Musicians and Their Food

Portrait Ludwig van Beethoven when composing t...Image via Wikipedia
Many of the stories told concerning famous musicians relate to their tastes for food. The coffee houses of Vienna as well as a large number of European restaurants have been the scenes where some of the leading composers have congregated and have seen the creation of a number of compositions.

Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and Johann Strauss, composer of the Blue Danube waltz, patronized the cafes and the ideas for many of their works, if not the compositions themselves, were jotted down in these surroundings. Rossini could write best when he was under the influence of Italian wine and sparkling champagne. No one can question that a large amount of German music has been composed with a stein of beer nearby, while mention of Grunzing (Grinzing) wine may be noted in various biographies of the masters.

Papa Haydn no doubt had food in mind when he wrote the Farewell Symphony as it would give his men an opportunity to return to their homes for a vacation and domestic dishes. In a letter Haydn mentions that he lost twenty pounds in weight because excellent Viennese food was far away.

Beethoven’s favorite dish was fish, especially trout and his favorite drink was fresh spring water. Moscheles was fond of oysters and figs; and in one instance he won an oyster-eating contest from a friend by making such funny faces at him.

Mendelssohn was a hearty eater and he was especially fond of the bread and butter puddings of England and of German sausages. Chopin, on the other hand, thought little of food. On his first long journey he wrote home that soups had helped to give him strength, to put him in excellent spirits. He started the day with a cup of coffee and began work the moment it was brought to him. He was so absorbed in his music that his coffee was often cold before he drank it.

Schumann was a plain eater and he was especially fond of pickles. Liszt found little that pleased him as much as bacon and eggs. Milk was the chief item of food for Wagner, who was a heavy meat eater in middle life but later became a vegetarian. While in England he spoke glowingly of the culinary art of the French people.

Brahms had a great likeness for coffee, which he brewed himself. His recipe for a cup was for as many beans as ordinarily would make ten cups! In those days composers were unable to find a sufficient supply of fresh drinking water and men were so fortunate that their wives provided them with hot water plates for the pleasure of the table.

I read that Balakirev, a Russian composer, once remarked to Tschaikovsky that Haydn was the genius of burgher music (middle class) because his compositions inspired a thirst for beer. It would be interesting to know what kinds of a thirst the works of other composers inspired in others.

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