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Composers and Wine ~ The Imaginative Conservative

As a wine professional and classically educated musician, I’ve all the time needed to know if wine was essential in the lives of the good composers. Did Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven take pleasure in wine every day? Did they maintain a cellar? Did they write concerning the wines they drank? I’ve never been capable of finding a lot concerning the topic of wine and composers—till now.

Enter good friend and colleague Ron Merlino. Ron is owner and supervisor of MusicVine Performing Arts and Wine Consulting. Since 2009, he’s managed a roster of internationally famend orchestral conductors including Sir Andre Previn, Gerard Schwarz, Andrew Litton, and Keith Lockhart. He also consults on a various range of tasks for artisanal wineries and arts institutions worldwide. Previous to starting MusicVine, Ron was Vice President at Columbia Artists Management Inc. for greater than ten years where he established a fame as one of the crucial sought after managers of conductors on the planet.

Ron Merlino

Ron can also be a wine professional, having worked as apprentice with the late Patrick Bize at Domaine Simon Bize in Burgundy, as well as collaborating with winemakers from California, Washington State, Oregon, New York State, Michigan, and Niagara, Canada on music and wine tasks. Merlino handed the M.S. Introductory Course and Licensed Sommelier Exam, and is presently a WSET Diploma Candidate on the Worldwide Wine Middle in New York. Prior to now few years, Ron has undertaken a tutorial research of the position wine played in the lives of the good composers. His challenge has led him to libraries and institutes throughout Europe. Not way back, I spoke with him concerning the venture. Here is our conversation.

Tim Gaiser (TG): How did your venture of researching wine and the position it performed within the lives of great composers come about? What was the genesis?

Ron Merlino (RM): The catalyst for the undertaking was my good pal Matthew VanBiesen, who in 2015 was the CEO of the New York Philharmonic. He got here to me and stated, “Let’s start a series of pre-concert events for donors and board members where we pour wine in my office. You can talk about the intersections between what they’re going to hear on the concert and the wines you’re going to pour.” I ended up doing that for two years.

Over time I noticed that there was lot extra info to be collected, organized, and written about simply how necessary wine was in the historical past of so most of the famous composers. That was the launching pad. From there I started to take the work deeper from a extra educational point. I met with individuals like the director of the Beethoven House in Bonn in Germany, the director of the Handel Home in Halle additionally in Germany, and different such institutions. I was satisfied that there was one thing which may illuminate not only the music, but in addition the lives of those composers and permit us to construct some bridges between the two worlds.



TG: What are the kinds of belongings you discovered in researching wine and composers that stunned you?

RM: There’s so much. Going again to once I was doing the events with the New York Philharmonic, I used to be a bit of at the mercy of the orchestra’s improvement division as far as being handed a program for a performance and having to build one thing around it. For example, purely by probability I ended up having to do one thing on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

TG: What did you study wine, Vivaldi, and his Four Seasons?

RM: Initially I wasn’t thinking about doing anything on Vivaldi. The 4 Seasons has been performed one million occasions. But I used to be obligated to attempt and ended up stumbling upon how essential the historical past of music and wine was during Vivaldi’s lifetime. Furthermore, how the 2 intersected in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

Vivaldi was dwelling in Venice at the finish of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries. The ruling Rialto households, who had been in charge of the Republic of Venice for tons of of years, found themselves in a quandary. The viability of their enterprise model of with the ability to trade wine and other commodities to different elements of Europe was starting to wane. They have been on the mercy of rising success on the a part of Bordeaux and different locations, and needed to find one other line of business apart from trade. These households settled on the thought of creating the town of Venice itself a high-end luxury vacation spot for the elite of Europe. They built lodges, restaurants, and different entertainment venues making an attempt to attract the wealthy elite. It’s very similar to the Las Vegas of recent occasions.

As a part of that initiative, some seventeen new opera houses have been built within the metropolis over the past decade of the 17th century. This created an enormous demand for commissions for composers to put in writing music for all these new opera houses. In essence, in case you have been a profitable composer in Venice on the time, you made your bread and butter dwelling by churning out operas week after week.

Inadvertently, the ruling class of wine service provider families out of the blue turned some of the necessary historic teams in the historical past of Italian Baroque opera. They commissioned tons and tons of music. At this time, Vivaldi is called a composer of instrumental music. In reality, a majority of his output was opera, much of which has unfortunately not survived. So there’s a really direct link between the commerce of wine and the historical past of Baroque Italian opera, not necessarily something individuals speak about.


TG: What about J.S. Bach? Was wine necessary to him and his career?

RM: Sure, there’s so much to talk about on the subject of Bach; not necessarily the wines he drank however even more how essential wine (and beer and coffee) have been to his life, notably through the later years when he lived in Leipzig.

