defeats”. Bergman commented that “Hitler was unbelievably charismatic. He electrified the crowd. … The Nazism I had seen seemed fun and youthful”. Bergman did two five-month stretches in Sweden of mandatory military service.

He entered Stockholm University College (later renamed Stockholm University) in 1937, to study art and literature. He spent most of his time involved in student theatre and became a “genuine movie addict”. Although he did not graduate, he wrote a number of plays and an opera, and became an assistant director at a theatre. In 1942, he was given the opportunity to direct one of his own scripts, Caspar’s Death. The play was seen by members of Svensk Filmindustri, which then offered Bergman a position working on scripts.

Bergman’s film career began in 1941 with his work rewriting scripts, but his first major accomplishment was in 1944 when he wrote the screenplay for Torment (Hets), a film directed by Alf Sjöberg. Along with writing the screenplay, he was also appointed assistant director of the film. In his second autobiographical book, Images: My Life in Film, Bergman describes the filming of the exteriors as his actual film directorial debut.[20] The film sparked debate on Swedish formal education. When Henning Håkanson (the principal of the high school Bergman had attended) wrote a letter following the film’s release, Bergman, according to scholar Frank Gado, disparaged in a response what he viewed as Håkanson’s implication that students “who did not fit some arbitrary prescription of worthiness deserved the system’s cruel neglect”. Bergman also stated in the letter that he “hated school as a principle, as a system and as an institution. And as such I have definitely not wanted to criticize my own school, but all schools.” The international success of this film led to Bergman’s first opportunity to direct a year later. During the next ten years he wrote and directed more than a dozen films, including Prison (Fängelse) in 1949, as well as Sawdust and Tinsel (Gycklarnas afton) and Summer with Monika (Sommaren med Monika), both from 1953.

Bergman first achieved worldwide success with Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende) (1955), which won for “Best poetic humour” and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes the following year. This was followed by The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) and Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället), released in Sweden ten months apart in 1957. The Seventh Seal won a special jury prize and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and Wild Strawberries won numerous awards for Bergman and its star, Victor Sjöström. Bergman continued to be productive for the next two decades. From the early 1960s, he spent much of his life on the island of Fårö, where he made several films.

In the early 1960s he directed three films that explored the theme of faith and doubt in God, Through a Glass Darkly (Såsom i en Spegel, 1961), Winter Light (Nattvardsgästerna, 1962), and The Silence (Tystnaden, 1963). Critics created the notion that the common themes in these three films made them a trilogy or cinematic triptych. Bergman initially responded that he did not plan these three films as a trilogy and that he could not see any common motifs in them, but he later seemed to adopt the notion, with some equivocation.

In 1966, he directed Persona, a film that he himself considered one of his most important works. While the highly experimental film won few awards, many consider it his masterpiece. Other notable films of the period include The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan, 1960), Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen, 1968), Shame (Skammen, 1968) and The Passion of Anna (En Passion, 1969). He and his cinematographer Sven Nykvist made oft-noted use of a crimson color scheme for Cries and Whispers (1972), which is among Bergman’s most acclaimed films. He also produced extensively for Swedish television at this time. Two works of note were Scenes from a Marriage (Scener ur ett äktenskap, 1973) and The Magic Flute (Trollflöjten, 1975).

On 30th January 1976, while rehearsing August Strindberg’s The Dance of Death at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, Bergman was arrested by two plainclothes police officers and charged with income tax evasion. The impact of the event on Bergman was devastating. He suffered a breakdown as a result of the humiliation, and was hospitalized in a state of deep depression. The investigation was focused on an alleged 1970 transaction of 500,000 Swedish kronor (SEK) between Bergman’s Swedish company Cinematograf and its Swiss subsidiary, Persona, an entity that was mainly used for paying salaries to foreign actors. Bergman dissolved Persona in 1974 after having been notified by the Swedish Central Bank and subsequently reported the income. On 23rd March 1976, the special prosecutor Anders Nordenadler dropped the charges against Bergman, saying that the alleged crime had no legal basis, saying it would be like bringing “charges against a person who has stolen his own car, thinking it was someone else’s”. Director General Gösta Ekman, chief of the Swedish Internal Revenue Service, defended the failed investigation, saying that the investigation was dealing with important legal material and that Bergman was treated just like any other suspect. He expressed regret that Bergman had left the country, hoping that Bergman was a “stronger” person now when the investigation had shown that he had not done any wrong.

