Carousing for St. Martin

(This is a Mary, Queen of Scots Not Dead Yet posting — the best I can do on yet another terrible Sick Day — but it will have the virtue of being complete, not a promise of things to come.)

It’s Armistice Day (in the US, Veterans Day), solemnly following on the solemn anniversary of Kristallnacht, but it’s also (as Hana Filip just reminded me) the feast day of St. Martin of Tours: St. Martin’s Day, which has its serious saintly side — St. Martin and the beggar in rags — but is, as well, a day of wild revelling, initiating the winter season. An occasion that, ultimately, inspired a piece of music that is just sheer noisy unbridled fun: the Wine Chorus from Haydn’s The Seasons (aka “Juhe! Der Wein ist da!” from Die Jahreszseiten).

Saint Martin and his day. From Wikipedia:

Saint Martin’s Day or Martinmas, sometimes historically called Old Halloween or Old Hallowmas Eve, is the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours and is celebrated in the liturgical year on 11 November. In the Middle Ages and early modern period, it was an important festival in many parts of Europe, particularly Germanic-speaking regions. In these regions, it marked the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter and the “winter revelling season”. Traditions include feasting on ‘Martinmas goose’ or ‘Martinmas beef’, drinking the first wine of the season, and mumming. In some German and Dutch-speaking towns, there are processions of children with lanterns (Laternelaufen), sometimes led by a horse back rider representing St Martin. The saint was also said to bestow gifts on children. In the Rhineland, it is also marked by lighting bonfires.

Martin of Tours (died 397) was a Roman soldier who was baptized as an adult and became a bishop in Gaul. He is best known for the tale whereby he cut his cloak in half with his sword, to give half to a beggar who was dressed in only rags in the depth of winter. That night Martin he had a vision of Jesus Christ wearing the half-cloak.

The serious side of St. Martin’s Day, as depicted by El Greco:


From Wikipedia:

Saint Martin and the Beggar [Sp. San Martín y el mendigo] is a painting by the Greek mannerist painter El Greco, painted c. 1597–1599, that currently is in the collection of The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. It depicts a legend in the life of Christian saint Martin of Tours: the saint cut off half his cloak and gave it to a beggar.

The celebratory side of St. Martin’s Day, as depicted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day (c. 1565–1568):


And sung about in Haydn’s Wine Chorus, which you can listen to here: the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Wiener Singverein, conducted by Karl Böhm, in a 1967 recording (with illustrations from art). Juhe!


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