Tastes of Paradise:
Music for the Pleasures of the Palate

April/May 1998

Program Notes

Processional:   Bacche, Bene Venies

Carmina Burana (German, 13th c.), arr. Jonathan Miller

I.     Imbibing, Part I: Wine

The Greek's Song Henry Lawes (c. 1640)
For a Bass 17th-c. English
Adieu ces bons vins Guillaume DuFay (1400-1447)
II.     Spices and Other Exotics


Thule, The Period of Cosmography Thomas Weelkes (c. 1575-1623)
Chili Con Carne Anders Edenroth

III.     Imbibing, Part II:  Beer

Janne Moye, Al Claer! Lupus Hellinc (16th c.)

IV.     Enough is Enough!

Alte Clamat Epicurus Carmina Burana, arr. J. Miller

V.     Coffe and Tea

From "The Coffe Cantata" ; Three Recitatives and an Aria J.S. Bach, arr. J. Miller
Java Jive Drake/Oakland, arr. Kirby Shaw



VI.     Tobacco

Come Sirrah Jack, Ho! Thomas Weelkes
Tobacco, Tobacco Tobias Hume, arr. Anne Heider

VII.    Summing It All Up


Fragments From His Dish (1997)      

Bob Chilcott (b. 1955)
1. Grace/The Clean Platter  
2.  The Pie  
3.  Harvest In My Croft  
4.  Christmas Day-1666  
5.  Whines from the Wood  
6.  Grace (reprise)  

VIII.    Dessert

Church Lyle Lovett, arr. J. Miller

Notes and Introduction

This concert owes its genesis to a little gem of a book, Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Intoxicants and Stimulants.  Its author is Wolfgang Schivelbusch, a German historian who divides his time between Manhattan and Berlin.  I devoured the book on a short trip to Wisconsin, two years ago; I realized quickly that a concert was in the making. 

We are documenting, in music, human beings’ varied and quite humorous hunger for pleasure.  You will hear songs and readings about substances which we eat, drink and otherwise ingest or consume bodily.  You will encounter recipes for things we do not make any more, sometimes with good reason.  The music on this concert ranges from the simplest monody to harmonically lush madrigals and contemporary works. 

Historically, humans have spent large sums of money, and considerable physical and emotional energy, to procure substances of pleasure.  We will process in with wine, ushered in by Bacchus, the roman god (known to Greeks as Dionysus).  Wine predates ancient Greece: according to Hugh Johnson, the leading authority on wine’s history, people have used grapes to pursue the slightly-to-thoroughly buzzed state for almost 8000 years.  Our two odes to wine come from Playford’s Treasury of Musick, one of the greatest 17th-century English songbooks. 

The earliest drinkers if wine thought its effect truly divine: they were not only getting slightly loopy, but they were glimpsing Paradise, a privilege which was otherwise reserved only for the gods.  In turn, the medieval aristocracy believed spices to be their channel to Paradise. 

Imagine for a moment that you run a small feudal community in the 14th-century Germany.  Your diet is slightly better than peasant fare, which consists of cabbages, black bread, beans or salt pork, and some curds.  Now imagine visiting your cousin down the road, who is in slightly better circumstances than you.  Envision being introduced to a dish of good, fresh pepper; pork cooked with cloves and ginger; and a dessert made with cloves and mace.  You are transported, by the smell and taste, to an almost otherworldly state—conjured up partly by the spices themselves, but more by the properties with which they were culturally invested.  Once hooked on the cultural associations as well as the flavor of the spices, you would likely spend vast sums to partake of them again.  (Any foretaste of Paradise available to you during this life would be a big deal.) 

Spices’ exoticism came also from the distances they traveled.  European merchants brought spices from the orient to Venice, the spice capital of Europe.  Venetian merchants sold it to brokers, who would transport it themselves to satisfy the hungers of patrons across the continent.  As is typical, the passion for vast amou8nts of spices came from the upper classes, which the middle class sought to imitate in its quest for upward mobility.  Trading spices was the motivation behind Columbus’s voyages:  he hoped to reach the spices lands by sailing west, avoiding a journey around the horn of Africa. 

The free-wheeling nature of the big market is reflected in Weelkes’s “Thule” madrigal:

The Andalusian merchant that returns,
laden with cochineal and China dishes,
reports in Spain how strangely Fogo [a volcano]
amidst an ocean full of flying fishes.

Volcanoes, ships, far-flung points on the globe: these are the complex associations and meanings with which the flavors of spices were infused.  (Another kind of merchant, the modern travel agent, knows how to describe someplace tantalizingly exotic.  It’s just out of reach—unless you can buy a ticket.)

Spices are indeed beneficial to humans and make our food taste better.  But no substance seems to have transformed Europe like coffee.  It was “the great soberer.”  Coffee got average people out of a general mental fog.  Before coffee (and in England, tea) took over as the morning beverage of choice, beer and ale were the primary liquids for Northern Europeans, as water was not reliably clean.  Beer was also a staple of nourishment as well, providing needed calories and minerals. 

Northern Europe had been committed to beer as a way of life, but coffee made quick, irreversible inroads.  Early arguments against coffee complain that it robs the body of its “natural phlegmatic state,” cool and damp, which goes along with the heavy, stocky body image found in Rubens’ paintings.  The desire for coffee can even replace other desires, as the young maiden in the Coffee Canata notes.  A tract from 1764 shows women’s concern that their husbands’ libidos were dying up due to coffee. 

