‘He was very plump and vigorous… And what a gourmand for sweets!’ recalled one of Georges Bizet’s pupils. ‘He was crazy for bonbons, cakes, friandises [candies]… He always had petits fours at four o’clock.’ The French composer never held back when it came back to indulging his sweet tooth, and was often to be seen enjoying sugary treats. His health wasn’t great, however, and he died unexpectedly of heart failure at the age of 34.
First coffee arrived in 17th-century London, then chocolate. Sold in many of the coffee houses that were flourishing in the capital, hot chocolate was heady, delicious stuff, often brewed with ingredients like cinammon or citrus peel. But it wasn’t all a tale of sweetness and light. One (admittedly unlikely) theory about the 36-year-old Henry Purcell’s untimely death in 1695 suggests that the British composer was poisoned by drinking chocolate.
Stravinsky liked honey so much that he reportedly travelled with his own jar of it. Unlike Bizet, he wasn’t a fiend for all things sugary. The Russian composer subscribed to the idea that royal jelly honey – the honey for the queen bee – had health-giving properties, and would stir it into his tea. One evening, in Hollywood, Stravinsky went to answer the front door to find the composer whom he described as a a ‘six-and-a-half-foot scowl’. Rachmaninov, a fellow emigré, was there bearing a gift: a jar of natural honey.
Violins aren’t the only speciality of Cremona. The Northern-Italian town is also famed for its ‘mostarda’, a delicacy that was a particular favourite of Giuseppe Verdi. Whole fruits are candied in syrup, creating jewel-like colours and rich flavours. The composer was a regular visitor to Cremona – lunching, visiting family, stocking up on manuscript paper – and often used to buy the sweet and spicy treats to give to his friends at Christmas.
Roxanna Panufnik loves chocolate so much that she’s even been paid in confectionery. For composing That Mighty Heart, her contribution to the NMC Songbook CD – a celebratory project for the label’s 20th anniversary – Panufnik asked for chocolate reimbursement, preferably Hotel Chocolat or Lindt. Her favourite flavours are mint chocolate and milk chocolate with nuts or caramel. ‘Anyone who says they can stop after just one piece is either mad or lying,’ the chocoholic composer tells us.