Even though the charges were dropped, Bergman became disconsolate, fearing he would never again return to directing. Despite pleas by the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme, high public figures, and leaders of the film industry, he vowed never to work in Sweden again. He closed down his studio on the island of Fårö, suspended two announced film projects, and went into self-imposed exile in Germany. Harry Schein, director of the Swedish Film Institute, estimated the immediate damage as 10 million Swedish kronor and hundreds of jobs lost.

Bergman then briefly considered the possibility of working in the US. His next film, The Serpent’s Egg (1977) was a German-U.S. production and his second English-language film (the first being 1971’s The Touch). This was followed by a British-Norwegian co-production, Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten, 1978) starring Ingrid Bergman, and From the Life of the Marionettes (Aus dem Leben der Marionetten, 1980) which was a British-German co-production.

He temporarily returned to Sweden in 1982, to direct Fanny and Alexander (Fanny och Alexander). Bergman stated that the film would be his last, and that afterwards he would focus on directing theatre. After that, he wrote several film scripts and directed a number of television specials. As with previous work for TV, some of these productions were later released in theatres. The last such work was Saraband (2003), a sequel to Scenes from a Marriage and directed by Bergman when he was 84 years old.

Although he continued to operate from Munich, by mid-1978 Bergman had overcome some of his bitterness toward the government of Sweden. In July of that year he visited Sweden, celebrating his 60th birthday on the island of Fårö, and partly resumed his work as a director at Royal Dramatic Theatre. To honor his return, the Swedish Film Institute launched a new Ingmar Bergman Prize to be awarded annually for excellence in filmmaking. Still, he remained in Munich until 1984. In one of the last major interviews with Bergman, conducted in 2005 on the island of Fårö, Bergman said that despite being active during the exile, he had effectively lost 8 years of his professional life.

Bergman retired from filmmaking in December 2003. He had hip surgery in October 2006 and was making a difficult recovery. He died in his sleep at age 89. His body was found at his home on the island of Fårö, on 30th July 2007. (It was the same day another renowned film director, Michelangelo Antonioni, also died.) The interment was private, at the Fårö Church on 18th August 2007. A place in the Fårö churchyard was prepared for him under heavy secrecy. Although he was buried on the island of Fårö, his name and date of birth were inscribed under his wife’s name on a tomb at Roslagsbro churchyard, Norrtälje Municipality, several years before his death.


Winter Light is one of Bergman’s movies that attracts me the most, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3w0IQsN8XQ&t=683s  although I also like his interpretation of Mozart’s Magic Flute. I first saw Winter Light at a free screening at a church near my college at Oxford in my first week as a freshman studying theology. That was, without doubt, one of the oddest experiences of my life. There I was, a completely green student, with no real sense of which end was up in my life, watching a movie about the futility of Christianity, the angst of a pastor, and the mixed emotions of his meager congregation, while I was supposedly embarking on a career as a pastor myself. Meanwhile, the showing of the movie was followed by a tediously pointless sermon (that went on forever), by the vicar – who was a sort of local celebrity – “explaining” how Bergman’s view of the church was all wrong. Yes folks, contrary to Bergman’s vision, the church was alive and well, actively welcoming young students into the fold. Ugh. I got more than my fair share of this vicar’s pontificating over the course of my first year, aided and abetted by a cascade of Anglican dons as tutors and lecturers who turned me completely against any kind of vocation in the ministry for over 20 years. I was much more on Bergman’s side for a long time.  Ten years later, Magic Flute was a helpful antidote, although by then I was more than well on my way to being an anthropologist with an interest in religion from an academic standpoint, but not in any personal sense.

Here is a recipe for raggmunk, Swedish potato pancakes, traditionally served with salt pork and lingonberry jam. You can use thick-cut bacon instead of the salt pork if you like. This is common in Sweden.

Raggmunk

Ingredients

1 egg
90 gm buckwheat flour
300ml milk
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
800 gm peeled and grated potatoes
50 gm butter
400 gm salt pork or thick cured bacon
lingonberry jam

Instructions

Mix the flour and milk to a smooth paste, then add the egg and beat well. Season with salt and let rest for a few minutes. Mix in the grated potatoes.

Heat the butter over medium heat in a skillet until it sizzles but before it browns. Shape the pancake dough into patties and fry them on both sides until golden brown. Serve immediately with fried salt pork and  a generous helping of lingonberry jam.

