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July 2015
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12 Musical Works About “Food, Glorious Food”


Shakespeare once said, “If music be the food of love, than put some whipped cream and a cherry on top of it.” Or, something to that effect… Good music and good food harmonize so well together. It’s no surprise that countless composers from Bach to Bernstein have written works about their favorite foods. Check out this list of delicious works of music, and tell us your favorite scrumptious songs in the comments.


“La Bonne Cuisine” (Bernstein)

Bernstein composed La bonne cuisine – a delightful, four-minute-long morsel of a song cycle – in 1947. His text? Four recipes from Emile Dumont’s 1890 cookbook of the same name. Scored for voice and piano, the cycle includes recipes for plum pudding, oxtails, chicken breast with Turkish pudding, and rabbit stew.


Act II, Scene 1 banquet scene from Albert Herring (Britten)

When there’s no girl virtuous enough to be elected May Queen in a small village in East Suffolk, the May Queen committee selects Albert Herring as King instead. At the May Day banquet, the attendees enjoy a sumptuous feast. Three children, Emmy, Cis, and Harry marvel and all of the treats laid before them, which include: jelly, pink blancmange, “seedy cake with icing on,” treacle tart, “sausagey rolls,” chicken and ham, “cheesey straws,” marzipan, and more! The three children are getting hangry for all the food before them, though their teacher, Miss Wordsworth, tells them they can’t feast quite yet.


“Vanilla Ice Cream” from She Loves Me (Joe Masteroff)

One of many adaptations of Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo’s Parfumerie, She Loves Me is centered on bickering coworkers Georg and Amalia, both of whom find solace in their beloved pen pals. What Georg and Amalia don’t know is that they are each other’s pen pals – a fact Georg discovers before Amalia does. As a peace offering, he brings her vanilla ice cream when she is sick, cuing this number – and a new beginning for the couple.


“The Italian Cook and the English Maid” from Casa guidi (Argento)

Composed for Frederica von Stade and the Minnesota Orchestra, Dominick Argento’s Casa guidi is a song cycle set to letters written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her sister Henrietta. At the time, Browning and her husband were in the process of moving to Casa guidi, an apartment in Florence. In this song – the second in the five-song cycle – Browning describes the feud between her pretentious (but gifted) cook, Alessandro, and her maid, Wilson.

“From beef-steak pies up to fricassees Alessandro is a master.
And from bread and butter puddings to boiled apple-dumplings,
An artist. Only — he doesn’t like Wilson to interfere.
She declares that he repeats so many times a day:
“I’ve been to Paris — I’ve been to London —
I have been to Germany — I must Know.”
Also he offends her by being of opinion that:
“London is by far the most immoral place in the world.”
(He was there for a month once.)

“He had been to Paris, and been to London” and so on ‘da capo’-
So poor Wilson’s head goes round she declares, and she
Leaves the field of battle from absolute exhaustion.”


“This Was a Real Nice Clambake” from Carousel (Rodgers and Hammerstein)

Years after its 1945 premiere, composer Richard Rodgers admitted that Carousel was his favorite of his 43 musicals. Carousel kicks off when Billy Bigelow, a carousel barker, falls in love with the millworker Julie. Their relationship gets Billy fired, and as the rest of his New England town looks forward to their big June clambake, Billy finds himself worrying about how to support Julie and their future daughter. “This Was a Real Nice Clambake” opens Act II, with the townspeople reminiscing about the clambake they just enjoyed. The song describes the perfect seaside potluck, complete with a recipe for codfish chowder. But, it was actually originally written into Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s first musical, Oklahoma!, as “This Was a Real Nice Hayride.” 


“Food, glorious food” from Oliver! (Lionel Bart)

Based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Oliver! opens with “Food, glorious food,” and the number sets the stage for one of its most famous scenes. The musical opens in a workhouse which employs orphaned boys. They fantasize about the real food they want to eat instead of the paltry amounts of gruel they’re fed, and when his turn in the dinner line comes, Oliver works up the courage to ask for more.

