Jul 072020

Today is the birthday (1860) of Gustav Mahler, an Austro-Bohemian Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. While in his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of relative neglect, which included a ban on its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi era. After 1945 his compositions were rediscovered by a new generation of listeners. Mahler then became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers, a position he has sustained into the 21st century.

Mahler displayed his musical gifts at an early age. After graduating from the Vienna Conservatory in 1878, he held a succession of conducting posts of rising importance in the opera houses of Europe, culminating in his appointment in 1897 as director of the Vienna Court Opera (Hofoper). During his ten years in Vienna, Mahler—who had converted to Catholicism to secure the post—experienced regular opposition and hostility from the anti-Semitic press. Nevertheless, his innovative productions and insistence on the highest performance standards ensured his reputation as one of the greatest of opera conductors of all time, particularly as an interpreter of the stage works of Wagner, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky. Late in his life he was briefly director of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.

Mahler’s œuvre is relatively limited; for much of his life composing was necessarily a part-time activity while he earned his living as a conductor. Aside from early works such as a movement from a piano quartet composed when he was a student in Vienna, Mahler’s works are generally designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists. These works were frequently controversial when first performed, and several were slow to receive critical and popular approval; exceptions included his Second Symphony, Third Symphony, and the triumphant premiere of his Eighth Symphony in 1910.

Mahler’s First Symphony has been a favorite of mine for a long time, and was probably also a favorite of Mahler himself, given that he conducted it more often than any other of his works. In fact, he conducted 10 premières in 10 different countries from 1889 (world première) to 1909 (U.S. première). Here is a passable version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XbHLFkg_Mw The opening is virtually impossible to capture adequately because it is so quiet and yet so complex, but once it gets going the performance is not bad.

Mahler, in his younger days, was a vegetarian. There’s a story, recounted by one of his biographers, about how he was teased by fellow musicians in a restaurant when he refused meat, instead asking for spinach and apples. Mahler might have become vegetarian after reading an essay by Richard Wagner. In 1880 — the same year Wagner published an essay endorsing vegetarianism — Mahler wrote to a friend:

For the last month I have been a total vegetarian. The moral effect of this way of life, with its voluntary castigation of the body, is enormous. I expect nothing less than the regeneration of mankind. I advise you to eat suitable food (compost-grown, stone-ground, wholemeal bread) and you will soon see the fruit of your endeavors.

Eventually, Mahler gave up his vegetarian diet, but a string of health issues meant that he always watched what he ate. We do know, also, that his sister, Justine, baked a prize Marillenknoedel — traditional Viennese apricot dumplings. One of Mahler’s friends, Ludwig Karpath, recalled the composer’s shock at finding out that Karpath wasn’t a fan of Marillenknoedel. “What!” Mahler shouted, “is there a Viennese to whom Marillenknoedel means nothing? You will come with me right away to eat the heavenly dish. My sister Justi has her own recipe for it, and we will see if you remain indifferent.”
There are numerous ways to make Marillenknoedel dough. I have no idea about Mahler’s sister version, but this one is serviceable:

Oct 252018

Today is the birthday (1825) of Johann Baptist Strauss, son of Johann Strauss the Elder. He is well known as an Austrian composer of light music, particularly dance music and operettas. He composed over 500 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, and other types of dance music, as well as several operettas and a ballet. In his lifetime, he was known as “The Waltz King”, and was largely responsible for the popularity of the waltz in Vienna during the 19th century. This post can be considered a companion piece to my post on his father https://www.bookofdaystales.com/strauss-the-elder/  and I will try not to duplicate material there too much, although a certain amount is inevitable, not least because of the intense rivalry between the two.

Strauss was born in St Ulrich near Vienna (now a part of Neubau). His paternal great-grandfather was a Hungarian Jew – a fact which the Nazis, who lionized Strauss’s music as “so German”, later tried to conceal. His father did not want him to become a musician but rather a banker. Nevertheless, Strauss the Younger studied the violin secretly as a child with the first violinist of his father’s orchestra, Franz Amon. When his father discovered his son secretly practicing on a violin one day, he gave him a severe whipping, saying that he was going to beat the music out of the boy. It was only when the father abandoned his family for a mistress, Emilie Trampusch, that the son was able to concentrate fully on a career as a composer with the support of his mother.

Strauss studied counterpoint and harmony with theorist Professor Joachim Hoffmann, who owned a private music school. His talents were also recognized by composer Joseph Drechsler, who taught him exercises in harmony. It was during that time that he composed his only sacred work, the graduale Tu qui regis totum orbem (1844). His other violin teacher, Anton Kollmann, who was the ballet répétiteur of the Vienna Court Opera, also wrote excellent testimonials for him. Armed with these, he approached the Viennese authorities to apply for a license to perform. He initially formed his small orchestra where he recruited his members at the Zur Stadt Belgrad tavern, where musicians seeking work could be hired easily.

Johann Strauss the Elder’s influence over the local entertainment establishments meant that many of them were wary of offering the younger Strauss a contract for fear of angering the father. Strauss the Younger was able to persuade the Dommayer’s Casino in Hietzing, a suburb of Vienna, to allow him to perform. The elder Strauss, in anger at his son’s disobedience, and at that of the proprietor, refused to ever play at the Dommayer’s Casino again, which had been the site of many of his earlier triumphs. Strauss made his debut at Dommayer’s in October 1844, where he performed some of his first works, such as the waltzes “Sinngedichte”, Op. 1 and “Gunstwerber”, Op. 4 and the polka “Herzenslust”, Op. 3. Critics and the press were unanimous in their praise for Strauss’s music. A critic for Der Wanderer commented that “Strauss’s name will be worthily continued in his son; children and children’s children can look forward to the future, and three-quarter time will find a strong footing in him.”

Despite the initial fanfare, Strauss found his early years as a composer difficult, but he soon won over audiences after accepting commissions to perform away from home. His first major appointment was the honorary position of “Kapellmeister of the 2nd Vienna Citizen’s Regiment”, which had been left vacant following Joseph Lanner’s death two years before.