A concentrate on Bach and wine might take up a whole lifetime of research by itself. He was extremely aware, informed, and related to all the political, business, and inventive tendencies around him, particularly in Leipzig. He might not have been a composer that traveled very much, however he was keenly aware of a way of nationalism like few different composers. Take into consideration the truth that Bach spent the primary half of his life in what was the boondocks. Then he obtained the position at the Collegium Musicum and the St. Thomas church in Leipzig. At that time, Leipzig was an epicenter for international commerce. It was a spot where merchants have been bringing in items from the Far East, the Middle East, and Southern and Japanese Europe. On this milieu, Bach was round a extremely refined tradition including wine.

We all know extra about Bach’s political and public curiosity in coffee than wine. There was a raging debate concerning the deserves of espresso all through Europe at that time. It’s not dissimilar to the marijuana debate at the moment, when it comes to whether it’s good for you, dangerous for you, or a morally horrible factor to be associated with. At numerous factors during Bach’s time in Leipzig, coffee was banned, legalized, and then banned once more. However Bach was a continuing advocate for coffee. We all know that he was a real connoisseur and collected plenty of espresso gear and paraphernalia. He additionally used it as a platform to advertise his personal musical activities. As an alternative of holding live shows in church buildings and different places, he would famously maintain his live shows in one of many coffee homes in Leipzig. It was a daring factor for him to do as a result of espresso houses have been typically equated to pink mild districts. He would convene all his college students at Zimmerman’s, a well known espresso home, and current his live shows simply as a approach to be sensational. So Bach was somebody who wasn’t afraid to ruffle the feathers of those round him and shake issues up a bit.

We don’t know rather a lot concerning the specific wines Bach drank, but we do have document of him asking for contracts to be paid not in foreign money but in coveted commodities like barrels of wines from the Rhein land in Germany. These wines have been arduous to return by in Leipzig and expensive. Bach additionally had a big house at the end of his life that was given to him by the Collegium Musicum. It apparently had some 15 rooms. We know from the ledger in 1750 that when he died two of the rooms have been devoted to the storage of beer, wine, and spirits. That’s not inconsiderable!


TG: What about Mozart?

RM: With Mozart, we know a bit bit extra—but we nonetheless don’t know as a lot as I’d hoped we might. I feel that’s partly a perform of the truth that Mozart falls in the time period where composers virtually all the time lived underneath the make use of of a courtroom or royalty or the church. Solely late in his life did Mozart grow to be what we consider as a freelance artist. A lot of the info that we find out about his every day life only comes from that late interval when he needed to write letters about extra practical enterprise issues.

Mozart was an individual who was very desirous about tendencies. He was a man of the moment, so to talk. At the moment we might call him one thing of a dandy. I don’t essentially assume Mozart was a connoisseur of high quality wine and meals, however he was all the time curious about being of the fashion of the time. It’s in all probability not solely by probability that the few references we get as far as the wine he was consuming was Champagne, which exhibits him to be a man who was capable of access one thing extra uncommon and prestigious inside the wine tradition of the time.

We know from his father Leopold that Mozart was fond of consuming Champagne in the daytime—not at night time! I don’t know if that’s a show or a show or standing or if it provides us an insight into how individuals truly have been using Champagne at that time limit. Leopold tells us specifically that the Champagne would come—and there were many bottles of it—at the finish of a lunch and not initially. It was served with shellfish and sweets.

(Since our conversation, Ron wrote, “The Champagne and oyster lunch apparently became fashionable in France during the reign of Louis XV, at the time when Champagne was being actively promoted by the King as a line of commerce. The wealthy elite would usually hunt in the mornings and convene for a shellfish and oyster afternoon lunch—so this may have some relation to the time of day and service of the champagne at Mozart’s home—an emulation of the French ‘style.’”)

We also know that Mozart typically stored bottles of wine on the keyboard at night time when he was composing. There are additionally some reminiscences from a neighbor that lived in the condominium throughout from him in Vienna. Apparently, in the midst of the night time when Mozart was composing and wanted extra bottles of wine he would merely knock on the wall between the flats and his neighbor would convey him extra bottles so he might proceed writing.


TG: What about Beethoven?

RM: Beethoven is superb. With regard to this analysis journey, he continues to inspire and amaze me daily. Each time I look, I uncover more. Beethoven was the primary composer in historical past who literally lived as a freelancer, from day one by means of the top of his life. He never had a job the place he was employed beneath the patronage of someone full time. Every single piece of music he wrote, he wrote on commission. This is vital as a result of it meant that from very early on, at the least in his skilled life in Vienna, he needed to be capable of functioning nicely in high society, with the political, social, and noble elite. He had to be able to find connections and friendships with the patrons who would principally maintain his career alive. This required him to be told, conversant, adept, and capable of slip in and out many various contexts, which meant that he needed to be incredibly knowledgeable about things that may attraction to these individuals.