Jun 142017
 

Today is the traditional date of the founding of Munich, capital of Bavaria, in 1158 by Henry the Lion who built a bridge there across the river Isar. The name of the city is derived from the Old/Middle High German term Munichen, meaning “by the monks” deriving from the fact that monks of the Benedictine order ran a monastery there, and hence the monk depicted on the city’s coat of arms. The date is, in fact, arbitrary based on the fact that this is the earliest date that the city is mentioned in a document, signed in Augsburg. Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria built a toll bridge over the river Isar as part of the Old Salt Route, a vital trade route for centuries.

The Old Salt Route (Alte Salzstraße) was a medieval trade route in northern Germany, one of an ancient network of salt roads which were used primarily for the transport of salt, but also for other staples. Salt was a very valuable commodity at that time, sometimes known as “white gold.” The vast bulk of the salt transported on the road was produced from brine near Lüneburg, a city in the northern central part of the country and then transported to Lübeck, a major seaport on the Baltic coast.

It is generally assumed that the Old Salt Route was part of a much longer path connecting the northern and southern towns of the region. One of the oldest documents that confirms Lüneburg’s role in refining and transporting salt dates from 956. According to that document, King Otto I the Great granted the St. Michaelis Monastery in Lüneburg the customs revenue from the saltworks. In those days the city’s wealth was based in large part on the salt found in the area. However, the Old Salt Route attained its peak of success between the 12th and the 16th centuries.

The trade route led from Lüneburg northward to Lübeck (also founded by Henry). From that port city, most of the salt was shipped to numerous destinations that also lie on the Baltic Sea, including Falsterbo, with its renowned Scania market (Danish Skånemarkedet) whose herring trade was one of the cornerstones of Hanseatic League. Salt was used for the preservation of herring which was of immense importance in the Middle Ages. The salt trade was a major source of power and wealth for both Lübeck and the Hanseatic League.

Legend has it that the herring fishery off the Scanian coast was so rich, that one could scoop up the fish with one’s hands. After a visit to the region in 1364, the French crusader Philippe de Mezieres wrote:

Two months a year, that is in September and October, the herring travel from one sea to the other through the Sound, by order of God, in such large numbers that it is a great wonder, and so many pass through the sound in these months, that at several places one can cut them with a dagger.

As early as the 12th century the peninsula had become a center for the herring trade; the Scanian name for the town Falsterbo was Falsterbothe, which meant “the booths for fish from Falster.” The 13th-century German chronicler Arnold of Lübeck, author of Chronicon Slavorum, wrote that the Danes had wealth and an abundance of everything thanks to the yearly catches of herring at the Scanian coast.

Salt wa brought from Lüneburg to a crossing of the Elbe river at Artlenburg (near Lauenburg) and from there, via Mölln, to Lübeck. However, for the most part, the historic trade route was composed of unsurfaced, sandy and often muddy roads through heathland, woods and small villages, making the transport of salt an arduous task. In addition, the route was dangerous given that the valuable cargo attracted thieves, bandits and marauders of all stripes. The dangers faced by those making the long trek, combined with the fact that only relatively small quantities of salt could be carried in any single journey, made moving salt via overland routes very expensive.

In 1175 Munich, fast becoming a vital link on the Salt Road, was officially granted city status and was fortified. In 1180, after the trial of Henry the Lion (in absentia for insubordination by a court of bishops and princes), Otto I Wittelsbach became Duke of Bavaria and Munich was handed over to the Bishop of Freising. (Wittelsbach’s heirs, the Wittelsbach dynasty, ruled Bavaria until 1918.) In 1240, Munich was transferred to Otto II Wittelsbach and in 1255, when the Duchy of Bavaria was split in two, Munich became the ducal residence of Upper Bavaria. Duke Louis IV, a native of Munich, was elected German king in 1314 and crowned as Holy Roman Emperor in 1328. He strengthened the city’s position by granting it the salt monopoly, thus assuring it vital income for its growth and prosperity.

No trouble finding a recipe today, of course, although I should talk about salt in the diet in general first. I pretty much always put “salt to taste” in recipes rather than giving precise amounts because tastes vary so dramatically, as well as dietary needs. In certain recipes, notably yeast products and some pastries, a small amount of salt is essential, but for the most part you can do without it if you train your palate. I almost never use salt in recipes but I get more than my recommended daily allowance, which is only about 1 to 2 grams, without trying. The thing is that salt was such an important part of food preservation in antiquity forwards that in general people’s taste buds became habituated to foods with high salt content so that foods with lower salt content tasted bland. Nowadays salt is no longer needed for preservation but the habituation remains. Clinical research results are not entirely definitive, but there seems to be a strong correlation between high salt intake and high blood pressure. In my humble opinion, it’s best not to take risks. For many years I had very low blood pressure, but I stopped using salt in cooking anyway. If you are habituated to high salt content and try to limit it when you develop high blood pressure, you are too late. It takes several months but you can reduce your salt intake slowly – day by day – and you’ll find that over time your taste buds adjust so that low salt or no salt recipes taste fine.

