5 pieces of music inspired by food

Several composers had a very affectionate relationship with food: think of the Steak Rossini, created and named in honour of the Italian composer Gioachino Antonio Rossini, but how often has food directly inspired pieces of classical music? Here are five key examples.

1.’Coffee Cantata’ by Johann Sebastian Bach

Likely first performed in a Leipzig coffee house, this comic 1735 cantata revolves around a young woman’s addiction to coffee, and her father, who is trying to get her to quit. The daughter, Liesgen, claims coffee is ‘lovelier than a thousand kisses, smoother than muscatel wine’. In a twist, she agrees to give up coffee if her father finds her a husband, but secretly plans to only marry a man who allows her to drink her favourite beverage.

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2. For the Love of Three Oranges by Sergei Prokofiev

Based on a play by Carlo Gozzi, this 1919 opera involves a melancholy prince who can only be cured by laughter. When he finally laughs at the misfortune of an evil witch, she curses him to fall in love with three oranges. Luckily for him, the oranges in question turn into princesses.

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3. Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear by Erik Satie

Despite the title, this piano work doesn’t actually have much to do with pears, or any other food for that matter. Satie apparently wrote it as a satirical gesture partly in response to criticism from Claude Debussy, who had suggested that Satie’s compositions lacked form. When asked why he called it “Three Pieces” when there were in fact seven, Satie reportedly replied, “I lied about the pears.” It is often cited as an example of Satie’s influence on later minimalist composers, due to its repetitive structures and simple melodic ideas.

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4. La Revue de Cuisine by Bohuslav Martinů

Much like Beauty and the Beast, this ballet suite doesn’t exactly feature food, but it does involve kitchen utensils as characters, including the likes of Mr. Pot, Miss Lid, and Mr. Twirling Stick. Commissioned by Jarmila Kröschlová, a Czech dancer and choreographer, it is considered to be one of Martinů’s most popular and accessible works.

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5.’March Past of the Kitchen Utensils’ from The Wasps by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Part of Vaughan Williams’s incidental music to The Wasps –  a comedy by Aristophanes – this movement features kitchen utensils as witnesses in a court case. But while the subject matter might be light and whimsical, the music fully displays Vaughan Williams’s artistry, blending traditional English musical elements with the influence of Maurice Ravel, with whom Williams studied in France. It also includes modal passages derived from folk songs, serving to link Edwardian England to the modes of ancient Greece.

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