Category Archives: Food

Bach at the table

Bach food

The holdings of the Bachhaus in Eisenach include a polished goblet that was presented to J.S. Bach around 1735; the word VIVAT inscribed on it was meant as an invitation to enjoy a glass of wine.

Sources including letters, pay slips, stipends, and the 1750 catalog of his estate suggest that Bach’s life was sometimes cheerfully informal.  The table of this choral street-singer, organist, cantor, court musician, and municipal music director—whose salary as an employee was, throughout his life, paid not only in money but also in kind (grain, fish, beer, wine, wood)—was abundantly set for his large family and for the many welcome guests, and his comfortable standard of living was provided for on a corresponding scale.

This according to Zu Tisch bei Johann Sebastian Bach: Einnahmen und “Consumtionen” einer Musikerfamilie by Walter Salmen (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2009).

Below, Bach’s jovial Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet (“Bauernkantate”), BWV #212, which includes the encouraging words “Wave if you’re thirsty!”

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Filed under Baroque era, Food

Heavy metal cookbooks

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Heavy metal, a genre once considered a dangerous and transgressive force in popular culture, is now increasingly constructed as a light-hearted source of fun, comedy, and entertainment in a growing number of popular cultural forms.

Nowhere is this development clearer than in the recent phenomenon of the heavy metal cookbook, whereby domestic cookery is (sometimes seriously, sometimes comically) reimagined as part of a metal identity. Such cookbooks reveal not only how transgressive cultural forms can become incorporated and domesticated by the mainstream, but also how transgression can be repurposed to suit the changing lives of music fans as they age.

This according to “Hamburgers of devastation: The pleasures and politics of heavy metal cooking” by Michelle Phillipov (International journal of community music VII/2 [2014] pp. 259–72).

Above, the cover of Hellbent for cooking; below, the members of Warrant discuss a popular dessert with a friend.

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Corn chip music

corn chip music

US patent 7942311, granted 17 May 2011 to George Eapen of Frisco, Texas, describes a  method for identifying sequenced flavor notes in a food product and developing a musical passage that represents or artistically relates to the tasting experience of the flavor notes. The passage is played and listened to concurrently with tasting the food product, thus producing a combined sensory experience.

The document includes data from a panel testing of a salsa verde flavored corn chip, which identified the flavor notes cilantro, tomatillo, lime, and an unspecified “spice flavor”. The inventor explains how these flavor notes can generate musical passages.

Eapen assigned rights to the patent to the corn chip giant Frito-Lay, presumably for its use in their marketing of corn chips.

This according to “Music to your tongue: In a bid for more emotional snacking, Frito-Lay patents culinary theme songs” by Marc Abrahams (BetaBoston 17 July 2014). Above, Eapen’s musical depiction of salsa verde flavor notes (click to enlarge); below, some of his related work for Frito-Lay, with cameos by The Black Eyed Peas.

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Marie-Louise Desmâtins in life and death

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The novel La musique du diable, ou Le Mercure galant devalisé (Paris: Robert le Turc, 1711) describes  the arrival and subsequent activities of Marie-Louise Desmâtins and Lully in Hell; it also recounts events leading up to the soprano’s demise.

In the absence of any historical record of her last days, one might ask whether there could be a modicum of truth in the novel’s reports that Desmâtins had grown so obese that she engaged the finest butcher of the day to remove her fat; that she then mounted a lavish party for which all of the food had been prepared using this fat; at that she died soon thereafter from unknown causes. The reader is assured that she was welcomed to Hell with the highest honors, and that she is happier there than she ever was in her earthly life.

This according to “La musique du diable (1711): An obscure specimen of fantastic literature throws light on the elusive opera diva Marie-Louise Desmatins (fl. 1682–1708)” by Ilias Chrissochoidis (Society for Eighteenth-Century Music newsletter 11 [October 2007] pp. 7–9).

Above, a rather alarmingly corseted Desmâtins in a contemporaneous portrait; below, the final scene of Lully’s Armide, which Desmâtins starred in in 1703 (note that this is not an attempt to replicate the original staging).

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities, Food, Humor, Literature, Opera

Verdi’s pigs

verdi-pig

Archivists at the American Institute for Verdi Studies discovered a document that sheds new light on Verdi’s activity just prior to the composition of his final opera, Falstaff.

A letter from the publisher Giulio Ricordi dated 22 August 1890 congratulates Verdi on the successful launching of a new business devoted to the sale of pork prepared at the composer’s Sant’Agata farm.

Ricordi, having purchased a “G.V. brand” pork shoulder, reports that he found the bill “a bit salty”, but for such exquisite meat he would pay “neither a lira more nor a lira less”.

This according to “New Verdi document discovered” by Martin Chusid (Verdi newsletter XX [1992] p. 23). (The information in this article, delicious as it is, appears to be outdated; see the comment below.)

Today is Verdi’s 200th birthday! Below, in Falstaff’s finale, the opera’s characters prepare to dine together—no doubt anticipating the composer’s own homegrown prosciutto.

Related article: Verdi’s gastromusicology

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Max Reger’s digestion

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The Bavarian composer Max Reger was famous for his appetite. According to his biographer Fritz Stein, he was capable of consuming up to 30 little Bavarian weißwürste or up to 12 Regensburger würste at one go. Such meals needed to be washed down with up to ten liters of beer, but after giving up alcohol while he was living in Meiningen (as conductor of the Hoforchester of Duke Georg II, from 1911 to 1915), he kept up with the sausage habit.