Vienna was wracked by the revolutions of 1848 in the Austrian Empire and the intense rivalry between father and son became much more apparent. Johann the Younger decided to side with the revolutionaries. It was a decision that was professionally disadvantageous, as the Austrian royalty twice denied him the much coveted ‘KK Hofballmusikdirektor’ position, which was first designated especially for his father in recognition of his musical contributions. Further, the younger Strauss was also arrested by the Viennese authorities for publicly playing “La Marseillaise”, but was later acquitted. The elder Strauss remained loyal to the monarchy, and composed his “Radetzky March”, Op. 228 (dedicated to the Habsburg field marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz), which would become one of his best-known compositions.

When the elder Strauss died from scarlet fever in Vienna in 1849, the younger Strauss merged both their orchestras and engaged in further tours. Later, he also composed a number of patriotic marches dedicated to the Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef I, such as the “Kaiser Franz-Josef Marsch” Op. 67 and the “Kaiser Franz Josef Rettungs Jubel-Marsch” Op. 126, probably to ingratiate himself in the eyes of the new monarch, who ascended to the Austrian throne after the 1848 revolution.

Strauss eventually surpassed his father’s fame, and became one of the most popular waltz composers of the era, extensively touring Austria, Poland and Germany with his orchestra. In 1853, due to constant mental and physical demands, Strauss suffered a breakdown. He took a seven-week vacation in the countryside in the summer of that year, on the advice of doctors. Johann’s younger brother Josef was persuaded by his family to abandon his career as an engineer and take command of Johann’s orchestra in the interim. In 1855, Strauss accepted commissions from the management of the Tsarskoye-Selo Railway Company of Saint Petersburg to play in Russia for the Vauxhall Pavilion at Pavlovsk in 1856. He would return to perform in Russia every year until 1865.

Later, in the 1870s, Strauss and his orchestra toured the United States, where he took part in the Boston Festival at the invitation of bandmaster Patrick Gilmore and was the lead conductor in a “Monster Concert” of over 1000 performers, performing his “Blue Danube” waltz, amongst other pieces, to great acclaim.

Strauss was diagnosed with pleuropneumonia, and on June 3, 1899 he died in Vienna, at the age of 73. He was buried in the Zentralfriedhof. At the time of his death, he was still composing his ballet Aschenbrödel.

As a slight detour from music I would like to take a little time to talk about fathers and sons. In particular, I find it almost incomprehensible that Strauss Elder should be so jealous of the success of his son that he would virtually disown him. I have been an anthropologist all of my career, and I certainly had no wish for my son to follow in my footsteps. I, obviously, did not beat him as a boy if I caught him reading books about other cultures, but I did not want him to go through the strains of life in academia as an anthropologist. I was, therefore, quite delighted when he went to college to study for two degrees: one in trumpet performance, and the second in experimental physics. It came as a complete shock to me when he announced at the end of his second year that he had switched majors at the end of his second year and was intent on graduating in anthropology.  Since then he has progressed by leaps and bounds, and I fully expect him to surpass me as a scholar. I collaborate with him on papers and publications, and see no problem with encouraging him to excel. What was Strauss Elder’s problem? As it happens, the fame of his son has outshone him. When most people, at least outside of Austria, think of the name Strauss they think of the Blue Danube, and even though Strauss Elder popularized the waltz in Vienna, it was Strauss Younger who codified the form (and the polka) and had all Vienna dancing. Why should this not be a source of pride for the father rather than of resentment? When my son publishes his first book, I will be the first to buy the champagne.

I have written so many posts about Vienna and Viennese celebrities that finding a new recipe from Vienna is a challenge. Perhaps you can choose one I have given already, or else you can try Frittatensuppe, a beef broth with sliced thin pancakes.

Mar 142018

Today is the birthday (1804) of Johann Strauss the Elder known widely for his waltzes, marches and other dance music. Strauss was born in Leopoldstadt (now in Vienna). Strauss’s parents, Franz Borgias Strauss (October 10, 1764 – April 5, 1816) and Barbara Dollmann (December 3, 1770 – August 28, 1811), were innkeepers. His mother died of ‘creeping fever’ when he was 7, and 5 years later his father drowned in the Danube – possibly a suicide.

Strauss’s guardian placed him as an apprentice to the bookbinder, Johann Lichtscheidl. Strauss took lessons in the violin and viola in addition to fulfilling his apprenticeship. Contrary to a story, later told by his son Johann the Younger, Strauss successfully completed his bookbinder apprenticeship in 1822. He also studied music with Johann Polischansky during his apprenticeship and eventually managed to secure a place in a local orchestra, headed by Michael Pamer. Strauss left the orchestra to join a popular string quartet known as the Lanner Quartet, formed by his would-be rivals Joseph Lanner and the Drahanek brothers, Karl and Johann. This string quartet which played Viennese waltzes and rustic German dances expanded into a small string orchestra in 1824.

Strauss became deputy conductor of the orchestra to assist Lanner in commissions after it became popular during the Fasching of 1824, and Strauss was soon placed in command of a second smaller orchestra which was formed as a result of the success of the parent orchestra. In 1825, he decided to form his own band and began to write music (chiefly, dance music) for it to play after he realized that he could also possibly emulate the success of Lanner in addition to putting an end to his financial struggles. By so doing, he would have made Lanner a serious rival although the rivalry did not entail hostile consequences as the musical competition was very productive for the development of the waltz, as well as other dance music in Vienna.

Strauss soon became one of the best-known and well-loved dance composers in Vienna. During the carnival of 1826, Strauss inaugurated his long line of triumphs by introducing his band to the public of Vienna at the Schwan in the suburb of Roßau where his Täuberln-Walzer (Op. 1) at once established his reputation. He toured with his band to Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Britain. The conducting reins and management of this Strauss Orchestra would eventually be passed on to the hands of his sons until its disbandment by Eduard Strauss in 1901.

On a trip to France in 1837 he heard the quadrille and began to compose them himself, becoming largely responsible for introducing that dance to Austria in the 1840 Fasching, where it became popular. It was this trip which established Strauss’s popularity with audiences from different social backgrounds and paved the way to forming an ambitious plan to perform his music in England for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838. Strauss also adapted various popular melodies of his day into his works so as to ensure a wider audience, as evidenced in the incorporation of the Oberon overture into his early waltz, “Wiener Carneval”, Op. 3, and also the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” into his “Paris-Walzer”, Op. 101.

