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Classical 101

Music and Food: A Classical Emporium

My WOSU colleagues Boyce Lancaster and Beverley Ervine told me not long ago about a gigantic emporium of imported and artisinal foods. So, an incurable foodie, I went. Twelve hundred imported cheese labels, a dozen tanks of live (read: fresh) fish and four aisle-browsing hours later, I'm still reeling. What does this have to do with classical music, you ask. Well, what could be better than savoring a sweet Gorgonzola to a background of Bach, or sipping a Belgian abbey ale (if 21 or over) to strains of Beethoven? Since returning from my alimentary adventure, I've been thinking about how composers and other musicians have paid musical homage to food. Here's a little list of food-related compositions, an emporium of tasty musical tidbits that I hope will satisfy the cravings of your inner epicure. Let's start - where else? - with breakfast. Few musical works offer as compelling a picture of one's culinary daybreak as Cats in the Kitchen by the American "alternative" classical composer Phillip Bimstein. In the first movement, "Eggs and Toast," percussion instruments become cracking egg shells and a wire whisk scrambling yolks and whites in a glass bowl. The whisk strokes take on the character of a ticking clock, the sound that haunts all late risers. Bimstein originally included flute and oboe in his score, but rescored the work for tuba and euphonium at the request of the Symbiosisduo, whom you hear on this recording: [audio:bimstein_eggs1.mp3] Eggs underway, the toast appears later in the same movement. We sharpen a knife, we slice a thick loaf of crusty bread right down to the wooden cutting board and, once our bread is toasted, we scrape on some butter: [audio:bimstein_eggs2.mp3] Speaking of butter, Rossini wrote a piece about it. The fourth movement of his Four hors d'œuvres is a delightful theme and variations devoid of trans fat and full of zero-calorie fun: [audio:rossini_beurre.mp3] But getting back to Bimstein's whisks, bowls, knives and cutting boards, a foodie is only as good as his tools. Vaughan Williams gave us a "March Past of the Kitchen Utensils" in the incidental music he composed for a Cambridge University production of Aristophanes' comedy The Wasps.  The movement is classic Vaughan Williams, reminiscent of British royal marches and tinted with the hues of the composer's beloved English folk songs. In the hands of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor James Judd the work is extra "snappy," like a crumbly Cheshire cheese that bites you back: [audio:vaughan_williams_kitchen_utensils.mp3] How about vegetarian  fare for lunch? A fruit and nut salad, perhaps? We return to Rossini, whose piano work Four Foods (Quatre Mendiants) has all the fixings - dried figs: [audio:rossini_dried_figs.mp3] . . . antioxidant-packed almonds: [audio:rossini_almonds.mp3] . . . iron-rich raisins: [audio:rossini_raisins.mp3] . . . and hazelnuts. Mmm, Nutella: [audio:rossini_hazelnuts.mp3] But let's not forget our veggies. The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra might well be the only orchestra in the world who make, play, then eat their instruments. Here they are, with pumpkin drums, carrot flutes and zucchini oboes. Be sure to catch the carrot-and-yellow-bell-pepper trumpet (of sorts) near the end of the clip: [youtube hpfYt7vRHuY 490 344] Whoever invented life in Italy was a food genius. Long lunches, laid-back afternoons that metamorphose into dinner time - these folks understand that one eats not just for sustenance, but for sensory gratification. Dinner in Italy can last all night, the main dish arriving on the table only after the antipasti and the pasta course - each often accompanied by a matching wine selection - have been consumed amidst leisurely (though often heated!) conversation. So what about that wine? Pinot griggio comes to mind. "A Light Dry Table Wine," the second movement of Rami Vamos and Randall Avers' Three Songs for Twelve Strings, hits the spot: [audio:dry_light_table_wine.mp3] (the Newman & Oltmann Guitar Duo performs on this recording.) Now that we've taken care of the essentials (food, schmood - it's the wine that matters most at dinner), let's dig in. The seventeenth-century composer Heinrich Biber left us a great dinner soundtrack in the suites of his Mensa Sonora, literally "Sounding Table," a half-dozen instrumental suites Biber composed for his Salzburg employer, the Prince-Archbishop Maximilian Gandolph von Khüenburg, allegedly for him to use as dining music. Your mother would probably tell you not to dance to this lovely little balletta from Mensa Sonora's Suite in F major for at least half an hour after dinner. Chicago's Baroque Band performs on this recording: [audio:biber_balletto.mp3] . . . and I guarantee you'll chew each bite twenty times to this beautiful ciacona, from the Suite in A minor: [audio:biber_ciacona.mp3] Hungry yet? Bon appétit . . . and happy listening! - Jennifer Hambrick