Reverse glass painting: Bänkelsänger
Bänkelsänger mit Frau und ländlichem Publikum (Bänkelsänger with woman and rural townspeople), verre eglomisé by Cornelius Suter the Younger, circa 1790-1800
Schweizerisches Landesmuseum, Zurich / Wikimedia Commons


What does a Bänkelsänger have to do with a bench? Stories in music, word and image

Do not murder and death, fire and desolation, sufficiently abound, but that every mountebank must repeat such horrors?  The worthy people like to be alarmed, that they may afterward enjoy the delightful sensation of freedom and security.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Novelle, 1828 (English version translated by Thomas Carlyle and R. D. Boylan, 1883)

Bänkelsänger were important colporteurs of news. They spread political news and reported on natural disasters, but also told entertaining and sensational tales of horror and murder. To be seen and heard better by the crowd, they would stand on wooden benches.

The singers plied their trade at markets and fairs, telling their stories using large pictures (Bänkel plaques) as aids. At the end, the Bänkelsänger would present the moral of the story to the musical accompaniment of a barrel organ. The singers also earned their living through the sale of cheap booklets in which the performed stories and Moritaten, or murder ballads, were printed.