Thus, from a letter to the Duke of 27 May 1912: “Yesterday afternoon we took another walk to the Helenenhöhe, where I sampled the Thuringian Rostbratwürste for the first time, and immediately devoured ten of them, to my wife’s disgust. But they agreed with me extremely well; I worked until ten o’clock last night, woke up fit as a fiddle, and feel fine, although everybody warned me that the bratwurst was too greasy. They were revolted by my drinking cold milk with the ten sausages. I thus brilliantly disproved the old myth that says one has to have alcohol with greasy foods, in the form of schnapps.”

The Duke replied “In the name of God, don’t repeat that Wurstiade very often, if you don’t want to get popped underground or into the crematorium soon. Mass-produced sausages often contain nasty things.”

This according to Über die Lebensgewohnheiten eines Genies by Hans-Joachim Marks (Mitteilungen der Internationalen Max-Reger-Gesellschaft XXI [2012] pp. 23-27).

Today is Reger’s 140th birthday! Below, Hans-Dieter Bauer perform’s Reger’s Humoresque for the left hand alone—presumably composed so he could continue to eat würste with his right hand.

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Filed under Curiosities, Food, Romantic era

Schoenberg’s birthday bash

Today, on Arnold Schoenberg’s birthday, let’s eavesdrop on his 60th birthday party in Los Angeles, as recalled by his student Dika Newlin:

“About an hour after we arrived, the eating and drinking began. There was coffee with whipped cream (lots), six or seven kinds of sandwiches made with cheese, liverwurst, and such good things: whole platefuls of rich little pastries, coffee cake, chocolate raisin cake, peach cake and orange cake.

“This, keep in mind, was just a little light afternoon tea. The real feast of the day, the birthday dinner, hadn’t arrived yet, nor had the birthday drinks, of which more anon. After eating all these good things, we drifted back into the yard.

“At this point, the strictly musical portion of the evening was interrupted by the advent of some more pastries, a bottle of Black and White whiskey (one of several bottles which had been most appropriately brought to the old man in honor of the great day) and some glasses. I tried a little—a very little—of the whiskey, in spite of Uncle Arnold’s merciless twitting. Then…supper was called!

“I waded through a platter of sweetened sauerkraut, frankfurters, baked potatoes, salami, shrimp salad, rye bread, anchovies, all washed down with plenty of red wine. Then the circlet of birthday candles was brought in and the old man miraculously blew them all out with a single puff. After Nuria had played Happy birthday on her violin, and Ronnie had sung slightly off key, one more round of wine was served…and a large Apfelstrudel made its triumphant appearance.”

This according to Newlin’s Schoenberg remembered: Diaries and recollections, 1938–76 (New York: Pendragon, 1980). Many thanks to Tina Frühauf for bringing this to our attention!

Above, the inventor of serialism playing ping-pong in L.A.; below, Dr. Newlin sings Lee Hazlewood’s These boots are made for walkin’.

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Synesthesia with wine

 

In an experiment, 250 adults were offered a glass of wine in return for answering a few questions about its taste. After clearing their palates, each received a glass of either cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay and was taken to one of five rooms: four that each featured a different type of music playing in a continuous loop, and a silent one serving as a control. Participants were asked to spend about five minutes sipping the wine, and were told not to converse.

A smaller pilot study had determined the four types of music:

    • “powerful and heavy” (“O Fortuna” from Orff’s Carmina burana)
    • “subtle and refined” (“Вальс цветов” [Val’s cvetov/Waltz of the flowers] from Cajkovskij’s Щелкунчик [Ŝelkunčik/Nutcracker])

After drinking the wine and listening to the music, participants were asked to rate the wine’s taste on a scale from zero to ten in the categories represented by the music types. In each case, participants perceived the wine in a manner consistent with the music they had listened to while drinking it.

This according to “Wine & song: The effect of background music on the taste of wine” by Adrian C. North (Wineanorak, 2008). In an earlier experiment, documented in “The influence of in-store music on wine selections” (Journal of applied psychology LXXXIV/2 [April 1999] pp. 271–276), North and two colleagues demonstrated that playing music identified with a particular country in a wine shop had a positive influence on sales of wine from that country.

For a related post, see As bitter as a trombone. Below, Mario del Monaco shares observations on wine and synesthesia from Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana.

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Verdi’s gastromusicology

In opera, eating and drinking function largely as they do in society—they define social relationships. The antisocial act of refusing to share food or drink with merry people carries a negative connotation and implies an unfortunate result. Further gastromusicological laws may be deduced from Verdi’s operas:

    • A meal is never sad.
    • Hunger is never happy.
    • A shared meal or drink is a socially cohesive event.
    • The presence of food or drink precludes immediate catastrophe (unless poison is involved).
    • The act of feasting is a morally neutral event, but a feasting group or individual is morally negative when contrasted with a positive hungry group or individual.
    • The hero is a sober individual.
    • Music and text may lie, but the gastronomic sign never does.

The interaction between these gastronomic codes and other interweaving codes is often complex.

This according to “Feasting and fasting in Verdi’s operas” by Pierpaolo Polzonetti (Studi verdiani XIV [1999] pp. 69–106).

Above and below, Libiamo ne’ lieti calici from La traviata, as performed by the Metropolitan Opera in 2018.

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Filed under Curiosities, Food, Opera, Romantic era

The java jive

 

The universal availability and divergent imagery of coffee in people’s lives has been expressed in popular music more often than many of us realize. “You’re the cream in my coffee: A discography of java jive” by B. Lee Cooper and William Schurk (Popular music and society XXIII/2 [summer 1999] pp. 91–100) lists over 100 coffee-related popular songs from the 1920s to the 1990s. The songs are grouped both alphabetically and by subject; topics include addictive stimulants, commercial jingles, companionship and socialization, and sexual metaphors.

Click here to hear the Ink Spots performing their 1940 hit Java jive by Ben Oakland and Milton Drake.

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