Pretzels for Oktoberfest!

Well it isn’t Oktoberfest without a Bavarian pretzel – the tasty golden brown salty treat is iconic. If you’re like us, you’re too intimidated to make them from scratch…but thanks to a friend of the SSO we found out it’s easier than we thought.

Educator, author, and illustrator Peter Cowan helped us build our kids show Little Ludwig (released in just a few weeks!), and now he’s helping us learn how to make delicious Bavarian pretzels. We’re grateful that he let us invade his home to learn how to make amazing pretzels!



  • 3/4 cup milk, lukewarm
  • 1/2 cup water, lukewarm
  • 1 1/2 tsp brown sugar or malt extract
  • 2 1/2 tsp instant or active dry yeast
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp table salt


  • 4 cups water
  • 3 Tbsp baking soda


  • 2 Tbsp coarse salt (we used Maldon salt as we find it works the best)


1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment combine lukewarm milk, water, and brown sugar. Stir together with a fork then sprinkle instant (or active dry) yeast on top. Give it a swirl with the fork and let sit for about 5 minutes until foamy.

2. In the meantime melt the butter over low heat, then let cool for a few minutes.

3. Add flour, melted butter, and salt to the bowl with the yeast and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover bowl with plastic wrap put it in a warm place and let the dough rise until doubled (about 1 hour).

4. Punch down the dough and divide it into 8 equally sized pieces. Roll each piece into a 16-inch (40cm) long rope, the middle part (about 2 inches or 5 cm) should be bulged to a diameter of about 1.2 inches and the ends should be thinned out to about 0.3 inches (0.75 cm).

5. Bring the ends together so the dough forms a circle. Twist the ends together twice then fold them down onto the bottom curve. Press ends into the dough and shape into a perfect pretzel shape.

6. Let the pretzels rise uncovered for 30 minutes in a warm place.

7. In the meantime preheat the oven to 390°F (200°C) with a baking sheet inside in the lower third.

8. Once the pretzels have risen, put them next to an opened window so the surface dries out and the pretzels develop a skin. This step is important for the texture.

9. Bring 4 cups water in a medium pot to a boil then add the baking soda. With a slotted spoon dip the pretzels one at a time carefully into the simmering water.

10. Take them out after about 5 seconds and place on a sheet of parchment paper.

11. Sprinkle with a little bit of salt and cut the dough with a sharp knife about 0.2 inches deep in the thick middle part at the top-back.

12. Transfer the parchment paper with the pretzels onto the hot baking sheet in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes until nicely browned. You want them to be really brown and not golden.

13. Remove pretzels from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. If you want them to be shiny brush them with a little bit of melted butter.


Make sure you plan for some mustard or cheese dip to go with them – click for dip ideas

Give it a try – its not too hard!
Making these soft pretzels and enjoying a beer is the ultimate way to enjoy the SSO’s Night at Oktoberfest



What’s with all the clapping for Radetzky

The year was 1848. Revolution shook Europe with wave after wave of civil unrest. Territories then occupied by the Austrian Empire (and today a part of Italy) decided to make a push for independence. The Imperial-Royal Army (led by Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz) was having none of that guff and was dispatched to quell the uprising.

Gathering near Verona on the 24th of July, Field Marshal Radetzky’s troops defeated the army of the Kingdom of Sardinia in the Battle of Custoza. The Italians, fearing more bloodshed, had no choice but to agree to a truce with the Austrian Empire. It is against this imperialistic backdrop that Johann Strauss Sr. drummed up his Opus 228: a march commissioned to honor the 81-year-old Radetzky and the Imperial-Royal Army while benefiting wounded war veterans at their victory celebration in Vienna.

The city hosted this bombastic gathering on the 31st of August, 1848, and Field Marhsal Radetsky arrived in full military dress to greet the throngs of people who had come to celebrate his decisive victory. His personal courage on the field of battle, especially at such an advanced age, had cemented his reputation among the men he commanded. When someone in their 80’s risks being stuck on the end of a bayonet after refusing to succumb to Mediterranean heatstroke, you throw them a party just because.

