Freedom for Want - N. Rockwell
Freedom for Want - N. Rockwell
 Sometimes we forget that in addition to the three public musical seasons in Barcelona (Gran Teatre del Liceu, L'Auditori and Palau de la Música Catalana), we also have small and less known musical initiatives. They are usually called alternative but I'd rather say complementary, because their programs are pretty different so we aren't forced to choose one option or another. One of this private initiatives took place some weeks ago, it was the small-format festival “Da Camera” (heir of “Ópera de Butxaca”, or “Pocket Opera”), and I went to see Leonard Bernstein's opera Trouble in Tahiti. Before the opera, we listened to some songs including two cycles by Bernstein that I had not heard from a long time: The bonne cuisine and I hate music. A friend of mine encouraged me to write a post about the recipes (yes, that’s right: recipes) and here it is.

Bernstein was a master in mixing sense of humor and music; we only need to listen to What a movie! from Trouble in Tahiti or The Old Lady's Tango from Candide (if you don't know the tango please look for Christa Ludwig’s performance on the Internet). However, even knowing his skill, I wonder how he did think of turning four recipes into songs. The composer blamed the mezzosoprano Jennie Tourel, the dedicatee of the cycle: “For Jennie Tourel, the only begetter of these songs”.

La Bonne Cuisine: Four Recipes for Voice and Piano is a very short cycle (it lasts less than five minutes) which was premiered in 1948 in New York by the mezzo-soprano Marion Bell and the pianist Edwin MacArthur. The texts of the songs are taken from the cookery book La Bonne Cuisine Française, by Émile Dumont. The first edition dates from 1873, and in the author's preface the book is addressed to housewives, not for them to do their own cooking (although, housewives might occasionally need “to get her hands dirty") but to be able to control their own cooks, because "the honest, intelligent, thrifty, hard-working, experienced cooks are not usual" and "they should be guided or there is a risk of dying of starvation or offering to guests detestable dishes". Therefore, as pretty much everybody has to economize and everyone welcomes formal guests at one point, the motto of the book is "To do much with little."

The four songs of the cycle are: Plum Pudding, that includes just the ingredients of the recipe; Queues de boeuf (Ox-tails), a recipe that briefly explains how to cook left-over queues; Tavouk Gueunksis, a Turkish dessert, and Civet à tout vitesse (Rabbit at Top Speed), which explains how to prepare quickly a rabbit stew. Berstein did two versions of the cycle, with lyrics in the original French and his own translation into English.

We are listening to the last song, Civet à toute vitesse, in French. It is sung, as the title says “at top speed”: the general indication of tempo in the score is presto, and the voice begins “breathlessly”. Towards the middle of the score the indication is “forgetting the haste”, perhaps so as we all can breath, but immediately is “remembering same”. In the last sentence, the stew is done and ready to serve, prestissimo! We are listening the performance of Patricia Petibon accompanied by Susan Manoff.

The translations by Bernstein are still copyrighted; As I was looking for another translation to share with you, I found this post on the blog "Food and Wine Mavens"; not only does it have the texts but also some photographs of the original cookery book. I think it's worth to have a look at it. If you notice, the song doesn't mention two ingredients included in the French recipe: nutmeg and brandy, I wonder why.

I hope you like the stew, bon appétit!
Civet à toute vitesse 
Lorsque on sera très pressé, voici un' manière de confectionner un civet de lièvre que je recommande: Dépecez le lièvre comme pour le civet ordinaire. Mettez-le dans une casserole ou un chaudron avec son sang et son foie écrasé, une demi-livre de poitrine de porc coupée en morceaux, une vingtaine de petits oignons, un peu de sel, poivre, un litre et demi de vin rouge. Faites bouillir à toute vitesse. Au bout de quinze minutes environ, lorsque la sauce est réduite de moitié, approchez un papier enflammé, de manière à mettre le feu au ragoût. Lorsqu'il sera éteint, liez la sauce avec une demi-livre de beurre manié de farine. Servez.

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