After being captivated by the playing of zither virtuoso Johann Petazmyer, Duke Max would learn and later compose a number of songs for the zither. On occasion, Duke Max could be seen, in disguise, playing the zither for his countrymen while his daughter Sissi passed the hat. The following article, submitted by John Maurath, was published in the The San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin on November 10, 1860, and colorfully details one such episode.
One part, at least, of the glory of Haroun Alraschid is not to become extinct. Among the multitude of German Princes, there are some who have leisure enough to apply their attention to something else than the highest duties of Government. The time of numerous Dukes is not too much occupied to forbid them to cultivate the peaceful arts, nor are they so overwhelmed by the press of business that they cannot mingle occasionally, disguised as plain mortals, among their people. A very pretty incident, illustrative of this, lately happened. In the whole of Bavaria there is nobody that can play the "zither" better than Duke Max. Often his Royal Highness has moved the members of the Munich Court to tears by performing on this singularly plaintive instrument, this national guitar of the German Alps. The Duke is accustomed to spend the summer in the mountains, when, armed with his rifle and the "zither" hung round his shoulders, he delights to roam about in the garb of a common hunter. A short time since, on one of these rambles, he sat down on the trunk of a tree and awakened the echoes of the opposite chain of hills. He fancied himself unobserved, and reveled long in the sweet seconds. At last he stopped.
Immediately some peasants, who had been his secret auditors, stepped forward, and one acting as spokesman, addressed the Duke in the cordial way of the country as follows: "Thou, indeed, canst play it wonderfully; now, come with us, and we will dance to thee in the inn down there. We will pay as much beer for thee as thou canst drink."
"Thank you," replied the Duke, "I am not thirsty, but I shall certainly go with you."
So the Duke accompanied the men, and played for more that two hours in "the inn down there." The peasants and their lasses got out of their senses while dancing to the tunes of their new friend. With the poetical feeling native to the mountaineers of the Alps, they sang, jumped about, and kept up a steady demand for more tunes. The Duke's face beamed with joy, but he grew so tired that ultimately he prepared to leave.
"Thou may'st go," said one of the peasants, "but not till thou hast played the new dance composed by Duke Maximilian; that is the most exquisite piece of music I ever heard; play it, my boy, and I'll give thee twenty-four kreuzers ( about 9d ) for this one dance." The Duke did as he was requested, got his kreuzers, and then bolted.
No sooner had he the door behind him, when one of the peasants made the following speech to his fellows and their partners: -- "My dear comrades! permit me to tell you that you are asses. Every one of you plumes himself on his knowledge of the 'zither,' and none of you while hearing the best player in the land, recognized Duke Max. I did at once."
The peasants, still more delighted with the condescension of their illustrious friend, ran after him, thanked him, and got the promise that he would play for them once more.
"As to the twenty-four kreuzers," the Duke said, "I shall keep them; them: they are all I have ever made by playing my zither."
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