will music for food

Milk-cream strudel (Viennese: "Millirahmstrudel"; German: "Milchrahmstrudel")

Milk-cream strudel (Viennese: “Millirahmstrudel”; German: “Milchrahmstrudel”) [source]

One of the professors at my alma mater once told me that all the conversations in the Juilliard cafeteria were about “food, sex, and music–in that order!” It stands to reason that musicians, who deal in the “food of love” (quoth Shakespeare), take great relish in other sensory pleasures, including the food of…well, just plain food.

And our man Mendelssohn was no exception.

In December of 1832, Munich court musicians Heinrich Joseph Bärmann, virtuoso clarinettist, and his son Carl (who played both clarinet and basset horn) visited Mendelssohn at his home in Berlin. Here was an opportunity that Mendelssohn could not miss: he had tasted Dampfnudel (translation: “steamed dumpling/noodle”) and Rahmstrudel (“cream strudel”) on a visit to Munich, but was not able to find them in Berlin. And here, sitting before him at his table, were two Munich musicians. Oh, kind destiny!

Savory Dampfnudel with gravy. Recipe on kitchenproject.com.

Savory Dampfnudel with gravy. Recipe on kitchenproject.com.

A trade was proposed. If Mendelssohn would write them a piece to play on tour, the Bärmanns said, they would make a generous serving of these Austro-Bavarian carbs for him to munch on. Carl Bärmann recalls Mendelssohn setting to work on this piece of music with the kind of determination and urgency that can only be sparked by food cravings:

When I arrived at his home at the appointed time (9 o’clock in the morning), he [Mendelssohn] plopped a chef’s hat on my head, tied an apron around my waist and stuck a cooking spoon in the apron’s waistband. He then submitted himself to the same procedure but instead of a spoon he put a quill behind his ear and led me down to the kitchen to the great delight of his kitchen staff. He then returned, as he put it, to his keyboard oven where he himself would stir, knead, salt, pepper and sweeten before concocting a spicy sauce for it and cooking it over a hellish fire….We tried out the duo [“Concert Piece in F Minor,” Op. 113] that same evening and after some minor technical instrumental changes, father and I were truly able to claim that we were more delighted with the charming work than Mendelssohn was with his ‘nudel’ and ‘strudel’, although he always swore that my dumpling creation was much more ingenious than his. We thus immediately arranged for a repeat of that scenario, which took place a few days later with the same success.

Sweet Dampfnudel with vanilla sauce. Recipe on kitchenproject.com.

Sweet Dampfnudel with vanilla sauce. Recipe on kitchenproject.com.

On the manuscript, Mendelssohn records the exchange, titling the piece “Großes Duett für Dampfnudel oder Rahmstrudel”–“Grand Duet for Steamed Dumplings and Sweet-Cheese Strudel”:


Furthermore, on the same title page, he writes “Bärlin” instead of “Berlin,” a play on the Bärmanns’ name, and tops it all off with his own drawing of a bear.


Mendelssohn’s drawing of a bear. (Good thing he stuck to music.) Below, the location and date of composition: “Bärlin,” 30 Dec.

Listen to the first movement below.

More reading:

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