On October 12, 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Teresa in Munich. It was a joyous occasion and the citizens of Munich were invited to partake in some festivities later that week, including a 30-horse race in the fields in front of the city gates.
A newly built grandstand was filled with 40,000 people. Just before the race 16 pairs of children dressed in costume paraded before the Prince and the royal family. A student choir performed following the race. To honor the bride, the fields were later renamed “Theresienwiese” (Teresa’s meadow) although today locals have shortened the name to “Wiesn.”
The public enjoyed the celebrations so much that it was decided that they would be repeated the next year with the addition of an agricultural exhibit. As the Oktoberfest grew in popularity in following years other activities were added, including everything from tree climbing to bowling alleys to carnival booths.
The one thing most of us associate with Oktoberfest celebrations today – beer drinking – didn’t happen until 1892 when beer in mugs was served at some of the food booths. In recent years up to 6.5 million liters of beer are drunk in Germany around Oktoberfest. A common phrase used to get everyone to begin drinking is “Eins, Zwei, Drei, G’suffa!” (one, two, three, drink!)*
Old folk tunes and drinking songs are traditionally sung at Oktoberfest celebrations, which are now held around the world. My research didn’t find any “classical music” specifically written about Oktoberfest, but there are a couple of classical pieces that fit the bill, at least “in spirit.” At the top of Act 2 in Bedrich Smetana’s comic opera The Bartered Bride the villagers join in a song “To pivecko!” (To Beer!), which begins with: “Beer’s no doubt a gift from heaven, it chases away worries and troubles, and imports strength and courage to men.”
Sigmund Romberg’s operetta The Student Prince also featured a beer drinking song. Although he wasn’t cast in the movie, the voice you hear is that of tenor Mario Lanza!
Although there is no official Oktoberfest in Munich this year as pandemic concerns continue, there’s nothing that says you can’t celebrate on your own here at home. So grab a bratwurst and raise a stein to Ludwig and Teresa! Prost! (cheers!)
*CODA: I found a recording of the song that usually kicks off every Oktoberfest!