Herring spoils very quickly and so for centuries it had to be preserved by salting or smoking, or both, and these methods are still used because the results are not just practical but produce distinctive tastes as well. Because I don’t commonly cook with salt, heavily salted fish tastes overpowering to me. The usual instructions for cooking salt herring start by telling you to cover the fish in water in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight. I go a few steps further by placing it in a colander which I immerse in a large bowl of cold water, for about 8 hours, changing the water every hour. The colander facilitates lifting the fish out each time. Then I immerse the fish in a bowl of water, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Herring is a bony fish, so before you cook it you need to fillet it and remove the bones. A pair of tweezers is more or less essential.  Then the salted variety can be prepared in a number of ways. Breading the fillets and frying them  in a little olive oil with garlic is very traditional, but I’m more partial to making it into a classic English fish pie which I have mentioned before.  I make it easier to debone the fish by poaching it lightly first and then scraping the meat (in chunks as much as possible) from the bones. Then I prepare mashed potatoes with leeks and onions, mix it together with the fish, and bake in a hot oven until the top is golden. Proportion of fish to potatoes is entirely up to you.  About 1 part fish to 2 parts potato works for me.

Oct 122014
 

A waitress serves beers during the opening ceremony of the Oktoberfest in Munich

On this date in 1810 Munich held the first Oktoberfest. Modern Oktoberfest is purportedly the world’s largest annual street festival. It is a 16-day festival running from late September to the first weekend in October with more than 6 million people from around the world attending the event every year. Locally, it is often simply called Wiesn, after the colloquial name of the fairgrounds (Theresienwiese) themselves. The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since 1810. Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations, modeled after the original Munich event.

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The Munich Oktoberfest originally took place during the 16 days up to, and including, the first Sunday in October. In 1994, the schedule was modified in response to German reunification so that if the first Sunday in October falls on the 1st or 2nd, then the festival would go on until October 3 (German Unity Day). Thus, the festival is now 17 days when the first Sunday is October 2 and 18 days when it is October 1. In 2010, the festival lasted until the first Monday in October, to mark the anniversary of the event. The festival is held in an area named the Theresienwiese (field, or meadow, of Therese), often called Wiesn for short, located near Munich’s center. Large quantities of Oktoberfest Beer are consumed, with almost 7 million liters served during the 16 day festival in 2007. Visitors may also enjoy a mixture of attractions, such as amusement rides, stalls and games, as well as a wide variety of traditional foods.

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Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, was married to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held in the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the happy royal event. The fields were named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s meadow”) in honor of the Crown Princess, and have kept that name ever since, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the “Wiesn.” Horse races in the presence of the Royal Family marked the close of the event that was celebrated as a festival for the whole of Bavaria. The decision to repeat the horse races in the subsequent year gave rise to the tradition of the Oktoberfest.

In 1811, an agricultural show was added to promote Bavarian agriculture. The horse race persisted until 1960, the agricultural show still exists and is held every four years in the southern part of the festival grounds. In 1816, carnival booths appeared; the main prizes were silver, porcelain, and jewelry. The founding citizens of Munich assumed responsibility for festival management in 1819, and it was decided to make the Oktoberfest an annual event. Later, it was lengthened and the date pushed forward, because days are longer and warmer at the end of September.

To honor the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, a parade took place for the first time in 1810. Since 1850, this has become an annual event and an important component of the Oktoberfest. Eight thousand people—mostly from Bavaria—in traditional costumes walk from Maximilian Street through the centre of Munich to the Oktoberfest grounds. The march is led by the Münchner Kindl or “Munich child” in the Bavarian dialect of German e name of the symbol on the coat of arms of the city Munich.

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In 1887, the Entry of the Oktoberfest Staff and Breweries took place for the first time. This event showcases the splendidly decorated horse teams of the breweries and the bands that play in the festival tents. This event always takes place on the first Saturday of the Oktoberfest and serves as the official prelude to the Oktoberfest celebration

In 1910, Oktoberfest celebrated its 100th anniversary. Some 120,000 liters of beer were poured. In 1913, the Bräurosl was founded, which was the largest Oktoberfest beer tent ever, with room for ~ 12,000 people.