Coffee’s timing was perfect.  It came along just when a great shift in consciousness took hold.  It was truly the drug of the Enlightenment.  The seventeenth century, Schivelbusch notes,

Was the century of rationalism, not only in philosophy, but in all the important areas of material life.  The absolutist-bureaucratic state was built on the rationalistic view-point that originated in this period.  Work in the newly burgeoning factories was organized rationalistically…

The seventeenth- century bourgeois was distinguished from people of past centuries by his mental as well as his physical lifestyle.  Medieval man did not physically work, for the most part under the open sky.  The middle-class man worked increasingly with his head, his workplace was the office…The ideal that hovered before him was to function as uniformly and regularly as a clock.  In this connection, coffee…spread through the body and achieved chemically and pharmacologically what rationalism and the Protestant ethic sought to fulfill spiritually and ideologically…The result was a body which functioned in accord with the new demands—rationalistic middle-class, forward-looking body.

The steady, running, clock-regular rhythms of Vivaldi are particularly well suited to sense in a society that values order and a high level of predictability.  By contrast, chocolate has had mostly upper-class Roman Catholic connotations.  Chocolate is not for speed, but rather for ancien regime repose. 

“Drinking” is also how Europeans first referred to the taking of that other non-European substance of pleasure:  tobacco, also called “the dry inebriant.”  In Come, Sirrah Jack, ho! You’ll hear the phrase “For I drank none good today,” meaning “I haven’t had any tobacco yet”

Tobacco is coffee’s counterpart.  While coffee stimulates the brain to work, tobacco helps to calm active impulses and to harness one’s mental energy to work.  Like coffee, tobacco was introduced to Europe with great ceremony and ritual, as you’ll hear in the snuffbox ceremony.  Gradually, as Schivelbusch notes, the cigar and cigarette have come into being, enabling people to drip elaborate tobacco rituals and expensive apparatus, markedly quickening the period required for its consumption to the unit of time now known as a “smoke.”

In our day, since the 1970s or so, our economy had shifted to being driven by oil—itself a foreign product from the East.  At the same time, a “new” substance, strangely exotic, has captured the fancy of the middle and upper classes: bottles water. 

It remains likely that we will continue to find new objects of pleasure.  I’ll leave the predictions to others.  For now, enjoy the songs inspired by the pleasures of the palate, and come munch with is after the concert.  Thanks for coming to hear us.

-Jonathan Miller


Processional:  Bacche, bene venies
Most people are familiar with the Carmina Burana poems through Carl Orff’s masterful setting.  The melodies in the Orff’s orchestration, however, are not the same as found in the original 13th – century German manuscript, “Carmina Burana” means “songs from Beuren,” a German town.  Did you ever know that wine could accomplish so many things?

The Greek's Song / For A Bass

Du Fay: Adieu ces bons vins
DuFay’s early work ushered in a new stylistic era in French song.  His settings of the French forms fixes, such as this rondeau, were called “perfumed with sweetness” by the theorist Tinctoris.

Weelkes: Thule, the period of cosmography

Anders Edenroth:  Chili con carne
Some of us can speak French without an American accent.  Similarly, foreigners sometimes master our musical idioms with virtually no trace of musical “accent.”  Anders Edenroth is such a person.  He is the leading arranger and countertenor for The Real Group, a Swedish a cappella quintet specializing in American-style vocal jazz, which achieved an ensemble diploma from the Royal Academy in Stockholm.

Lupus Hellinc: Janne moye, al claer!

Anon: Alte clamat Epicurus

J.S. Bach: from the Coffee Cantana

Drake/Oakland, arr. Kirby Shaw: Java Jive


Weelkes: Come, Sirrah Jack, ho!

Tobias Hume, arr. Anne Heider: Tobacco, tobacco!
If ‘Java Jive” is the classic coffee song of our century, embodying its sophistication and cool demeanor, then Tobias Hume’s Tobacco song is its equivalent from the 17th century.  Originally for solo voice and viols, this clever arrangement is for five men’s voices by Anne Heider, a longtime colleague, superb musician, and director of His Majestie’s Clerkes.  Her score is annotated, “with apologies to William Byrd” ; she does a deft genre-switch to modern barbershop style before concluding in full Brydeqsue manner.

Bob Chilcott: Fragments from his dish (United States premiere)
Bob Chilcott was born in 1955 and was a chorister and choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge.  On entering the commercial music world, he worked principally as an arranger and orchestrator, working for BBC Radio 2 and many choirs and ensembles.  Since 1986 he has contributed substantially to the repertoire of the King’s Singers with original compositions and arrangements, many of which are featured on the group’s recordings.  His experience as a singer has given him a deep belief in the communicative and social aspects of music which he has shared with singers in the workshops in Sweden and the States. 

Fragments from his dish is a cycle of six pieces on the theme of food, published just last year.  While in Manhattan last October for my anniversary, I was granted permission by my better half to meet for an hour with Christopher Johnson, head of the music division at Oxford University Press USA.  Chris and I have been friends from that day.  As I was leaving, he surprised me with a gift of nine copies of this magnificent score.  We’re pleased to repay his generosity with the American premiere of Chilcott’s work.