I woke to the sound of the famous theme from Schubert’s incidental music for the play Rosamunde, a tune to which a friend had been taught a rhyme in grade school that was supposed to help kids fix the theme and its creator in their minds:

Franz Peter Schubert,
Kind and gentle spirit,
Wrote with his quill pen
Melodies like these.

A performance (rather slow for my taste) by the Neue Orchestra under Christoph Spering:

This little melody will take us far afield, eventually to the “Beer Barrel Polka” and the brewpubs of San Francisco.

Musical mnemonics. Every so often, people decide to provide words for themes from classical music, for the education and entertainment of children. And now there’s the group Beethoven’s Wig. From Wikipedia:

Beethoven’s Wig is a vocal group that sings lyrics written to the greatest hits of classical music. Created by lyricist, lead singer and producer Richard Perlmutter, the group has been a featured performer with numerous symphony orchestras. Beethoven’s Wig has recorded four albums.

Their first album, from 2002:


“Beethoven’s Wig” is a setting of the beginning of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, beginning “Beethoven’s Wig / Is very big” (the short-short-short-long motif).

The play Rosamunde. From Wikipedia:

Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern (Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus) is a play by Helmina von Chézy, which is primarily remembered for the incidental music which Franz Schubert composed for it. Music and play premiered in Vienna’s Theater an der Wien on 20 December 1823.

The incidental music is D. 797 (Op. 26) — 797 in Otto Erich Deutsch’s catalogue of Schubert’s works, with an opus number provided by the original publisher — and the relevant section is

#5. Entr’acte No. 3 in B♭ major (Andantino) … one of the two best-known pieces in the score. The main theme was used again in the Impromptu [for piano] in B♭, Op. 142 (D. 935), No. 3. Schubert used an almost identical theme in the second movement of his String Quartet in A minor, D 804.

Here’s a performance of the “Rosamunde Variations” impromptu by Yeol Eum Son (from the Van Cliburn competition in 2009):

The German song “Rosamunde”. Another occurrence of the woman’s name, in a song we know in English as “The Beer Barrel Polka”. It has a complex history. From Wikipedia:

Beer Barrel Polka, also known as The Barrel Polka and Roll Out the Barrel, is a song which became popular worldwide during World War II. The music was composed by the Czech musician Jaromír Vejvoda in 1927. Eduard Ingriš wrote the first arrangement of the piece, after Vejvoda came upon the melody and sought Ingriš’s help in refining it. At that time, it was played without lyrics as Modřanská polka (“Polka of Modřany”). Its first text was written later (in 1934) by Václav Zeman – with the title Škoda lásky (“Wasted Love”).

The polka became famous around the world. In June 1939, “Beer Barrel Polka”, as recorded by Will Glahé, was #1 on the Hit Parade. This version was distributed by Shapiro Bernstein. Glahé’s earlier 1934 recording sold many copies in its German version Rosamunde (it is possible the reason for the rapid spread was due to the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany, and subsequent emigration of thousands of Czechs to other parts of the world, bringing this catchy tune with them). The authors of the English lyrics were Lew Brown and Wladimir Timm. Meanwhile, the song was recorded and played by many others such as Andrews Sisters in 1939, Glenn Miller Orchestra, Benny Goodman, Bobby Vinton, Billie Holiday, and Joe Patek. who sold over a million copies of his album “Beer Barrel Polka.”

[… two of many notes from popular culture:] The song became a signature song of well-known entertainer Liberace.

Since the 1970s, it (usually the Frankie Yankovic version) has been played during the seventh inning stretch at Milwaukee Brewers baseball games, as well as becoming one of the state of Wisconsin’s unofficial state songs as it is also played at numerous University of Wisconsin sporting events, as well as Green Bay Packers home games, and Milwaukee Panthers basketball games, including after every home win.

Ok, some German versions. First, “Rosamunde”, sung by soprano Nadja Golowtschuk (with wonderful flower photos as backdrop):

And then  a beefier version of “Rosamunde” from André Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra, with baritone Heino singing:

On to English versions, where there oh so many to pick from. But I think my favorite is the early Andrews Sisters:


(I have a fondness for girl groups and a low tolerance for accordions.)

Ok, one more: a very young Liberace, having a grand old time playing the song, lit up in smlies and throwing out extravagant “hand-jumps”, and meanwhile tachnically superb.

The Rosamunde Sausage Grill. Pulling up these Rosamunde sites led me to a San Francisco “Bar & Grill – Beer Garden – Gastropub”, the Rosamunde Sausage Grill, with five locations: the Mission in SF, the Haight in SF, downtown Oakland, Temescal in Oakland, and the East Coast outpost, in Willliamsburg, Brooklyn. The place is rich in both craft beers and sausages (standard ones and inventive ones).

I’m guessing that the name Rosemunde comes from the “Beer Barrel Polka”, but I can’t find a source that sheds light on its naming, so that’s just a guess. But with sausages we are in the realm of phallic symbols — both for the sausages on their own, as in this display of the place’s wares:


and also in its logo:


and in the image of a sausage charmer it uses on the shirts it sells:


(sausage as symbolic penis, snake as symbolic penis, and flute as symbolic penis — a triple-header, so to speak).

3 Responses to “Rosamunde”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    One of your very best intellectual rambles!

    The verse for Rosamunde you began with looks like a Sigmund Spaeth mnemonic. Spaeth wrote these catchy little verses to help people remember classical music themes. (They were the lifeblood of college students struggling through music appreciation courses back in my day.)

    The trouble with Spaeth mnemonics is that you can never listen to the piece of music again without thinking of the mnemonic. I only know two of them – for Schubert’s 8th and Mozart’s 40th – and I’ve made very sure I didn’t learn any more of them.

  2. Bob Richmond Says:

    I’m sure the Sigmund Spaeth book is still easy to lay hands on. Don’t even TOUCH it!

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