Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: What Day is Today?

World Cocktail Day advertisement
World Cocktail Day! Whoever wrote the copy for this notice was clearly well into their third, perhaps fourth cocktail

We recognize May 13th as being, among other “days” here in the United States, National Frog Jumping Day, Leprechaun Day, International Hummus Day, National Crouton Day, and – wait for it – World Cocktail Day!

National Days, Weeks, and Months!

Who creates these damned things?

We’ll get to that in a moment.  But first, let’s distinguish between a national holiday and a national day (or week or month).

In the United States, national (or “federal”) holidays are designated by Congress and/or the President.  There are presently a total of ten national/federal holidays, meaning that federal employees get to take the day off.  However, anyone can declare a national day (or week or month).  The trick is getting enough people to buy into the “day” that it actually gains some traction and has some meaning.  Such national days are created by advocacy groups; lobbying groups; industry groups; government bodies; even individuals.

A different sort of “cocktail” day, May 13 is also National Fruit Cocktail Day!
A different sort of “cocktail” day, May 13 is also National Fruit Cocktail Day!

According to the “National Day Calendar,” today, May 13, 2024, is – along with those “days” listed at the top of this post – National Women’s Checkup Day; National Fruit Cocktail Day; and National Apple Pie Day.  May 13 of this year is also the first day of Bike to Work Week; of Dementia Awareness Week; Water Savings Week; American Craft Beer Week; National Salvation Army Week; National Stationary Week; and National Smile Month.

I am oh-so-tempted to call this list of promotional idiocy, well, idiocy.  But that today is both World Cocktail Day and the first day of American Craft Beer Week has gratefully given us the hook for both today’s Music History Monday post and tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post: the drinking habits of some of our favorite composers, and drinking songs we should all know (and love).

A Disclaimer and a Necessary, Pre-emptive Point

First the disclaimer.  While I like my dry, gin martinis as much as the next guy – hell, probably a lot more than the next guy – I am in no way promoting the consumption of alcohol in this post, especially in excess.  Rather, as is my usual m.o., my goal is to render as human as I can composers who are otherwise pedestalized and, as such, de-humanized.

And now the necessary point. Today, some of us tend to be very judgmental about the regular consumption of alcohol.  And no wonder: given its potentially addictive nature and sometimes adverse effects on our bodies, moods, and minds, it is – for many people – nothing less than poison.  But for most of us it is a great pleasure in a life otherwise in short supply of such.

Now please: in the centuries prior to the twentieth, alcoholic beverages were more than merely recreation fluids but lifesavers as well, as the dearth of clean drinking water necessitated the consumption of far more alcohol than many of us, today, would consider healthy.  But given the choice, say, between a mug of ale or a pilsner glass of cholera-infected water, I do believe every one of us would choose the ale every time.

There’s a tendency, then – today – to call all sort of historical figures “alcoholics,” despite the fact that the word and the concept behind it only came in to being in 1852.  Today, we can read that Mozart was an alcoholic, Beethoven was an alcoholic, Schubert was an alcoholic; Liszt, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, etc.: all alcoholics.

Please.

Drinkers? Yes.  But we must (and will) be careful about who we call an “alcoholic,” especially if they lived at a time when alcoholic beverages were among the only safe ways to consume fluid.…

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