Johann Strauss Sr

A massive success, the gathering was highlighted by the premier and command repeat performance of Strauss’ Radetzky March. The soldiers present loved Strauss’ composition so much that they began wildly clapping during its first performance to show their approval.

This is a tradition that has been passed down to every audience since then, particularly when the piece is played at the Neujahrskonzert held in Vienna every New Years Day. During performances of the Radetzky March, it is traditional for the audience to clap along with the beat of the second (louder) repetitions of the chorus.

The popularity of the March’s musical structure is owed to two important decisions made by its composer. First, Strauss recycled the theme of his Jubel-Quadrille (Op. 130) for the March. It was a risky move, but ultimately one that paid off. The rousing theme simply functions better in the context of a march, in addition to the fact that most people nowadays forget what a “Jubel-Quadrille” is (or how to spell it).

The second decision Strauss made to guarantee the widespread appeal of his Radetzky March was to copy aspects of the music of Franz Joseph Haydn. The rhythmic upbeat of the Radetzky March is eerily similar to the second theme from the “Allegro” in Haydn’s Symphony No. 100, a piece of music composed nearly 100 years earlier. It goes without saying that if you can copy Haydn and get away with it, you are probably doing something right as a composer (they don’t call him “Papa” Haydn for nothing!).

A memorable passage of Strauss’Radetzky March is its Trio, the inspiration for which the composer derived from an old folk melody with two known titles: “Alter Tanz aus Wien” (Old Dance of Vienna) and “Tinerl-Lied” (Tinerl-Song). In the time of Richard Strauss Sr., a “tinerl” was the name given to any contemporary Viennese song originally composed in 3/4 time. It is said that the soldiers of Field Marshal Radetzky were singing this popular tune as they marched back to Vienna after winning the battle of Custoza, making its partial recapitulation during their victory celebration even more personalized.

How the elder Strauss was able to observe them singing this melody while miles away in Vienna is unknown, but he somehow cottoned on to its importance to the soldiers in Radetzky’s regiment and converted their song into 2/4 time for inclusion in his March. The piece is still lauded today as being one of the finest pieces of music ever penned by Strauss Sr., and it continues to get the hands clapping and the feet stomping to this very day. After all, who doesn’t like to feel like they’re part of a winning team?

You can hear the Radetzky March as part of our Night at Oktoberfest!

Roll out the Barrell – the Beer Barrel Polka

Of the sixty compositions the Czech composer Jaromir Vejvoda left us, none have garnered a more enduring international popularity than his “Beer Barrel Polka”. Known the world over as one of the most popular drinking songs of all time, the “Modřanská Polka” (written in 1927 and titled after the Prague suburb of Modřany where it was debuted) began its life without lyrics. Vejvoda composed the piece after seven years bartending in a pub owned by his uncle, and its immediate success allowed the composer to focus on his music-making full-time. Its first arranger was Eduard Ingriš, whose assistance to Vejvoda was instrumental in refining the polka’s melody.

Jaromir Vejvoda

The Modřanská Polka was an unstoppable hit, with bandleaders across Czechoslovakia enthusiastically encouraging Vejvoda to publish it. After years of playing the song with his own band, Vejvoda published his Modřanská Polka in 1934 under a different title. The polka had been set to lyrics that same year by Polish lyricist Václav Zeman, and a title change was needed to reflect the new version’s pervading theme of unrequited affections: “Škoda lásky”, or “Wasted Love”. When the rights to Vejvoida’s composition were acquired by publishing house Shapiro Bernstein a few years before the Second World War broke out, it was listed under this title.

