At the start of my teaching career, way back in the 1970s, I had to drive through deep countryside to reach the school where I worked. One memory from that period recalls passing a farm where, every afternoon, strains of Elgar’s orchestral music wafted over fields of corn from the cowsheds. The farmer was convinced that piping these classical strains improved his herd’s performance at milking time. This memory stirred when I read a few years ago about a wine-grower in Tuscany who was convinced that playing Mozart to his Sangiovese vines imparted similar fruitful effects. And a more recent article that caught my eye ruminated on which wine proved the best accompaniment for different genres of classical music. All of which planted the idea of decanting a few examples of music carrying the theme of wine, ale and amber liquids that have been laid down in the classical music cellar.
It was during that 1970s teaching period that I commissioned Carmina Bellociana from the British composer Gordon Jacob; it set five poems by Hilaire Belloc for large brass and choral forces. I wish I could play you the West Sussex Drinking Song, at the end of which Jacob had the 150-plus singers deliver an outrageous hiccup; but the work has never been commercially recorded. Instead, then, here’s an extract from Jacob’s Old Wine in New Bottles (8.572762), which takes old English folk tunes and makes them fizz with new instrumental colour, as in The Lincolnshire Poacher.
This inscription of an old adage on a New York print from 1873 reflects a wider discussion that pitted American alcohol prohibitionists against bibulous immigrants. We’ll skirt that whole issue here, but the inscription clearly links with Johann Strauss’ famous Wine, Women and Song waltz. Here’s how it sounded when Leopold Godowsky stirred it into the last of his Three Symphonic Metamorphoses of Johann Strauss II for piano (8.225274).
Strauss also wrote a Champagne Polka, but my own preference for a bit of musical fizz is by the Danish composer Hans Christian Lumbye (1810–1874). His Champagne Galop (8.223743) had an unusual genesis, as recalled by his grandson:
One evening grandfather Lumbye had been invited to a prestigious gathering at the British Legation in Copenhagen, but on his way there he had to pass his favourite hostelry, and decided that he preferred to spend the evening in the familiar surroundings. On returning home to his family late in the evening he had to tell them how he had wallowed in champagne at the Legation (which he had in fact never visited). To illustrate this for the expectant family he sat down at the piano and improvised his way through what was later to become the world-famous Champagne Galop.
Time to hit the stronger stuff after those few salubrious sips. Enter Bacchus, the Roman name for Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and intoxication, who gave us the word for orgiastic, drunken revelry—bacchanal—and the source of inspiration for some wild musical portraits, not least by French composers who seem to have had the spirit in their veins.
Ibert composed his Bacchanale (8.554222) in 1956. It was written in response to a commission from the BBC, then marking the 10th anniversary of its Third Programme by inviting a number of distinguished European composers to contribute new works. Ibert’s music was popular in England at the time and he responded to the commission with a lively piece for large orchestra. Here’s the closing section.
Albert Roussel’s (1869–1937) early career was in the French Navy, but he resigned his post in 1894 and settled in Paris to study music. He went on to teach a generation of composers, including Erik Satie, Edgard Varèse and Bohuslav Martinů.
Roussel’s ballet score Bacchus et Ariane (8.570245), first performed in 1931, follows in the steps of those by Stravinsky and Prokofiev. Roussel subsequently made two suites from the two acts, which premiered respectively in 1933 and 1934. An uninhibited bacchanal closes the second act in exhilarating fashion, with the coronation of Ariadne potently underlined during the soaring final bars.
We’ll end with perhaps the best known of this French tipsy trio—the Bacchanale that concludes Ravel’s ballet score Daphnis and Chloe (8.570075). This masterpiece experienced all sorts of problems in the run-up to its first performance, including delays in its composition and quarrels between the choreographer Fokine and the commissioning impresario Diaghalev, who did his utmost to sabotage the premiere. The work survived and blossomed, of course, but I sometimes can’t help hearing the Bacchanale’s final moments as Ravel slamming a lid on the whole bothersome affair.
I’m being cajoled by colleagues in the office who are giving off huffy airs that their favourite drinking song is in danger of being snubbed. To keep them happy, let’s end with Mario Lanza (8.120784) and a rousing measure from Sigmund Romberg’s operetta The Student Prince.