Strauss married Maria Anna Streim in 1825 in the parish church of Liechtenthal in Vienna. The marriage was relatively unhappy due to his prolonged absences caused by frequent tours abroad which led to a gradual alienation. They had seven children; Johann, Josef and Eduard Strauss, the last of whom had a son called Johann Strauss III. Strauss Sr. also had two daughters, Anna, who was born in 1829, and Therese, who was born in 1831. His third son, Ferdinand, born in 1834, lived only ten months.

The family home was called ‘Hirschenhaus’ but was better known in Vienna as the ‘Goldener Hirsch’ (The Golden Stag). Strauss was a strict disciplinarian and demanded that none of his sons pursue careers in music, despite their display of musical ability. Johann the Younger was to study banking, likewise his brother Josef Strauss was destined for a military career, whereas the youngest Eduard Strauss was expected to join the Austrian consulate.

By 1834 Strauss had taken a mistress, Emilie Trampusch, with whom he had 8 children. When her husband openly acknowledged his paternity of a daughter born to Emilie in 1844, Maria Anna sued for divorce. With the ending of the marriage Anna Strauss determined to further Johann the Younger’s musical career, allowing him to develop his skills as a composer.

Despite family problems, Strauss the Elder continued to tour frequently and was always prepared to write novelty pieces for numerous charitable organizations. His waltzes were gradually developed from a rustic peasant dance into one which posterity would recognize as the Viennese Waltz. They were written in 3/4 time with a short introduction; often with little or no reference to the later chain of the five two-part waltz structure; usually appended with a short coda and concluded in a stirring finish. His son Johann expanded the waltz structure and used more instruments than his father. While he did not possess the musical skills of his eldest son, nor a business mind as astute, he was among the handful of early waltz composers along with Joseph Lanner to actively write pieces with individual titles — with the view to boost sales of their sheet music — which enabled music enthusiasts to easily recognize those pieces. In fact, during his performances at the Sperl-Ballroom in Vienna, where he established his name, he actively pursued the concept of collecting a fixed entrance fee from the patrons of the ballroom instead of the old practice of passing around a collection plate where income was reliant on the goodwill of the patrons.

Johann the Younger often played his father’s works and openly declared his admiration of them, although it was no secret to the Viennese that their rivalry was intense, with the press at that time fueling it. Johann the Elder refused to play ever again at the Dommayer’s Casino, which offered his son his conducting debut, and was to tower over his son during his lifetime in terms of career advancement, although the Younger was to eclipse him in terms of popularity in the classical repertoire. In 1846, Strauss the Elder was awarded the honorary title of K.K. Hofballmusikdirektor (Director of Music for the Imperial and Royal Court Balls) by Emperor Ferdinand I.

Strauss died in Vienna on September 25, 1849 at the age of 45 from scarlet fever contracted from one of his illegitimate children. He was buried at the Döblinger cemetery beside his friend Joseph Lanner. In 1904, both of their remains were transferred to the graves of honor at the Zentralfriedhof. Hector Berlioz himself paid tribute to the ‘Father of the Viennese Waltz’ by commenting that “Vienna without Strauss is like Austria without the Danube”.

Strauss’s most famous piece is undoubtedly the Radetzky March. When it was first played in front of Austrian officers in 1848, they spontaneously clapped and stamped their feet when they heard the chorus. This tradition, with quiet rhythmic clapping on the first iteration of the melody, followed by thunderous clapping on the second, is kept alive today by audience members who know the custom when the march is played in classical music venues:

I have given no end of Viennese recipes in previous posts because Vienna was a center for music, art, and politics for a great many years. I am not likely to run out any time soon, but you will have to decide with classic Viennese pastries, tortes, or strudels are what you want for today, or something else. I will give you Kaiserschmarrn or Kaiserschmarren (Emperor’s Mess) is a shredded pancake, which takes its name from the Austrian emperor (Kaiser) Franz Joseph I. Kaiserschmarren is a light, caramelized pancake made from a sweet batter using flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and milk, baked in butter. Kaiserschmarren can be prepared in different ways. When making Kaiserschmarren the egg whites are usually separated from the yolk and beaten until stiff; then the flour and the yolks are mixed with sugar, and the other ingredients are added, including: nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or small pieces of apple, or caramelized raisins and slivered almonds. The last-mentioned ingredients (nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or small pieces of apple, or caramelized raisins and chopped almonds) are not in the original recipe but made by some cooks based on their personal preferences. In the original recipe, as in mine, there are only raisins soaked in rum. Kaiserschmarrn is traditionally served with a fruit compote or berry preserves, and you can also add whipped cream.



6 eggs
350–400 ml milk
180–200 g finely ground flour
3 tbsp crystallized sugar
2 tbsp raisins
8 gm vanilla sugar
grated lemon rind
50 g butter (for frying)
1 tbspn butter shavings and crystallized sugar (for caramelizing)
icing sugar and cinnamon (for dusting)


Place the raisins in a bowl and cover with rum. Leave to soak several hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350˚F/180˚C.

Separate the eggs and place the yolks in a mixing bowl. Pour in the milk, flavor with grated lemon rind (to taste) and the vanilla sugar, and add the flour. Mix to form a smooth dough.

Beat the egg whites with the crystallized sugar and a small pinch of salt until they form firm peaks. Fold the beaten egg whites into the dough mix.

Place the butter in one large, or two small heatproof dishes and place them over medium heat to melt the butter. Pour in the dough mix and after the dough has begun to solidify scatter the rum-soaked raisins over the top. Cook the underside until light brown, turn over using a spatula and bake for about 6 minutes in the pre-heated oven until golden brown. Remove from the oven

Tear the cooked pancake into small pieces, using two forks. Scatter the butter shavings over the top, sprinkle with some crystallized sugar, and caramelize under the broiler on high heat.

Remove from the broiler and arrange on pre-heated plates. Dust with icing sugar and cinnamon. Serve with berry preserves or fruit compote.