During the early days of World War II, the melody of Škoda lásky was favored by soldiers on both fronts, regardless of their respective allegiances. In the German language, the polka was retitled yet again (this time as “Rosamunde”) and was recorded by accordionist Will Glahé to great acclaim. It was this version, also distributed by Shapiro Bernstein, which reached the ears of American lyricists Lew Brown and Wladimir Timm. The two were inspired to appropriate Rosamunde into an English drinking song for rousing the Allied troops, even though no incarnation of Vejvoda’s polka makes any reference to drinking beer. While the polka’s opening had originally pined “Škoda lásky, kterou jsem tobě dala” (“A waste of love, the love I’ve given you”), the appropriated American version now trumpeted the now-infamous lyric “Roll out the barrel…”. Why focus on unrequited love when there is beer to drink? It is with this revelation in mind that Brown and Timm set to shaping the version of Vejvoda’s classic that is most widely recognized in pubs and bars today: “The Beer Barrel Polka”.

This version was recorded by some of the biggest names in American music at the time: The Andrews Sisters, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Benny Goodman, Bobby Vinton, Billie Holiday, and Joe Patek. As the war raged on, Allied Troops would take the opportunity between combat to listen to these versions over the Armed Forces Radio broadcasts. The English-speaking soldiers rejoiced at finally having a “complete” version of the polka that they could sing and drink to. Even the stoic General Dwight D. Eisenhower could not help confessing his love for the polka’s newest form. So iconic was this piece of music that each country in which it became a hit argued that one of their citizens had composed it. Only after the war did Vejvoda receive international recognition for his musical work, one that had brought cheer (and beer) to young men fighting on both sides of a global conflict.

The majority of Vejvoda’s compositions are still regularly celebrated and performed in Czechoslovakia, but he never wrote another piece of music that captured the world’s heart quite like the Beer Barrel Polka. A true phenomenon, the song became an anthem of celebration the world over. From a decadent version by caped entertainer Liberace, to the entrance music of pro wrestler Crusher Lisowski, the Beer Barrel Polka has received treatments in twenty languages and is the unofficial theme song for Germany’s annual Oktoberfest celebration. Not unlike that infamous barrel of beer that keeps getting rolled out, Jaromir Vejvoda’s beloved polka rolled away only to roll back again…aged to perfection. 

We play the Beer Barrel Polka as part of our Night at Oktoberfest concert.

The Clarinet Polka has a wild history!

Some fans of folk music may tell you that the Beer Barrel polka is the most famous polka in the world. To that, we say…there is another! The Clarinet Polka (often catalogued as “Klarinett-Polka” or “Klarinettpolka”) is known the world over for possessing one of the most infectious folk melodies ever created. Its upbeat, twirling nature is synonymous with the polka genre, and its simple brilliance has inspired numerous modern renditions. Every clarinetist worth their chops has been inspired to play this at some point in their career. It is odd, then, that (after more than 100 years in existence) the compositional authorship of this beloved tune should still be so hotly contested. The Clarinet Polka is believed to have been written by Polish composer Karol Namysłowski, originally titled “Dziadunio Polka” (after the Polish word for “grandfather”). However, many folk music historians (along with hosts of the popular Polish radio show “Lato z Radiem”, who use the song as an intro to their broadcasts) claim the song was not penned by Namysłowski at all! They insist that the polka in question was composed years earlier in Austria (not Poland) by a composer named A. Humpfat.

Karol Namysłowski

Similar accounts trace this version of the Clarinet Polka (titled “A Hupfata”) to the late 1890s. A vinyl recording of “A Hupfata” was released in 1907 that featured the musical stylings of the Band of the 14th Bavarian Infantry Regiment. This recording preceded Namysłowski’s 1913 copyright of “Dziadunio Polka” (as well as its subsequent 1915 recording in Chicago) by several years. Surely the existence of these records was proof positive that Karol was a folk music thief who somehow pulled off the greatest polka heist of all time…or was he? It turns out that neither the pro-Namysłowski nor the pro-Humpfat camps are exactly spot on in their respective beliefs surrounding the Clarinet Polka’s “true composer”. There was indeed a piece of folk music that resembles the Clarinet Polka as we know and love it today, and its origins can be traced to the end of the 19th century. Composed in today’s Austria (then Bavaria), it was originally titled “Klarinetten Muckl” and appeared printed for the first time in 1906 (in a collection of “Known Songs and Dances” arranged for accordion by Otto Thirsfeld and published by J. Weinberger). A copy of this collection’s first edition can still be viewed at the Austrian National Library in Vienna.

