Post by Amber Murray
The Viennese like coffee.
It’s never a good idea to deal in generalities, it’s true, especially when discussing the culture of a people, but this one is pretty solid. The Viennese opened their first coffeehouse in the 1680s, and it has been a staple of Viennese culture ever since. As a matter of fact, UNESCO listed Viennese coffeehouse culture as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage” for Austria back in 2011, so saying that Vienna loves its beans is not beyond the pale.
Vienna has given us gorgeous coffee blends, some fantastic coffee drinks (coffee with an egg yolk and honey, anyone?), and an entire culture revolving around those ground beans and the drinking thereof. It also gave us music. Vienna gave us Haydn, Salieri, and Albrechtsberger.
Because of those composers, Vienna gave us Beethoven.
Yes, Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn. He began his musical studies in Germany, published his first work there, and taught his first students there. It was in Germany that he learned piano, organ, violin, and viola; on the cusp of turning 19, he was earning a living as a violist in two orchestras – a move necessary as his mother’s death and father’s drinking made it necessary for the young man to become head of the family.
When he was 21, Ludwig did something that changed the course of his life. He moved to Vienna, and he began studying with Haydn, Salieri, and Albrechtsberger. His relationship with his teachers wasn’t always smooth, especially with Haydn, but there’s no doubt that what he learned from these greats shaped him into a musician and composer that he might never have become without them. Like Salieri, he was a transplant, grown in other soil before putting down roots in Vienna, and the city changed him in profound ways, offering fertile ground that allowed his talents to blossom.
When Beethoven arrived in Vienna, he recorded in his journal a shopping list. On that list, right after “wig maker”, was listed “coffee”. He recorded having coffee with Haydn. He even, in a letter to piano maker and fellow composer Nanette Streicher, noted that coffee, along with sugar and cash, were used to bribe his servants (Ludwig had custody of his nephew Karl, and Karl’s mother would bribe the servants to allow her to see the young man.).
In 18th and 19th century Vienna, coffeehouses, like most other institutions, were divided by class. Beethoven was a commoner; however, as his star rose he became the darling of the aristocrats, and therefore had access that crossed class lines. Even as his growing hearing loss caused him to isolate socially more and more, the “conversation books” that he had to resort to in order to converse with friends note time spent in Vienna’s many cafes.
There’s even a legend that Beethoven, despite being a notoriously bad cook, had an obsessive method for preparing coffee. It’s said he considered 60 beans to be the exact amount to make the perfect cup, and he would count them himself before grinding them and preparing the beverage in a glass coffee pot. This is the man who rehired his cook the same day he fired her, since he couldn’t figure out how to work his own stove, so take the legend with a grain of salt, but it makes for a good story. It would also have made for a hell of a strong cup of coffee; since the beans were unprocessed beyond roasting and grinding, there would probably have been enough caffeine in that cup to make your heart explode. Symphonia Coffee’s special edition roast, Beethoven’s 250th Anniversary Roast, won’t make your heart explode. Your tastebuds, yes – not your heart.
So, in this, the 250th year since Ludwig’s birth, make yourself a good cup of coffee (Symphonia Coffee’s Beethoven’s 250th Anniversary Roast is the obvious choice, and you won’t be disappointed), listen to some of the most sublime music ever heard this side of heaven (Symphony No.3 In E Flat, Op.55 – Eroica changed the world, and everyone needs to hear it, or Piano Sonata No.30 In E, Op.109, which is nothing short of rapture), and raise your cup to the complicated man who wrote that music. It’ll be some of the most fulfilling time you’ll spend this year.