May 232017

On this date in 1829 Cyrill Demian (1772–1849) received an official patent from the Vienna patent office for a new instrument he called an accordion. Thus, he is generally credited with the invention. A few give credit to Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann (who also claims to have invented the harmonica) but there is no evidence for either claim apart from a few jottings that Buschmann himself made. His claim to have invented the harmonica is clearly false because they were on sale in Austria 3 years before he says he invented the instrument. Demian is our man.

Cyrill Demian was an Armenian from the Romanian city of Gherla (ancient Armenopolis) who moved to Vienna and worked as an organ and piano maker, with his two sons Karl and Guido, in Mariahilfer Straße No. 43 in Vienna. His new instrument was a modification of the Handäoline, comprising a small manual bellows and five keys. As noted in his own description and patent application, the instrument was what we now call a push-pull accordion, that is it produced a different note on each key depending on whether the bellows were pushed or pulled. Five keys would give a few notes more than an octave in a diatonic scale and major chords would be easy to produce.

His description is translated here from the original German:

Its appearance essentially consists of a little box with feathers of metal plates and bellows fixed to it, in such a way that it can easily be carried, and therefore traveling visitors to the country will appreciate the instrument.

It is possible to perform marches, arias, melodies, even by an amateur of music with little practice, and to play the loveliest and most pleasant chords of 3, 4, 5 etc. voices after instruction.

1st – In a box 7 to 9 inches long, 3½ inches wide and 2 inches high, feathers of metal plates are fixed, which were known for more than 200 years as Regale, Zungen, Schnarrwerk, in organs.

2nd – With bellows fixed to the above box and its 5 claves fixed below, even an amateur of music can play the loveliest and most moving chords of 3, 4 and 5 voices with very little practice.

3rd – Each claves or key of this instrument allows two different chords to be heard, as many keys are fixed to it, double as many chords can be heard, pulling the bellows a key gives one chord, while pushing the bellows gives the same key a second chord.

4th – As this instrument can be made with 4, 5 and 6 or even more claves, with chords arranged in alphabetical order, many well known arias, melodies and marches, etc. may be performed similar to the harmony of 3, 4 and 5 voices, with satisfaction of all anticipations of delicacy and vastly amazing comfort in increasing and decreasing sound volume.

5th – The instrument is of the same size as the attached illustration, with 5 claves and 10 chords, not heavier than 32 to 36 Loth [1 Loth = approx. 16 gm], only if there are more chords will it become longer and some Loths heavier, so it is easy and comfortable to carry and should be a welcome invention for travelers, country and parties visiting individuals of both sexes, especially as it can be played without the help of anybody.[1]

With the cover of the bellows, the entire instrument may be doubled, in order to play more chords or more single tones, in this case, keyboard, the bellows remain in the middle, while each hand controls in turn, either the claves or the bellows.

The above-mentioned duplication of the instrument or adding more chords, would not make anything better to anybody, or give something new, as only the parts would increase, and the instrument more expensive and heavier. The instrument costs 12 to 16 Marks the difference in price results in a more elegant or worse-looking appearance.

From humble beginnings a welter of different kinds of accordions came forth. Many more right hand (treble) keys were added, as were left hand (bass) keys. More reeds (what are called “feathers” here) made richer sounds which could be added or subtracted via stops (equivalent of organ stops), and so forth.

In the 19th century the accordion eventually supplanted the fiddle as the staple instrument for dance music in northern Europe, because of the relative ease of playing in comparison with the fiddle.  Accordion reeds are permanently tuned, so it is hard/impossible to play out of tune, and the arrangement of the keys makes production of major chords very simple. If it is tuned in C major, for example, the first 3 keys played together by pushing the bellows produce the notes C E G (the tonic major chord).

Here’s a video of John Spiers trying out a new push-pull accordion, called a melodeon in England. John is the son of a very old friend of mine, and is quite well known in the English folk scene. I played this kind of instrument for many years, but have retired and do not own one any more – otherwise I would give you a sample of my own playing.

Because Demian was Armenian I’ll choose an Armenian recipe to celebrate him even though the accordion was born in Vienna.  I’ve given plenty of Viennese recipes and precious few Armenian ones. Lamb and bulgar are classic Armenian ingredients, so here’s a lamb meatball dish that involves both. You can think of the meatballs as lamb stuffed with lamb. The influence of Indian cuisine should be obvious to those who know kofta.




1 lb ground lamb
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
½ cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted and chopped
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp mint leaves finely chopped
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp dried basil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Outer layer

1½ lb lamb, finely ground
¾ cup fine bulgur, soaked 20 minutes in water and drained
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To cook

4 pints chicken stock
olive oil


For the filling, sauté the lamb in a skillet over medium-high heat with a trace of olive oil. When thoroughly browned add the onions, green pepper and parsley and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Add the spices and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 more minutes, then place in a bowl and chill thoroughly.

Chill completely.

To finish and cook, mix the outer layer ingredients together in a food processor. You want this outer layer to be light and fluffy, so mix well so that air is incorporated.

Shape the filling into balls the size of walnuts.

Shape the outer layer into round patties that are large enough to wrap around the filling. Place one ball of filling inside the outer layer, and then wrap the outer layer around the filling so that it is completely and evenly covered. Sorry, this takes practice.

Bring the stock to a simmer in a large stock pot. Add the meatballs a few at a time, cover and simmer for about 8 to 10 minutes. When they are cooked the meatballs will rise to the surface.

You can serve the kufta in some broth, or with plain boiled rice and yoghurt.

Apr 222016


Today is the birthday (1884) of Otto Rank, Austrian psychoanalyst, writer, and teacher. Born in Vienna as Otto Rosenfeld, he was one of Sigmund Freud’s closest colleagues for 20 years, a prolific writer on psychoanalytic themes, an editor of the two most important analytic journals of his day, managing director of Freud’s publishing house and a creative theorist and therapist. In 1926, after a break with Freud, Rank left Vienna for Paris. For the remaining 14 years of his life, Rank had a successful career as a lecturer, writer and therapist in France and the United States. Unlike Freud, Rank’s is not a household name, but it ought to be. His work is arguably more influential nowadays than Freud’s is.

