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The 24 perform UK premiere of Jean Francaix's 'Ode a la gastronomie'

Posted on 10 May 2014

61 years after it was written, The 24 is to be the first UK choir to sing Jean Francaix's rarely heard-masterpiece, Ode a la gastronomie. The 15-minute work is for an adventurous 12-voices and will feature in their 'Fete Francaise' programme on May 21.

Conductor Robert Hollingworth, Reader in Music at the University of York, (also director of vocal ensemble I Fagiolini) said:

"This work is an extraordinary testament to the French attitude to food and dining, told through the rich texture of a 12-part choir.  It ranges from almost religious advice on how to pace yourself at a meal, what subjects not to talk about, the erotic properties of the black truffle and the deleterious effects of food on the digestion.  The text is by Jean Francaix himself but based on Brillat-Savarin's 1834 volume, 'Physiologie du gout'.

"Why the piece has not been performed is not entirely a mystery, given the considerable musical challenges it poses to performers as well as how to make sense of a piece for a non-French audience when it is practically a social document of post-Revolution French attitudes.  (The book was dedicated to 'Parisian gastronomes' and subtitled, 'Meditations de gastronomie transcendante.')  But the music's good humour, louche musical style and utter Frenchness will, we hope, endear it to our audience."

The composer's son, Jacques Francaix, is delighted to hear of the performance and will be watching via a live video link.  He noted:

"you can't escape noticing that Robert Hollingworth's own ensemble, I Fagiolini, carries a name (the little beans) which destines them in eternity to be the interpreter of a piece called, 'Ode to gastronomy'.

"My father would have been doubly delighted by this astonishing coincidence (but is it one?) which would have tickled him enormously - also because this profoundly original composition was only performed two or three times during his life.

"I would add that what I know of the qualities of I Fagiolini - musicianship, sensitivity with a strong dose of indispensible humour -  are further reasons that make me believe that he is absolutely predestined to perform this piece."

"On ne peux s'empêcher de penser que l'ensemble dirigé par Robert Hollingworth,"I Fagiolini", porte un nom (les haricots) qui le prédestine de toute éternité à interpréter une oeuvre intitulée "L'Ode à la Gastronomie"!

Mon père aurait donc été doublement ravi, par cette étonnante coïncidence (mais en est-ce une?) qui l'aurait énormément amusé, et parce que cette composition, pourtant profondément originale, n'a été exécutée que deux ou trois fois au cours de sa vie. 

J'ajouterais que ce que connais des qualités de cet ensemble, musicalité, sensibilité, avec une forte dose de l'indispensable humour, est une autre raison qui me font croire qu'il est également prédestiné musicalement à jouer cette oeuvre.
Jacques Françaix
The rest of The 24's concert includes another 12-voice work from just the year before, (1952): Daniel-Lesur's erotic masterpiece, 'Le Cantique des cantiques' (The song of songs).  Further student passion will be engendered through Poulenc's sensual 'Sept chansons' on poetry by Paul Eluard while order will be restored through three medieval 'sorbets' by Perotin and Guillaume de Machaut.