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Since 1950, there has been a traditional festival opening: A twelve gun salute and the tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer at 12:00 by the incumbent Mayor of Munich with the cry “O’zapft is!” (“It’s tapped!” in the Austro-Bavarian dialect) opens the Oktoberfest. The Mayor then gives the first beer to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria. The first mayor to tap the keg was Thomas Wimmer.

Before the festival officially starts at 12 PM, there is the famous paradesof the traditional gun clubs, waitresses and landlords of the tents. Mostly there are two different parades which both end at the Theresienwiesn. They start around 9.45 a.m. to 10.50 a.m.

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Traditionally visitors wear Bavarian hats (Tirolerhüte), during the Oktoberfest which contain a tuft of goat hair. In Germany, goat hair is highly valued and prized, making it one of the most expensive objects for sale. The more tufts of goat hair on one’s hat, the wealthier one is considered to be. Technology helping, this tradition ended with the appearance of cheap goat hair imitations on the market.

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2010 marked the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest. For the anniversary, there was a horse race in historical costumes on opening day. A so-called “Historische Wiesn” (historical Oktoberfest) took place, starting one day earlier than usual on the southern part of the festival grounds. A specially brewed beer (solely available at the tents of the historical Oktoberfest), horse races, and a museum tent gave visitors an impression of how the event felt a century ago.

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Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot, and brewed within the city limits of Munich, can be served at the Munich Oktoberfest. The Reinheitsgebot, sometimes called the “German Beer Purity Law” or the “Bavarian Purity Law” in English, is a regulation concerning the production of beer in the Holy Roman Empire and its successor state, Germany. In the original text, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops. Yeast was not identified as an ingredient although obviously it is essential. Brewers generally took some sediment from the previous fermentation and added it to the next, the sediment generally containing the necessary organisms to perform fermentation.

The law originated on 30 November 1487, when Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria promulgated it, specifying three ingredients – water, malt and hops – for the brewing of beer. Later, in the city of Ingolstadt in the duchy of Bavaria on 23 April 1516, two other dukes endorsed the law as one to be followed in their duchies, adding standards for the sale of beer.

The Reinheitsgebot is no longer the law in Germany but tradition requires that it be observed for Oktoberfest. Beers meeting these criteria are designated Oktoberfest Beer.

The breweries that can produce Oktoberfest Beer under the criteria are:

  • Augustiner-Bräu
  • Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu
  • Löwenbräu
  • Paulaner
  • Spatenbräu
  • Staatliches Hofbräu-München

There are many traditional Bavarian dishes eaten at Oktoberfest, such as Hendl (roast chicken), Schweinebraten (roast pork), Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Würstl (sausages) along with Brezen (pretzel), Knödel (potato or bread dumplings), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut or Rotkohl/Blaukraut (red cabbage) along with such Bavarian delicacies as Obatzda (a spiced cheese-butter spread) and Weisswurst (a white sausage).

Schweinshaxe is one of my favorite dishes and is especially popular in Bavaria. The Bavarian version is often served with potato dumplings and red cabbage, or with sauerkraut and potatoes.

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Schweinshaxe

Ingredients:

1 pork knuckle per person
salt and pepper
garlic clove, peeled (optional)
1 bottle beer, preferably dark
1 onion, roughly chopped
caraway seed (whole or ground)

Instructions

The day before open the hocks’ packaging and let them sit overnight in the refrigerator. This dries out the skin and ensures it will crisp nicely when baked.

Next day preheat oven to 350°F/175°C

Put the hocks on a roasting pan, moisten the pan with a just a bit of beer, and salt and pepper the skin well, rubbing it in. If desired you can rub it with a clove of garlic. Make a bed of onions, add caraway to taste, and place the hocks on top.

Roast for about 4 hours. Add more beer if the pan dries.

When the hocks reach about 200°F/95°C internal temperature turn the oven up to 450°F/230°C degrees or turn on the the broiler and crisp the skin for about 10 -15 minutes.

Serve immediately either on individual plates or on a carving platter and carve at the table. Serve with potato dumplings and red cabbage, or with sauerkraut and potatoes. Use the pan juices as a gravy.

Jun 112014
 

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Today is the birthday (1864) of Richard Georg Strauss, major German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his lieder, particularly his Four Last Songs; and, especially, his tone poems Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, An Alpine Symphony, and other orchestral works, such as Metamorphosen. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria.