In 1905, at the age of 21, Otto Rank presented Freud with a short manuscript on the artist, a study that so impressed Freud he invited Rank to become Secretary of the emerging Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Rank thus became the first paid member of the psychoanalytic movement, and Freud’s general assistant for almost 20 years. Freud considered Rank, with whom he was more intimate intellectually than his own sons, to be the most brilliant of his Viennese disciples.

Encouraged and supported by Freud, Rank (who had attended a vocational high school), completed the “Gymnasium” (college-preparatory high school), attended the University of Vienna, and completed his Ph.D. in 1911. His thesis, on the Lohengrin Saga, was the first Freudian doctoral dissertation.


Rank was one of Freud’s six collaborators brought together in a secret “committee” or “ring” to defend the psychoanalytic mainstream as disputes with Adler and then Jung developed. Rank was the most prolific author in the “ring” besides Freud himself, extending psychoanalytic theory to the study of legend, myth, art, and other works of creativity. He worked closely with Freud, contributing two chapters on myth and legend to later editions of The Interpretation of Dreams. Rank’s name appeared underneath Freud’s on the title page for many years. Between 1915 and 1918, Rank served as Secretary of the International Psychoanalytical Association which Freud had founded in 1910. Everyone in the small psychoanalytic world understood how much Freud respected Rank and his prolific creativity in expanding psychoanalytic theory.

In 1924, Rank published Das Trauma der Geburt (translated into English as The Trauma of Birth in 1929), exploring how art, myth, religion, philosophy and therapy were illuminated by separation anxiety in the “phase before the development of the Oedipus complex..”  But there was no such phase in Freud’s theories. For Freud the Oedipus complex was the nucleus of neurosis and the foundational source of all art, myth, religion, philosophy, therapy – indeed of all human culture and civilization. It was the first time that anyone in the inner circle had dared to suggest that the Oedipus complex might not be the supreme causal factor in psychoanalysis. Rank was the first to use the term “pre-Oedipal” in a public psychoanalytic forum in 1925.

After some hesitation, Freud distanced himself from The Trauma of Birth, signaling to other members of his inner circle that Rank was perilously close to anti-Oedipal heresy. “I am boiling with rage,” Freud told Sándor Ferenczi then Rank’s best friend. Confronted with Freud’s decisive opposition, Rank resigned in protest from his positions as Vice-President of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, director of Freud’s publishing house, and co-editor of Imago and Zeitschrift. Ferenczi, with whom Rank had collaborated from 1920 through 1924 on new experiential, object-relational and “here-and-now” approaches to therapy, vacillated on the significance of Rank’s pre-Oedipal theory but not on Rank’s objections to classical analytic technique.


Rank was the first to see therapy as a learning and unlearning experience. Rank saw the therapeutic relationship as allowing the patient to: (1) learn more creative ways of thinking, feeling and being in the here-and-now; and (2) unlearn self-destructive ways of thinking, feeling and being in the here-and-now. For him, patterns of self-destruction (“neurosis”) represent a failure of creativity not, as Freud assumed, a retreat from sexuality.

Rank’s psychology of creativity has recently been applied to action learning, an inquiry-based process of group problem solving, team building, leader development and organizational learning. Transformative action learning, synthesized by Robert Kramer from Rank’s writings on art and spirituality, involves real people, working on real problems in real time. Once a safe space is created by an executive coach, questions allow group members to “step out of the frame of the prevailing ideology,” as Rank wrote in Art and Artist, reflect on their assumptions and beliefs, and reframe their choices. The process of “stepping out” of a frame, out of a form of knowing – a prevailing ideology – is analogous to the work of artists as they struggle to give birth to fresh ways of seeing the world, perspectives that allow them to see aspects of the world that no artists, including themselves, have ever seen before. The heart of transformative action learning, as developed by Kramer, is asking powerful questions to promote the unlearning or letting go of taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs.

Rank believed that the most creative artists, such as Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Leonardo, know how to separate even from their own greatest public successes, from earlier artistic incarnations of themselves. Their “greatness consists precisely in this reaching out beyond themselves, beyond the ideology which they have themselves fostered.” Through the lens of Rank’s work on understanding art and artists, transformative action learning can be seen as the never-completed process of learning how to “step out of the frame” of the ruling mindset, whether one’s own or the culture’s – in other words, of learning how to unlearn.


Comparing the process of unlearning to the “breaking out” process of birth, Rank was the first psychologist to suggest that a continual capacity to separate from “internal mental objects” – from internalized institutions, beliefs and neuroses; from the restrictions of culture, social conformity and received wisdom – is the sine qua non for lifelong creativity. In a 1938 lecture, Rank said:

Life in itself is a mere succession of separations. Beginning with birth, going through several weaning periods and the development of the individual personality, and finally culminating in death – which represents the final separation. At birth, the individual experiences the first shock of separation, which throughout his life he strives to overcome. In the process of adaptation, man persistently separates from his old self, or at least from those segments off his old self that are now outlived. Like a child who has outgrown a toy, he discards the old parts of himself for which he has no further use ….The ego continually breaks away from its worn-out parts, which were of value in the past but have no value in the present. The neurotic [who cannot unlearn, and, therefore, lacks creativity] is unable to accomplish this normal detachment process … Owing to fear and guilt generated in the assertion of his own autonomy, he is unable to free himself, and instead remains suspended upon some primitive level of his evolution.

I would, perhaps, be a little less optimistic in my view of the world because, in my experience, people don’t unlearn enough, often enough. Many people stay trapped in conventional modes of thought, and follow routines that are not productive, and do not make them happy, because they are afraid to let go. One of my common mantras in life is – “your comfort zone is your enemy.”