Otto Thirsfeld listed the composer of “Klarinetten Muckl” as “Anonymous”, suggesting that the tune had never belonged to anyone, per se. The missing link to this whole musical mystery can be seen clear as day when translating “Klarinetten Muckl” from standard German into the traditional Bavarian dialect: The song’s title becomes “Ein Gehüpfter” or “Jumping”. Through a linguistic game of Telephone, “Ein Gehüpfter” was morphed into “A Hupfata” by the many labels who recorded the song in its original printed form. Without a definite composer to credit this outrageously popular tune to, certain labels resorted to warping the polka’s altered title even further to make up a name! And so, “A. Humpfat” was born, never having quite existed in the first place. Since no one came forward to copyright what could only be referred to as a “traditional melody” by today’s standards, Namysłowski decided to re-orchestrate the anonymous Bavarian hit for Polish traditional instruments and copyright that piece of music. He had every legal right to do this and drew on his own brilliance as a composer of folk music to introduce the definitive version of the Clarinet Polka to its most enduring fanbase: his native Poland.

The timing and cultural significance of Namysłowski’s rise to fame as a composer cannot be overstated enough. Having attended grade school in Lublin while Poland was still partitioned and under Russian control, he was forbidden to speak his own language or engage in any display of cultural pride. In retaliation for this suppression, and after years of sneaking out of his parents’ home to listen to folk bands at local inns and taverns, Karol graduated from the Warsaw Institute of Music to form the Namysłowski Peasant Orchestra. Based in Zamość, Poland, the band was composed of talented farmers who had learned to play their respective instruments from Karol. Everyone in the group wore traditional Polish cultural dress, as did Karol who served as the group’s bandleader. Karol’s decision to totally embody Polish pride within his group was praised by polka historian Joe Oberaitis, who fondly remarked that “he wrote polkas as nobody else could do it… even supplying [bandmates] with instruments at his own expense! [Karol Namysłowski] literally wore his Polishness – much to the dismay of the authorities – and the countryside

Namysłowski Peasant Orchestra

was filled with the beautiful strains of mazurs, krakowiaks, obereks and of course, a wealth of rousing polka compositions.” After lighting a flame of national pride for the people of Poland, Namysłowski traveled to the United States to establish himself as a composer of international renown. Copyrighting his re-orchestrated “polka chart topper” in 1913, Namysłowski used the Clarinet Polka and its first recording in 1915 to singlehandedly secure the reputation of his band throughout the continental United States.

So it was that, nearly ten years later, the players of the Namysłowski Peasant Orchestra traveled to the United States for one of the biggest international tours in Polish folk music history: 3 months, 80 concerts, spread out over 14 states. Holding their first concert of the tour at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, they were invited to perform at the White House for President Calvin Coolidge. Victor Records jumped at the opportunity to sign the group to its label, and at the conclusion of their tour invited Karol and the musicians of the NPO to make 10 back-to-back records in Camden, New Jersey. Namysłowski didn’t just find a diamond in the rough with the Clarinet Polka. He saw in its simple and repetitive refrain an endless array of opportunities for musical expression, especially for his homeland’s improvisatory folk music traditions. The Namysłowski Peasant Orchestra is still in existence today as the Polish Symphony Orchestra, and although their founder penned hundreds of folk compositions during his long and successful career, none is remembered with more pride by the people of Poland than the (literal) grandfather of all polkas: the Clarinet Polka.

You can hear this played by the SSO on our Night at Oktoberfest concert.