Strauss was born in Munich, the son of Franz Strauss, who was the principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich. In his youth, he received a thorough musical education from his father. He wrote his first composition at the age of six, and continued to write music almost until his death. During his boyhood Strauss attended orchestra rehearsals of the Munich Court Orchestra (now the Bavarian State Orchestra), and he also received private instruction in music theory and orchestration from an assistant conductor there. In 1872 he started receiving violin instruction at the Royal School of Music from Benno Walter, his father’s cousin.

In 1874 Strauss heard his first Wagner operas, Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. The influence of Wagner’s music on Strauss’s style was to be profound, but at first his musically conservative father forbade him to study it. Indeed, in the Strauss household, the music of Richard Wagner was viewed with deep suspicion, and it was not until the age of 16 that Strauss was able to obtain a score of Tristan und Isolde. In later life, Strauss said that he deeply regretted the conservative hostility to Wagner’s progressive works. Nevertheless, Strauss’s father undoubtedly had a crucial influence on his son’s developing taste, not least in Strauss’s abiding love for the horn.

In early 1882 in Vienna he gave the first performance of his Violin Concerto in D minor, playing a piano reduction of the orchestral part himself, with his teacher and cousin Benno Walter as soloist. The same year he entered Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where he studied Philosophy and Art History, but not music. He left a year later to go to Berlin, where he studied briefly before securing a post as assistant conductor to Hans von Bülow, who had been enormously impressed by the young composer’s Serenade for wind instruments, composed when he was only 16 years of age. Strauss learned the art of conducting by observing Bülow in rehearsal. Bülow was very fond of the young man and decided that Strauss should be his successor as conductor of the Meiningen orchestra when Bülow resigned in 1885. Strauss’s compositions at this time were indebted to the style of Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn, true to his father’s teachings. His Horn Concerto No. 1, Op. 11, is representative of this period and is a staple of modern horn repertoire.

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Strauss married soprano Pauline de Ahna on 10 September 1894. She was famous for being irascible, garrulous, eccentric and outspoken, but the marriage, to all appearances, was essentially happy and she was a great source of inspiration to him. Throughout his life, from his earliest songs to the final Four Last Songs of 1948, he preferred the soprano voice to all others, and all his operas contain significant soprano roles.

Some of Strauss’s first compositions were solo and chamber works. These pieces include: early compositions for piano solo in a tonally traditional style, many of which are lost; a string quartet (opus 2); a cello sonata; a piano quartet; Violin Sonata in E flat major.

After 1890 Strauss composed very infrequently for chamber groups, his energies being almost completely absorbed with large-scale orchestral works and operas. Four of his chamber pieces are actually arrangements of portions of his operas, including the Daphne-Etude for solo violin, and the string Sextet which is the overture to his final opera Capriccio. His last independent chamber work, an Allegretto in E major for violin and piano, dates from 1940.

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Strauss’s style began to truly develop and change when, in 1885, he met Alexander Ritter, a noted composer and violinist, and the husband of one of Richard Wagner’s nieces. It was Ritter who persuaded Strauss to abandon the conservative style of his youth, and begin writing tone poems. He also introduced Strauss to the essays of Richard Wagner and the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer. Strauss went on to conduct one of Ritter’s operas, and at Strauss’s request Ritter later wrote a poem describing the events depicted in Strauss’s tone poem Death and Transfiguration.

The new influences from Ritter resulted in what is widely regarded as Strauss’s first piece to show his mature personality, the tone poem Don Juan (1888), which displays a new kind of virtuosity in its bravura orchestral manner. Strauss went on to write a series of increasingly ambitious tone poems: Death and Transfiguration (1889), Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (1895), Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1896), Don Quixote (1897), Ein Heldenleben (1898), Symphonia Domestica (1903) and An Alpine Symphony (1911–1915). One commentator has observed of these works that “no orchestra could exist without his tone poems, written to celebrate the glories of the post-Wagnerian symphony orchestra.”

For analysis of Strauss’s mature style I am going to focus on the tone poem Till Eulenspiegel. Here it is conducted by Lorin Maazel from memory.

Till Eulenspiegel is an impudent trickster figure originating in Middle Low German folklore. His tales were disseminated in popular printed editions narrating a string of lightly connected episodes that outlined his picaresque career, in Germany, Denmark, the Low Countries, the Czech Republic, Poland and Italy. He was commonly found in English-speaking culture late in the nineteenth century as “Owlglass” (English version of Eulenspiegel), but was previously mentioned in English literature by Ben Jonson in his comedic play The Alchemist, and even earlier – Owleglasse – by Henry Porter in The Two Angry Women of Abington (1599).

