Top Five Serenades to Food
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
Like the still life in painting, composers have been honoring food well before Telemann wrote his Tafelmusik, or table music, in the early 18th century. The relationship between what we hear and what we eat has grown even closer it seems over the past few years. There has been an opera cookbook, pairings of concerts and four-star meals, and even a salad composed to Mozart.
On Nov. 9, Mirror Visions Ensemble adds to the list with Concert a la Carte. The evening features the premier of know thy farmer, a song cycle inspired by and based on the menu at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant. Here are top 5 at 105 other works certain to whet the palate:
1 Rossini, a renown gourmand whose love for foie gras and truffles inspired dishes such as Tournedos Rossini, was also inspired in turn by his food. In the twilight of his career, he wrote several short works known collectively as the Péchés de vieillesse (or the Sins of Old Age). One of those was a piano work dedicated to some tasty treats: Quatre Hors d’Oeuvres (radishes, anchovies, cornichons, butter) et Quatre Mendiants (figs, almonds, raisins, and hazelnuts).
2. Opera features several calls to the dinner table and toasts, but few are as enticing as Johann Strauss’s “Ein Souper heut uns winkt,” the Act II opening chorus from Die Fledermaus. The guests sing “a supper is before us, like one we’ve never seen.” For the Act II finale, Strauss toasts, the beverage of toasts, Champagne, the king of wines, and later uses the Champagne as a scapegoat for the characters’ transgressions.
3. In ETA Hoffman’s original telling of The Nutcracker, Clara and her Prince defeat the mouse king, and travel to the land of the dolls. In his ballet, Tchaikovsky instead introduced the couple to one Sugar Plum Fairy and sent them to the Land of the Sweets. In several versions, including the Balanchine one performed at New York City Ballet, all the characters who dance to entertain the couple represent a sugary delight such as hot chocolate, candy canes and marzipan all take turns dancing.
4. In between writing the operas Die Frau ohne Schatten and Intermezzo, Richard Strauss composed Schlagobers, which he described as a "Comic Viennese Ballet." The work, featuring Princess Pralinee and Prince Cocoa, was a pastry-fueled and pastry-filled hallucination. Unfortunately for Strauss, post-World War I Vienna did not embrace this ballet about overindulging in sweets. However, the ballet’s import in Strauss’s development has been cited in recent articles and biographies of the composer.
5. In 1885, Camille Saint-Saëns gave as a wedding present to his pianist friend, Caroline Montigny-Remaury, a small work for piano and strings. He titled the light-hearted piece “Wedding Cake." The waltzing playful melody became popular so around Paris, Saint-Saëns felt it compromised his reputation as a serious composer.