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Music & Food: The Playlist

The pairing of music and food is not a new artistic concept. Composers have experimented with recipes, celebrity chefs, and even social customs surrounding food for years. Here is a collection of fun vocal pieces about food. Enjoy!

1. Bon Appétit- Lee Hoiby

Premiering in 1989, "Bon Appétit" is a one-act opera written for mezzo-soprano. The musical monologue features the transcript of episode #288 of The French Chef, first broadcasted on March 14, 1971, starring Julia Child. Ms. Child pioneered televised cooking shows and fought to show the world that women should be taken seriously as chefs. Viewers fell in love with her iconic voice, endearing klutziness, and her adamance that anyone could cook.

This recipe is for a "deliciously decadent" chocolate cake (Le Gâteau au Chocolat). Mezzo-soprano Christine Meadows charms viewers as Julia Child.

In Julia's famous words, Bon Appétit!

2. La Bonne Cuisine- Leonard Bernstein

La Bonne Cuisine is a song cycle that contains four recipes for voice and piano, composed by Leonard Bernstein. It was written in 1947 and was first performed in New York in 1948 by mezzo-soprano Marion Bell and pianist Edwin MacArthur.

This short song cycle features recipes from the 1899 French cook book La Bonne Cuisine Française (Tout ce qui a rapport à la table, manuel-guide pour la ville et la campagne) ("Fine French Cooking (Everything That Has to Do with the Table, Manual Guide for City and Country")) by Emile Dumont. It is Bernstein's only song cycle composed for the French language.

The songs and recipes:

I. Plum pudding

II. Queues de bœuf ("Ox Tails")

III. Tavouk gueunksis (Turkish Pastries and Sweets)

IV. Civet à toute vitesse ("Rabbit at Top Speed")

This video features Fiona McGown (mezzo-soprano) and Célia Onéto-Bensaïd (piano).

3. Only One- Wendy Durrwachter

What is better than a chocolate chip cookie?

Minnesota soprano, Tracey Engleman, and pianist, Jared Miller, shine in this OOPS MN-produced song that premiered last year in March 2021 and was commissioned as a part of OOPS MN's Launch Series. Composer Wendy Durrwachter and librettist Mark Campbell cooked up a masterpiece! Now, OOPS MN is serving up four new dishes in the Recipe Series!

This is a delightful art song featuring the world's best chocolate chip cookie recipe. And, yes, this is a real, working recipe, so try it out for yourself and try your best to eat "only one"!

4. Tuna Supreme, from "Fish 'n Chicks"- Richard Pearson Thomas

Performed by Fourth Coast Ensemble (Sarah van der Ploeg, soprano, Zachary Vanderburg, tenor, David Govertsen, bass-baritone, and pianist, Kuang-Hao Huang) in the spring of 2019, composer Richard Pearson Thomas’s humorous Fish ‘n Chicks song cycle culminates in Tuna Supreme as a comedic finale.

Thomas set a real recipe from "Betty Crocker's Picturebook, 1950" to music. Here's a great line from this tasty tune: “TUNA SUPREME. A treat from the deep. A perfectly grand dish for women’s luncheons!”

5. Lime Jell-O Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise- William Bolcom

This song is a satirical novelty song and a comedic force, even though William Bolcom later voiced his embarrassment over the piece. Composed in 1980 for voice and piano, Mr. Bolcom based the song on his own memories from his youth playing the piano for women's clubs and being fed absolutely ridiculous and unappetizing dishes that often involved the popular-at-the-time ingredient — jello.

This recording features Mr. Bolcom on piano and mezzo-soprano, his wife and frequent collaborator, Joan Morris. Originally intended to be an encore piece, it became a hit and was eventually recorded and added to their album of cabaret songs in 1986.

"Bolcom’s song is meant to be sung in the style of an overbearing, middle-class housewife from the American Midwest who is presiding at a meeting of a ladies' club. Taking on this stereotypical persona, the singer describes a menu of gastronomically bizarre dishes to be served at the club's 'culture night.'" Notice themes surrounding gender, consumerism, intellectual property of recipes, social customs, and a pervading sense of genteel manners.

I challenge you to listen to the lyrics and not laugh out loud!

6. Ode à la gastronomie- Jean Françaix

And for some choral singing about food...

Composed in 1950 by Jean Françaix, this 15-minute work for a 12-voice mixed choir is a testament to the French attitude to food and dining. It contains advice on how to pace yourself at a meal, dining etiquette, the erotic properties of black truffles, and the effects of food on digestion. The text is written by Jean Françaix but based on Brillat-Savarin's 1834 volume, "Physiologie du goût" (The physiology of taste). A social document of post-Revolution French attitudes toward food, "Physiologie du goût" was dedicated to 'Parisian gastronomes.'

There are three parts to this work:

I. La physiologie du goût ("The physiology of taste")

II. Père Bernadin et la truffe noire ("Father Bernadin and the black truffle")

III. Gastéréa, dixième des Muses ("Gasterea, tenth of the Muses")*

*"So tremendous was the collective power of [the digestive tract organs] that in his encyclopedia of gourmandism, The Physiology of Taste, Anthelme Brillat-Savarin insisted that Gasterea, a mythological being who presided over all the pleasures of eating and digestion, was no less than the forgotten tenth Muse."

This rendition is performed by I Fagiolini, a British solo-voice ensemble specializing in early and contemporary music that has a reputation for presenting music in unusual ways. Robert Hollingworth founded I Fagiolini in 1986 with the goal of presenting music of a different time and context to contemporary audiences.

Listen to the Playlist on YouTube here.

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