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The full title of Strauss’s piece is “Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche nach alter Schelmenueise in Rondeau form fur grosses Orchester gesetz” (Till Eulenspiegel’s merry pranks, after the old rogue’s tale, set for large orchestra in Rondo form).It chronicles the misadventures and pranks of the folk hero who is represented by two themes. The first, played by the horn, is a lilting melody that reaches a peak, falls downward, and ends in three long, loud notes, each progressively lower. The second, for D clarinet, is crafty and wheedling, suggesting a trickster doing what he does best. Sometimes these two themes are known as “the adventurer” and “the trickster.”

Strauss keeps the piece moving by casting it as an extended rondo in which this pair of repeating themes is contrasted against separate motifs meant to represent Till’s various adventures. Strauss did not claim the music represented any particular chapters in the Eulenspiegel tales, though when pressed he conceded that the musical episodes include Till riding through a marketplace and upsetting the goods, then poking fun at the clergy, flirting with girls, mocking university academics, and finally being hanged for blasphemy.

In music criticism a piece of music that “describes” a non-musical form such as a story, poem, or image, is called “program music,” as opposed to classical forms such as the sonata and the symphony – music for music’s sake – which is usually called “absolute music.” The brilliance of Till Eulenspiegel lies in the fact that it is neither fully program music nor absolute music either, hence Strauss’s reluctance to nail down each section to a specific story. He felt that one ought to be able to listen to the piece without any reference to an external narrative and, therefore, view it as absolute music even though it had a programmatic side.

Strauss called the piece a rondo, a classical form, but it is not a rondo in the conventional use of the term. Typically a rondo has one principal theme (sometimes called the “refrain”) which alternates with one or more contrasting themes, generally called “episodes,” but also occasionally referred to as “digressions” or “couplets.” Common patterns in the Classical period include: ABA, ABACA, or ABACABA. The number of themes can vary from piece to piece, and the recurring element is sometimes embellished and/or shortened in order to provide for variation. In Till Eulenspiegel the two themes carry equal value and alternate in extraordinary ways with variations in tempo, orchestration, harmony, and syncopation. He wrote to Franz Wüllner, who conducted the first performance, “I really cannot provide a program for Eulenspiegel. Any words into which I might put the thoughts that the several incidents suggested to me would hardly suffice; they might even offend. Let me leave it, therefore, to my listeners to crack the hard nut the Rogue has offered them. By way of helping them to a better understanding, it seems enough to point out the two Eulenspiegel motifs [Strauss here jots down the two themes], which, in the most diverse disguises, moods, and situations, pervade the whole up to the catastrophe when, after being condemned to death, Till is strung up on the gibbet. For the rest, let them guess at the musical joke a Rogue has offered them.” Strauss did not want to have detailed program notes describing the various incidents in the piece because he did not want the audience to be distracted by being glued to the program, figuring out which musical section belonged to which incident. He wanted them to just listen to the music.

In 1905 he tried to explain his theories to a French writer and critic, in a letter he wrote “a poetic program is exclusively a pretext for the purely musical expression and development of my emotions.” The program was not, Strauss emphasized, “a simple physical description of precise facts of life. For this would be contrary to the spirit of music.” But Strauss never felt dependent on Classic forms in his series of tone poems either. “New ideas must search for new forms,” he kept on insisting. For the most part he was successful in his formal structures. Whatever the intrinsic value of the musical materials, Strauss put them into well-integrated free forms – modified sonata, variations, rondo. He was a superb technician.

The work is scored for a large, complex orchestra allowing for extraordinary richness and variation, which Strauss takes full advantage of:

woodwind: piccolo, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets in B-flat, D clarinet, 1 bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon

brass: 4 horns in F and E, 4 horns in D, 3 trumpets in F and C, 3 trumpets in D, 3 trombones, tuba

percussion: timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, triangle, large ratchet

strings: violins I, II, violas, violoncellos, double basses

Many critics argue that the tone poem reached its pinnacle in Strauss’s oeuvre. Although technically highly sophisticated, his tone poems remain accessible to the general public as seen in the opening bars of Also sprach Zarathustra which Stanley Kubrick famously used in 2001: A Space Odyssey. After Strauss the tone poem quickly waned in popularity with composers, as if the master had perfected the form and there was nothing left for his followers to accomplish.