So let’s break out a little with the Viennese version of goulash. Goulash came to Austria from Hungary when Vienna was the cultural center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but was changed in the process. The Wiener Saftgulasch is now a fixture on Viennese menus. A variation of the Wiener Saftgulasch is the Fiakergulasch, which is served with a fried egg, fried or boiled sausage, pickle and either dumplings (Semmelknödel) or potatoes. This goulash is just meat and onions plus seasonings that have been cooked until the meat is very tender. It is best made the day before and then reheated. Sacher sausage is Vienna sausage, similar to frankfurters. Traditionally the recipe used lard or dripping for frying. You can vary the proportions of sweet and hot paprika to suit your taste. And . . . if you are a good student of Rank you will not make the dish the same way twice.



1 kg stewing beef, cut in cubes
4-6 eggs
4-6 pickled gherkins
2-3 pairs Sacher sausages
750 g onions, peeled and sliced coarsely
⅔ cup cooking oil
2 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp hot paprika
3 cloves garlic, bruised and minced
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp marjoram
2 bay leaves
1 tsp caraway seeds, chopped
¼ cup vinegar
freshly ground pepper
butter (for frying eggs)


Heat the oil in a deep oven-proof pot and fry the onions over medium heat until golden brown, stirring and turning regularly. Add the paprika powder and tomato paste, stir, and quickly pour in the vinegar and a little water. Add the cubed meat with salt and pepper to taste to the pot. Stir in the garlic, marjoram, bay leaves and caraway, and pour in enough water so that the meat is covered. Stir, and simmer on medium heat, semi-covered, for about 2 1/2 hours. Stir from time to time, and add water as needed. When the meat is very tender, take the pot off the stove and place it in a moderately-warm oven (120°C) for about 1 hour. Refrigerate overnight.

Next day, reheat the goulash and check the seasoning. Heat water for the sausages and simmer gently for about 5 minutes (or fry them in a little oil). Heat the butter in a pan, and fry the eggs. Slice the gherkins in the shape of a fan.

Serve the goulash on warmed plates. Place the fried eggs on top of the goulash, and one sausage on the side. Garnish with gherkins. Serve with dumplings or boiled potatoes and dark rye bread.

Serves 4-6

Jul 142015


Today is the birthday (1862) of Gustav Klimt, an Austrian symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement. Klimt is noted for his paintings, murals, sketches, and other objets d’art. Klimt’s primary subject was the female body, and his works are marked by a frank eroticism. In addition to his figurative works, which include allegories and portraits, he painted landscapes. Among the artists of the Vienna Secession, Klimt was the most influenced by Japanese art and its methods. In the 1960s and ‘70s several of his paintings from his “Golden Phase”, including The Kiss and Judith I, were popular as posters (I had several in my student rooms). They are instantly recognizable.


Early in his artistic career, he was a successful painter of architectural decorations in a conventional manner. As he developed a more personal style, his work was the subject of controversy that exploded when the paintings he completed around 1900 for the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna were criticized as pornographic. He subsequently accepted no more public commissions.


Klimt was born in Baumgarten, near Vienna in Austria-Hungary His mother, Anna Klimt (née Finster), had an unrealized ambition to be a musical performer. His father, Ernst Klimt the Elder, formerly from Bohemia, was a gold engraver. He lived in poverty while attending the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule), where he studied architectural painting until 1883. He revered Vienna’s foremost history painter of the time, Hans Makart, and readily accepted the principles of a conservatory training so that his early work may be classified as academic. In 1877 his brother, Ernst, who, like his father, would become an engraver, also enrolled in the school. The two brothers and their friend, Franz Matsch, began working together and by 1880 they had received numerous commissions as a team that they called the “Company of Artists”. They also helped their teacher in painting murals in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Klimt began his professional career painting interior murals and ceilings in large public buildings on the Ringstraße, including a successful series of “Allegories and Emblems”.


In 1888 Klimt received the Golden Order of Merit from Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria for his contributions to murals painted in the Burgtheater in Vienna. He also became an honorary member of the University of Munich and the University of Vienna. In 1892 Klimt’s father and brother Ernst both died, and he had to assume financial responsibility for their families. The tragedies also affected his artistic vision and soon he moved towards a new personal style. Characteristic of his style at the end of the 19th century is the inclusion of nuda veritas (nude truth) as a symbolic figure in some of his works, including Ancient Greece and Egypt (1891), Pallas Athene (1898) and Nuda Veritas (1899). In the early 1890s Klimt met Emilie Louise Flöge (a sister of his sister-in-law) who was to be his companion until the end of his life. His painting, The Kiss (1907–08), is thought to be an image of them as lovers. He designed many costumes she created and modeled in his works. During this period Klimt fathered at least fourteen children.


Klimt became one of the founding members and president of the Wiener Sezession (Vienna Secession) in 1897, and also co-founder of the group’s magazine, Ver Sacrum (“Sacred Spring”). He remained with the Secession until 1908. The goals of the group were to provide exhibitions for unconventional young artists, to bring the works of the best foreign artists to Vienna, and to publish its own magazine to showcase the work of members. The group declared no manifesto and did not set out to encourage any particular style—Naturalists, Realists, and Symbolists all coexisted. The government supported their efforts and gave them a lease on public land to erect an exhibition hall. The group’s symbol was Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of just causes, wisdom, and the arts—of whom Klimt painted his radical version in 1898.


In 1894, Klimt was commissioned to create three paintings to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna. Not completed until the turn of the century, his three paintings, Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence were criticized for their radical themes and material, and were called “pornographic”. Klimt had transformed traditional allegory and symbolism into a new language that was more overtly sexual and hence more disturbing to some.The public outcry came from all quarters—political, aesthetic and religious. As a result, the paintings were not displayed on the ceiling of the Great Hall. All three paintings were destroyed by retreating SS forces in May 1945.  Although his work was publicly decried, the Nazis stole a large number of his paintings whose ownership since the 1990s has been in dispute.


His Nuda Veritas (1899) defined his bid to further shake up the establishment. The starkly naked red-headed woman holds the mirror of truth, while above her is a quotation by Friedrich Schiller in stylized lettering, “If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, please only a few. To please many is bad.”

In 1902, Klimt finished the Beethoven Frieze for the Fourteenth Vienna Secessionist exhibition, which was intended to be a celebration of the composer and featured a monumental polychrome sculpture by Max Klinger. Intended for the exhibition only, the frieze was painted directly on the walls with light materials. After the exhibition the painting was preserved, although it was not displayed again until 1986. The face on the Beethoven portrait resembled the composer and Vienna Court Opera director Gustav Mahler.


