A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Ach, Du Lieber Augustin

30 May 2014

When we think of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras, our minds are drawn to feasts, fairs, festivals . . . and then there was the ubiquitous Black Death.

This devastating pandemic, called the "Great Plague," peaked in Europe in the years 1346–53, but recurred until the 19th century, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people.

One of the later epidemics of this disease in central Europe included the Great Plague of Vienna in 1679, and it is this outbreak that concerns our blog entry today.


Dance of Death, [also known as Totentanz (German), Danse Macabre (French), or Danza Macabra (Italian)] (1493) by Michael Wolgemut, from the Liber chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel



Marx Augustin

In 1679, when Vienna was ravaged with the Plague, there was a well-known ballad singer and bagpiper by the name of Marx Augustin (1643–1685 or 1705), who toured the city's inns entertaining his audience.  Because the Viennese loved his appealing humor, he was known as "Der Liebe Augustin [the dear Augustin]” and eventually became  most celebrated for the song “Ach, du lieber Augustin [O, you dear Augustin].”


Statue of Marx Augustine on Augustinplatz


Curiously, and this has no relevancy to the topic whatsoever, if the earlier death date is accurate, Augustin died about a week-and-a-half before Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Germany.

According to the legend, the minstrel was on his way home after performing and he fell asleep in a gutter.  The gravediggers who were making their rounds mistook poor Augustin for a dead man.  They collected him along with his presumably infected bagpipes and threw them into a pit of plague victims outside the city walls.

The next day, some air that had remained in his instrument’s  bag began to escape, which awakened Augustin.  He found himself under a pile of corpses and was unable to extricate himself.

He struggled and eventually located the chanter of his instrument.  Soon he began, from underneath the pile of bodies, to do what he knew best: inflate his Dudelsack (bagpipe] and let his instrument sing.

When passersby began to hear some tentative sounds emanating from the heap of bodies — it was the plaintive sound of his musical instrument — they gathered to listen more closely.  Soon Augustin was rescued.

And, although the balladeer had been buried in a pile of plague-ridden corpses, he survived and "Ach, Du Lieber Augustin” became a symbol of hope for the people of Vienna.


The Griechenbeisl

One of the venues at which Augustin performed was the Griechenbeisl, on Fleischmarkt 11 in Vienna, which is still in operation today. 




The Griechenbeisl's underground entrance


A dining room at the Griechenbeisl




Griechenbeisl decoration


The name — Griechenbeisl, “the Greek inn” — derives from the fact that the restaurant is located next to the Griechenkirche [Greek Orthodox Church].


The Griechenkirche


Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and even Mark Twain were patrons at this restaurant.  The place still has a rustic ambience and serves traditional Austrian fare.


On the ceiling the Griechenbeisl are various proverbs, such as this one about a louse.



The Song



The tune to “Ach, du lieber Augustin”



The Text of the Song

Considering that Augustin was an improvisatory poet — not to mention the many centuries that have intervened since his time — there are several extant versions of the song that come down to us today.  Here is one version:


Ach, du lieber Augustin

(Oh You Dear Augustin)


Ach, du lieber Augustin,
O, you dear Augustin,
Augustin, Augustin,
Augustin, Augustin,
Ach, du lieber Augustin,
O, you dear Augustin,
alles ist hin.
All is lost!
Geld ist weg, Mensch ist weg,
Money's gone, people are gone,
Alles hin, Augustin.
All is lost, Augustin!
Ach, du lieber Augustin,
O, you dear Augustin,
Alles ist hin.
All is lost!
Rock ist weg, Stock ist weg,
Coat is gone, staff is gone,
Augustin liegt im Dreck,
Augustin lies in the dirt.
Ach, du lieber Augustin,
O, you dear Augustin,
Alles ist hin.
All is lost!
Und selbst das reiche Wien,
Even that rich town Vienna,
Hin ist's wie Augustin;
Broke is like Augustin;
Weint mit mir im gleichen Sinn,
Shed tears with thoughts akin,
Alles ist hin!
All is lost!
Jeder Tag war ein Fest,
Every day was a feast,
Und was jetzt? Pest, die Pest!
Now we just have the plague!
Nur ein groß' Leichenfest,
Just a great corpse's feast,
Das ist der Rest.
That is the rest.
Augustin, Augustin,
Augustin, Augustin,
Leg' nur ins Grab dich hin!
Lie down in your grave!
Ach, du lieber Augustin,
O, you dear Augustin,
Alles ist hin!
All is lost!

Text and melody: Marx Augustin (1679)

Since Augustin’s time, the tune has been used in a variety of contexts.  Johann Nepomuk Hummel composed Variations for Orchestra on "O du lieber Augustin" in C major (S 47, WoO 2).

Arnold Schönberg quoted “Ach, du lieber Augustin” ironically in the second movement of his String Quartet No. 2 just a month before his marital crisis.  Curiously, it was at this point in his career that Schönberg abandoned tonality.

The Scottish  song, “Did You Ever See a Lassie?” is set to the same tune, as is the Dutch Sinterklaas song, “Daar wordt aan de deur geklopt.”

Last, in a Three Stooges short film, the song is featured humorously when Moe  accidentally swallows a harmonica.  He produces different notes depending on where Larry and Curly poke him, rendering the entire song.


An Austrian postage stamp featuring Augustin






The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (Austria)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

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