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Strauss was from Munich, the capital of Bavaria. Historically the everyday cuisine of the citizens of Munich differed somewhat from that of the rural people of Bavaria, especially in the greater consumption of meat. In the city, more people could afford beef, and on festival days, roast veal was preferred. From 1840 to 1841, with Munich having a population of about 83,000 citizens, 76,979 calves were slaughtered, that is, approximately one calf per citizen per year. The number of slaughtered cows was about 20,000. Bratwursts of beef were especially popular. In the 19thcentury, potatoes were also accepted as a part of Bavarian cuisine, but they could still not replace the popularity of Dampfnudel, steamed yeast dumplings.

One author wrote in 1907, “The ‘Munich cuisine’ is based on the main concept of the ‘eternal calf’. In no other city in the world is so much veal consumed as in Munich. Even breakfast consists mainly of veal in all possible forms mostly sausages and calf viscus! The dinner and evening meal consist only of all sorts of veal. And still the Munich innkeepers speak of a ‘substantial selection of dishes’ without realizing that the one-sidedness of the ‘Munich veal cuisine’ cannot be surpassed any more!”

Bavaria is sometimes nicknamed the “Weisswurst Equator.” The Weisswurst was created in Munich on February 22, 1857, and has since become a very important part of Bavarian cooking. The Weisswurst is so important there that a number of “rules” and taboos have been created around this popular dish. Those who don’t follow these rules are quickly labeled as “foreigners” (i.e. non-Bavarian).

1. The Weisswurst must never be eaten with fork and knife. Instead, one is supposed to cut it in half, and with the hands, pick up one of the halves and dip it in sweet (and only sweet) mustard. The Weisswurst is to be eaten only with the hands.

2. The Weisswurst is to be eaten only with a roll or pretzel and sweet mustard – no other side dishes are acceptable.

3. The Weisswurst cannot be eaten after 12:00pm. This rule actually goes back to the 19th century when the wurst was first invented. Back then, there was no way to preserve or refrigerate fresh, uncooked wurst. Because of this, all Weisswurst that was made had to be eaten quickly, so the rule was created that the wurst could not be eaten after 12:00pm to avoid any food-borne illnesses.

With the right equipment it is easy enough to make Weisswurst at home. You need a meat grinder with fine blades, and a sausage nozzle. The wurst can be cooked in plain water, but I prefer to use a good Munich beer. It really lifts the taste.

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Weisswurst

Ingredients

5 feet natural hog casing
1 tablespoon white vinegar
3 ½ lb veal shoulder, trimmed, cut into ½ inch cubes
½ lb pork fat cut into ½ inch cubes
1 ½ cups onion, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
4 tsp lemon zest, grated
1 ¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Munich beer (optional)

Instructions

Place the casing in medium bowl. Cover generously with cold water and stir in the vinegar. Allow casing to soak 30 minutes.

Drain the casing. Fit one end of the casing over mouth of faucet and holding it in place run a thin stream of cold water slowly through length of casing, untwisting as the water passes through. Increase water flow slightly to stretch casing to full width. Allow water to run through the casing for 2 minutes and then return casing to a bowl of cold water.

Pass the veal through a meat grinder fitted with a fine disc a bowl; grind pork fat into same bowl. Sprinkle onions, parsley, lemon zest, salt, and pepper over the meat mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until evenly distributed. Pass the mixture through the grinder at least twice, then beat the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon until creamy and light.

Remove the blade and disc from the grinder and attach a sausage funnel. Drain the sausage casing thoroughly. Run your fingers gently down the length of casing, pressing thumb and forefinger together, to remove water. Pass the forcemeat through the grinder until even with end of funnel in order to prevent an initial air pocket. Fit one end of the casing over mouth of funnel. Pull the rest of the casing up on to funnel, leaving 4 inches hanging. Tie the unattached end of the casing into double knot to seal.

Pass the veal mixture through the funnel into the casing, easing the casing off the funnel gradually as the casing fills out. Work at a steady pace, making sure the casing is evenly and firmly packed. If any air pockets form in the casing, pierce them with needle. Continue filling the casing until all veal mixture is used. Tie the top end of the casing into a double knot. To form smaller sausages, tie the casing tightly at 4-inch intervals with short pieces of butcher’s twine.

Heat a large kettle or stockpot with salted water or Munich beer over medium heat to boiling. Reduce heat to lowest possible setting. Form the sausages into coil and place in large flat plate. Slip sausages into water; cook, covered, until firm, about 20 minutes. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon to a warmed serving platter. Serve with pretzels or rolls and a good Munich beer.

Yield 4 lb.

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