During this period Klimt did not confine himself to public commissions. Beginning in the late 1890s he took annual summer holidays with the Flöge family on the shores of Attersee and painted many of his landscapes there. These landscapes constitute the only genre aside from figure painting that seriously interested Klimt. In recognition of his intensity, the locals called him Waldschrat (“Forest demon”).

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Klimt’s ‘Golden Phase’ was marked by positive critical reaction and financial success. Many of his paintings from this period include gold leaf. Klimt had previously used gold in his Pallas Athene (1898) and Judith I (1901), although the works most popularly associated with this period are the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907–08).

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Klimt traveled little, but trips to Venice and Ravenna, both famous for their beautiful mosaics, most likely inspired his gold technique and his Byzantine imagery. In 1904, he collaborated with other artists on the lavish Palais Stoclet, the home of a wealthy Belgian industrialist that was one of the grandest monuments of the Art Nouveau age. Klimt’s contributions to the dining room, including both Fulfillment and Expectation, were some of his finest decorative works, and as he publicly stated, “probably the ultimate stage of my development of ornament.”

In 1905, Klimt created a painted portrait of Margarete Wittgenstein, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s sister, on the occasion of her marriage. Then, between 1907 and 1909, Klimt painted five canvases of society women wrapped in fur. His apparent love of costume is expressed in the many photographs of Flöge modeling clothing he had designed.


As he worked and relaxed in his home, Klimt normally wore sandals and a long robe with no underwear. His simple life was somewhat cloistered, devoted to his art, family, and little else except the Secessionist Movement. He avoided café society and seldom socialized with other artists. Klimt’s fame usually brought patrons to his door and he could afford to be highly selective. His painting method was very deliberate and painstaking at times and he required lengthy sittings by his subjects. Although very active sexually, he kept his affairs discreet and he avoided personal scandal.

Klimt wrote little about his vision or his methods. He wrote mostly postcards to Flöge and kept no diary. In a rare piece called “Commentary on a non-existent self-portrait”, he states “I have never painted a self-portrait. I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women… There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night… Who ever wants to know something about me… ought to look carefully at my pictures.”


Because Vienna was a major center of the arts in the 18th and 19th centuries, I have had cause to showcase Viennese dishes on many occasions. For Klimt I have chosen Tafelspitz, boiled beef, which is very popular in Austria even though it is really quite prosaic in some ways. It was the favorite of emperor Franz-Josef. The rudiments are to take a good piece of stewing beef, usually top round, place it in a large pot of beef or veal stock, bring slowly to a gentle simmer, skim periodically, and let cook (partially covered) for 2 to 3 hours until the meat is very tender. If you like you can add potatoes and leeks to the pot in the last 45 minutes to serve as an accompaniment. Otherwise, Tafelspitz is served with horseradish and apple sauce (sometimes sour cream). Without them this is just another boiled beef dish: they make it.

Dec 222013


On this date in 1808 Ludwig van Beethoven held a mammoth concert at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. The program consisted entirely of pieces by Beethoven, which he conducted, and featured the premieres of his Fifth Symphony, Sixth Symphony, and Choral Fantasy (with Beethoven at the piano). The concert was over four hours long and was quite the event in a number of ways.  Let me take you through the events beginning with the enormous struggle Beethoven had to get the concert organized at all.

The concert was designed as a benefit to provide Beethoven with money to live on. He had been struggling financially for years.  Many musicians found comfortable lives with wealthy patrons, but not all.  Even Mozart, who had many patrons over his life, had financial troubles and did not die a rich man despite his enormous output of work.  This was a mere 17 years before Beethoven’s concert.  Beethoven might have had more patrons were it not for the fact that he refused to ingratiate himself with the rich and famous.  Rather, he quite willfully shunned and embarrassed them even though they sought him out.  He was definitely a celebrity in his day, but a difficult one.


It took Beethoven almost two years to get the necessary permissions to go ahead with the concert.  In order to get them he had to offer his services for free to the producers of other concerts, primarily organized to benefit the poor.  He also had to navigate the treacherous waters of concert hall and orchestra scheduling.  His letters concerning his efforts to book the Theater an der Wien are preserved and reveal the problems he had.  In them Beethoven shifts from polite requests to threats and abusive language, using friends as intermediaries and complaining of his frustrations to them. To some extent his frustrations were understandable; he had given the necessary services for free in order to secure a promise of the hall and orchestra in return.  But in doing so he frequently alienated people with his erratic behavior and irascible personality.   So he would find himself being made an offer one day only to have it withdrawn the next.  One of the most often quoted passages from these letters is this from a letter to court secretary Heinrich Joseph von Collin in March 1808 venting his wrath over continual postponements by theater director Joseph Hartl:

Tomorrow I’ll go see Hartl myself.  I was there once but he wasn’t home – I am so vexed that all I want is to be a bear so that every time I lifted my paw I could knock down one of the so-called great — — asses.

Beethoven continued his correspondence well into autumn 1808 and did not get a firm answer until the beginning of December 1808, leaving him very little time for rehearsal.  Not only that, he was not in good odor with the theater orchestra following a benefit concert of November 15, 1808.  His biographer and friend Ferdinand Ries tells us that the rank and file of the orchestra got so furious at Beethoven’s behavior in rehearsal at that time that they refused to play for him.  Instead he had to listen in an anteroom, and the substitute conductor would go back there to get rehearsal notes from Beethoven every so often.  Furthermore, despite seemingly ingratiating efforts he could not get the theater’s soprano Pauline Anna Milder to sing for him. Beethoven had had an argument with her husband previously.  In a letter to the tenor Joseph August Röckel he writes:

Dear Röckel,  do your job well with Milder – tell her merely that already today, you are asking her in my name that she will not sing elsewhere.  Tomorrow, I will come, myself, to kiss the hem of her garment . . .

This was all to no avail, requiring Beethoven to find an alternate who was not up to the task, as we shall see.


