Before we all go enjoy our turkey, stuffing, and pecan pie, let’s celebrate the wonderful marriage between music and food and drink! Here are ten musical selections of drinking songs, feasts, and sweet treats!
“March Past of the Kitchen Utensils” from The Wasps – Ralph Vaughan Williams
This one doesn’t leave much to the imagination… or perhaps it does? In Aristophanes’ play The Wasps, there is a scene where two dogs (yes, dogs) go to court for a dispute over stolen cheese. Naturally, the kitchen dishes and utensils are called in as witnesses. Certainly, there’s much more to the play itself, which actually focuses on the interactions between a father and son, the former being a judge who is addicted to court proceedings. Anyway, enjoy some incidental music for the play by Ralph Vaughan Williams!
“In taberna quando sumus” from Carmina Burana – Carl Orff
Literally meaning “when we are in the tavern,” “In taberna quando sumus” is one of the songs from Orff’s Carmina Burana, a collection of Medieval poetry that ruminates on fate, life, and the world around us. This particular song is about gambling and drinking to forget about the greater problems of life, and posits that everyone is equal when they drink, whether they are masters, servants, sickly, or poor. Indeed, after drinking so much without moderation, everyone becomes poor in the end!
Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise – William Bolcom
If that doesn't sound appetizing, that's exactly what William Bolcom was going for. This little ditty came from his experiences as a club pianist, where he remembers being fed some fairly repulsive cuisine. In the song itself, the singer lists off a veritable smorgasbord of unusual dishes. Hopefully this doesn't put you off your Thanksgiving appetite!
"Libiamo ne'lieti calici" from La Traviata – Giuseppe Verdi
This selection is one of those pieces that some people probably recognize melodically, but might not know its name or where it comes from. Well, here it is, mystery solved! This duet is a brindisi, which means "toast" in Italian and is essentially a drinking song. In the context of Verdi's opera, it is sung between the two lead roles, Violetta and Alfredo, at a party in the first act.
Hänsel und Gretel – Engelbert Humperdinck
With a story partially set in a house made of sweets, you'd better believe there's talk of food in this opera. There's Peter the broom-maker singing that "hunger is a good cook," to Hänsel and Gretel devouring the strawberries they were supposed to be taking home, to the Witch who seeks to cook the children for her dinner!
"Ice Cream Sextet" from Street Scene – Kurt Weill
On the heat-stricken streets of 1946 Manhattan, ice cream is quite the relief for the characters in Kurt Weill's Street Scene. Lippo Fiorentino's sentiment that he "never gets tired of the ice cream cone" is one we should all get behind, really... and naturally everybody in the scene agrees! And what's a good Thanksgiving dinner without a refreshing dessert after, particularly some Pie à la Mode?
"The Worst Pies in London" from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – Stephen Sondheim
Mmm. Speaking of pie... how about some of Mrs. Lovett's special meat pies? If you're not familiar with the story of Sweeney Todd, I won't spoil any of it, but as you can likely guess from the name of this song that appears early in the first act, the local meat pies on Fleet Street aren't quite up to snuff. Fortunately, Mr. Todd and Mrs. Lovett are able to come up with a solution for the issue at the end of the act that you'd have to watch for yourself.
"Food, Glorious Food!" from Oliver! – Lionel Bart
The thought that's probably on everybody's mind just before the turkey's done! Even the unfortunate orphans in Oliver! imagine a great feast of their own despite being forced to sustain themselves on some fairly disgusting-looking gruel. This song's enduring popularity has led to it being referenced in TV shows, movies, and other pop culture phenomena.
Belshazzar's Feast – William Walton
This William Walton cantata is not specifically about food, but the titular feast naturally plays a big part of the story. Based on the biblical Book of Daniel, Belshazzar is a blasphemous king who, during this feast, is sent a message by God saying that his days are numbered and that his kingdom will soon be given to the Medes and Persians. This turns out to be true, and Belshazzar is killed that very night, after which Darius the Mede takes over as the king of Babylon.
"Wassail Song" from 5 English Folk Songs – Ralph Vaughan Williams
Christmas is almost upon us, and the time for wassailing approaches! Though "wassailing" itself usually refers to caroling, wassail itself is a hot cider that became part of the Medieval wassailing tradition that was more a ritual to promote a good cider apple harvest for the next year. There are a number of songs about wassail and wassailing, and this is one that Ralph Vaughan Williams collected and arranged for chorus.