Beethoven was subsequently very related to the world of culture and wine. The patrons who caught with him throughout his lifetime had their own specific strains of enterprise. What virtually all of them had indirectly, shape, or type, was some facet that had to do with the enterprise of wine. By means of interactions with these patrons, Beethoven turned very educated about a wide selection of wines. We know via his letters and the dialog books he used to communicate with individuals because he was deaf in his later years, just how numerous the array of wine he was consuming but in addition what particularly he was consuming, from Bordeaux to Champagne to a wide variety of wines he loved in native heurigen and taverns. He tells us what he would drink and what he would eat. He writes about being annoyed with certain sorts of wine. It’s very fascinating and fairly fascinating how much info is there and how essential wine was in his life.

Something additionally value noting about Beethoven is that while he typically lived within the middle of Vienna, he would also take flats outdoors the town walls. Ceaselessly, the flats have been in what at the moment are main wine regions. So Beethoven was actually dwelling in and among the many vineyards. He was taking walks via the vineyards, up and down the steep hills, and strolling next to the Danube. He was continuously composing whereas dwelling within the vineyards. There’s a hyperlink between his compositional spirit and the actual land, vines, and wine.

In a much bigger image, wine for Beethoven was symbolic. It was a representation of something he needed to aspire to in his personal music. He felt that wine was something artistically extra pure and incorruptible that impressed individuals to communicate in a extra instant approach with one another. It was one thing that might strip away all of the obstacles and layers of status, and convey everyone across the table to eat and drink and be equals. I feel this for Beethoven was so essential. It has lots to do with why wine played such an necessary position in his every day life and his skilled life.

TG: I keep in mind you mentioning a quote in a previous dialog; one thing Beethoven supposedly stated on his deathbed that has been long misinterpreted. What’s that quote?

RM: A British biographer in 1827 wrote that Beethoven’s ultimate phrases before passing have been, “Pity, pity, it’s too late.” The biographer and Schindler—Beethoven’s handler on the time—needed the world to consider that the composer’s last phrases meant that he was raging at the heavens due to all the superb music he had in his head that he wouldn’t be capable of write. The reality is that within the final months of his life, Beethoven’s docs had suggested him to cease consuming the sorts of wines he had grown accustomed to. He had terrible digestive points and was going via a collection of medical remedies to alleviate virtually fixed ache.

At that point in his life, Beethoven was consuming virtually solely sweet wines like Tokaji, Rust, and Ausbruch. His docs really helpful that he stop consuming solely—and if not, drink lighter wines like German Riesling from the Mosel. Beethoven then asked his publisher Schott in Mainz to send him a cargo of Rieslings from the Rheingau. But the wines didn’t come for months and months. Beethoven despatched Schott a number of letters asking concerning the wines and once they would arrive. Lastly, the cargo arrived the day earlier than he died. When his butler informed him, he famously sat up in bed and stated, “Pity, pity, it’s too late.” The wines he wouldn’t be capable of drink.


TG: What about Brahms?

RM: Like Beethoven, Brahms was very related to the world of the Rheingau. When Brahms was youthful and visited Schumann, he literally hiked on foot from Mainz via the Rheingau to Düsseldorf. He stored a small journey e-book so we all know actually each vineyard that he walked by means of on this long two-month trek. It made such an indelible influence on him that later in life he befriended Rudi and Laura von Beckerath, who were not only musical devotees but in addition wine merchants and negociants who lived in Rudesheim in the Rheingau. Brahms started to go to them each summer time and hung out within the vineyards of the Rheingau. He spent a whole lot of time composing in there in the course of the summers. The third symphony was written throughout a time when he was in Rudesheim and Wiesbaden.

Brahms drank many various kinds of wines. He was an avid traveler, visiting Italy 9 totally different occasions all through his life—no small accomplishment in these days. He was very keen on sweet wines and drank numerous Sicilian wine, especially Marsala. We know that on the Purple Hedgehog, his favourite tavern in Vienna, he had a standing barrel of Tokaji all the time at his disposal. And like Beethoven, Brahms’ last words are about wine, in this case also Rudesheim Riesling. On his deathbed, he was given a spoon of Riesling and stated one thing to the effect of, “Ah, this always tastes good.”


TG: Any closing ideas about your challenge?

RM: I take a look at Beethoven and how he capable of talk directly to the core of humanity together with his music. Wine as an artwork type was something that he might use in his every day life as inspiration to keep going. I feel it’s very profound and additionally essential. We may be fascinated in the trivia of wine, however to me it’s very uplifting to see wine as an artwork type that meant so much in a really religious, moral, and social approach to somebody as necessary as Beethoven. I take some consolation and solace in that. For all that we do in our professional tastings and comparisons, there’s humanity, personal power, and creativity imbued in a bottle of wine that can also inspire us to do better.

Republished with gracious permission from the Future Symphony Institute.

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