In general, therefore, the setting was not good.  The hall was unheated, hence freezing cold, the orchestra was under-rehearsed and barely on speaking terms with Beethoven, and, in the case of the final piece, the Choral Fantasy, the orchestra members were receiving some of their parts on the morning of the performance (folklore has it that the ink was still wet).  Here is the original program:

The Sixth Symphony

Aria: “Ah, perfido”

The Gloria movement of the Mass in C major

The Fourth Piano Concerto (Beethoven as soloist)


The Fifth Symphony

The Sanctus and Benedictus movements of the Mass in C major

A solo piano improvisation played by Beethoven

The Choral Fantasy (Beethoven as soloist)

On paper it sounds like a musician’s dream come true. Three of the pieces – the two symphonies and the choral fantasy – were premieres, the latter being a piece that evolved into the 4th movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. But, in reality, it was undoubtedly exhausting.  Not much is noted about the initial reception of these pieces, but eyewitness accounts note some of the failings of the concert.  The chief newspaper review of the time reported:

To judge all these executed pieces is, after the first and only hearing, particularly since these are works by Beethoven, of which so many have been performed in one session and most of which are great and long–nearly impossible. However, all the more, I will refrain from brief, inconsequential remarks that could well be made, since we hope that you soon will be able to hear them yourself and will convey to the readers of the Musical. Zeit. your opinion of them, and since many of them will soon be published.  However, as far as the execution of this academy concert is concerned, it could be considered lacking in all respects.  While Dem. Killitzky [the substitute soprano] has a very pleasant voice, she did not let us hear many secure notes, and often even false ones.  However, this seemed to be more a result of her shyness that, with time, she will lose.  Most noticeable, however, was the error that occurred in the last Fantasy. The wind instruments varied the theme, which before, Beethoven had played on the piano.  Now it was the oboes’ turn.  The clarinets–if I am not mistaken!–miscounted and set in at the same time.  A peculiar mix of tones emerged; B. jumped up and tried to silence the clarinets, however, he did not succeed until he called out quite loudly and rather angrily to the orchestra:  Silence!  This will not do!  Once more–once more! and the praised orchestra had to accommodate him and play the unfortunate Fantasy again, from the beginning–!   The effect of all of these pieces on the mixed audience, and particularly of the pieces of the second section, obviously suffered from the amount and the length of the music.  Moreover, it is known that, with respect to Vienna, it holds even more true than with respect to most other cities, what is written in the scriptures, namely that the prophet does not count for anything in his own country.

After the concert the orchestra refused to play for Beethoven any more, but, as ever, was eventually persuaded to relent.

On the 200th anniversary in 2008 there were some attempts to re-create the concert, usually by radio stations using recordings, but though this seems like an obvious and reverent homage, as an anthropologist it seems to me like a merely mechanical exercise robbed of all relevant context.  What was it like to be huddled in furs for four hours listening to masterpieces for the first time? What in blazes was Beethoven thinking when he conceived of such a monster performance? What was the atmosphere like in the theater (remember that Viennese audiences of the time were not always quiet – Beethoven is on record as stopping performances on several occasions to hush the audience)?  What was it like to see Beethoven in action? Audiences sometimes treated Beethoven as a clown of sorts, amused by his antics, especially when playing the piano. It is an impossible scene to imagine now.

As it turns out, coming up with a recipe for today’s celebration was easier than I thought.  Beethoven had a favorite dish.  But I’ll get to that.  His eating habits were commensurate with his behavior in all other aspects of his life.  He usually ate his main meal of the day at lunch time – quite common in those days – and rarely ate much afterwards because he was preoccupied with his work.  One restaurant incident is recorded by Ries:

One day we were dining at the Swan; the waiter brought him the wrong dish. Beethoven had scarcely said a few choice words about it, which the waiter had answered perhaps not quite so politely as he should, when Beethoven laid hold of the dish (it was so-called “Lugenbratel” {a type of Roast beef} with lots of sauce) and flung it at the waiter’s head. The poor fellow still had on his arms a large number of plates containing various dishes (a dexterity which Viennese waiters possess to a high degree) and could do nothing to help himself; the sauce ran down his face. He and Beethoven shouted and cursed at each other, while all the other guests laughed out loud. Finally Beethoven began laughing at the sight of the waiter, who lapped up with his tongue the sauce that was running down his face, tried to go on hurling insults, but had to go on lapping instead, pulling the most ludicrous faces the while, a picture worthy of Hogarth.

On another occasion:

Once Beethoven dropped in to a restaurant to have dinner, but as he was very absent-minded he forgot what he actually came there for. He was asked by a waiter a few times what he would like to order but he didn’t pay any attention to that. After an hour Beethoven called the waiter and asked him:

– How much do I pay?

– Sir, you haven’t ordered anything yet and I would like to ask you what I can do for you?

– O, just bring whatever you want and leave me alone!

Ries also reports that in general Beethoven favored fish over meat and was partial to pollock and potatoes. But his favorite dish of all time was macaroni and cheese.  At first this may strike you as incongruous, but baked macaroni (or pasta) and cheese has a very long history going back at least to the 14th century.  The famous medieval French cookbook, The Forme of Cury, gives the following:

Take and make a thynne foyle of dowh and kerve it on peces, and cast hem on boillyng water & seeþ it wele. take chese and grate it and butter cast bynethen and above as losyns. and serue forth.

[Take and make a thin layer of dough and cut it in pieces and put them in boiling water and boil it well. Take cheese and grate it and butter placed beneath and above in layers and serve it forth]

This would be rather like a layered pasta, butter, and cheese casserole, and is the basis for most recipes since.  The only main variation is to make a cheese béchamel instead of simply butter and cheese.  Ries specifically notes that Beethoven liked his pasta with Italian cheese, which would mean Parmesan. Beethoven’s dish would have been oven baked.


I am not sure what else to say except make mac and cheese today.  I don’t see one recipe as being much different from another. I would, however, recommend that you do it properly, that is cook the macaroni to almost al dente, mix it with a rich cheese béchamel, and bake it in an earthenware casserole uncovered until the top is crusty and golden.

Perhaps I should also add that Beethoven preferred expensive Hungarian red wines with his meals.