“Is it worth the waiting for?
If we live for eighty four
All we ever get is gruel!
Every day we say our prayer —
Will they change the bill of fare?
Still we get the same old gruel!

Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard!
Peas pudding and saveloys
What next is the question?
Rich gentlemen have it, boys —
in digestion!”


“Beautiful Candy” from Carnival (Michael Stewart, Bob Merrill)

In Carnival, the orphan Lili stumbles upon a carnival in hopes of landing a job, but instead finds herself in the middle of a love triangle between Marco, a charismatic magician, and Paul, a lonely puppeteer. In the end, Lili is won over by Paul. “Beautiful Candy” is one of a number of duets sung by Lili and Paul’s puppets.

Strawberry Jam

“Now to the banquet we press!” from The Sorcerer (Gilbert & Sullivan)

Relationships may be complicated, but Gilbert and Sullivan’s zany comic opera The Sorceror takes the follies and foibles of romance to a whole new level. Newlyweds Alexis and Aline hire a sorcerer to spike the tea at their wedding feast with a love potion, fulfilling Alexis’ egalitarian hopes that love will unite people of different social classes. The potion succeeds in that respect, but also results in shuffled and absurd pairings. “Now to the banquet we press” is sung at the end of each act: once before the feast, and reprised at the when each character is reunited with their actual partner. “Now to the banquet we press– Now for the eggs and the ham– Now for the mustard and cress– Now for the strawberry jam!”

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“Ei! Wie schmeckt der Kaffee suße” from The Coffee Cantata (J.S. Bach)

“Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht,” better known as The Coffee Cantata, is one of a few secular cantatas by Bach. Today it would best be characterized as a miniature comic opera, centering on the conflict between the coffee-addicted maiden Lieschen and her disgruntled father, Schlendrian. Lieschen sings this aria as an ode to her beloved beverage in response to her father, who is begging her to drop her habit. She sings:

“Ah! How coffee tastes delicious
sweeter than a thousand kisses,
milder than Muscat wine.

Coffee, I have to have coffee,
and, if someone wants to impress me,
ah, just give me coffee please!”


Le quatuor de l’omelette from Le Docteur Miracle (Georges Bizet)

Bizet composed Le Docteur Miracle for a competition put on by Jacques Offenbach when he was only 18. A comic operetta in one act, the story follows a young suitor named Silvio who is trying to woo the mayor’s daughter, Laurette, albeit against her parents’ wishes. In order to be closer to Laurette, Silvio invents disguises to sneak into the family’s good graces, one of which is the fantastical “Doctor Miracle.” During the “Omelet Quartet,” the operetta’s most famous excerpt, Silvio is passing himself off as a servant who makes an omelet for Laurette’s family – which, to the family’s dismay, tastes disgusting.


“Sarò zeppo e contornato” from La Cenerentola (Rossini)

It’s no secret that Rossini was a dedicated gourmand. Cooks have dedicated dishes to him, and the chef Antonin Carême counted Rossini among his closest friends. Rossini liked to tell people that he had only cried three times in his life: when his first opera flopped, when he heard Niccolò Paganini play the violin, and when a stuffed turkey fell off the boat on which he was picnicking. He included plenty of food-related songs in his operas, usually using food to comment on class differences between characters. In “Sarò zeppo e contornato” from La Cenerentola, Don Magnifico imagines the sort of bounty he would have if his daughter married the prince:

“I will have lots of
memories and petitions
of hens and sturgeons
of bottles and brocades
of candles and marinades
of buns and cakes
of candied fruits and sweets
of slabs and doubloons
of vanilla and coffee.”


“De la patria del cacao, del chocolate y del café” from La Gallina Ciega (Fernando Caballero)

This infectious tune comes from the 1830s Spanish operetta La Gallina Ciega (The Blind Hen). The work has since fallen into obscurity, despite enormous initial popularity. However, this aria lives on, having been recycled in Pablo de Sarasate’s Habanera from his Spanish Dances, Op. 21. and Édouard Lalo’s Cello Concerto in D minor.


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