Today we welcome Rebecca Richardson - classical singer and host of Will Sing For Wine! Read on for her classical music and wine pairing suggestions!
Thank you, Sound Garden, for allowing me to share one of my greatest passions with you today… pairing classical music and wine. Allow me to briefly introduce myself. My name is Rebecca, and I’m a classical singer, wine enthusiast, voice coach, and music educator. I have devoted over half my life thus far to the study and performance of classical music, and there are few things I love more than introducing potential new audience members to the genre.
Here’s the thing - A LOT of people around the world love wine, but not everyone loves to listen to classical music. In researching methods for making classical music more accessible, I’ve discovered that wine is the perfect gateway into developing a profound love of this style of music, even for the most sceptical listener. And thus, Will Sing for Wine was born.
Below, I’ve compiled a handful of exquisite songs, symphonies, and more to get you started on your sensory exploration of classical music paired with wine:
Ibert’s Concerto for Flute and Orchestra + Assyrtiko
Amid the scramble for novelty that occupied the minds of many classical music composers in the first half of the 1900s, Jacques Ibert offers a breath of fresh air in 20th-century repertoire by establishing his own unique sound through his refusal to commit to a single compositional philosophy. He had a particular fascination with the variety of colours produced by wind instruments; consequently, he chose to feature them in many of his works. While Ibert’s Concerto for Flute and Orchestra covers a diversity of moods and colours, from poetic and pensive to witty and dynamic, the composer manages to maintain a characteristic felicity apparent in so much of his music. We wouldn’t want to weigh down an instrument as effervescent as the flute with a heavy wine. When I think of happiness in a glass, a citrusy white wine such as Greek Assyrtiko comes to mind for its light, floral, and sunshine-invoking qualities.
Verdi’s La Traviata + Crémant d’Alsace
I know what you’re thinking… “Sparkling wine with La Traviata… revolutionary :/.” Hear me out. Verdi’s theatrical masterpiece continues to be among the top performed operas worldwide, and for good reason. The tragic love story paired with the beauty of Verdi’s transformative score is the very essence of irresistible. It’s classic, endures the test of time, and fulfils that operatic fantasy we all hold, whether we realize it or not. Sparkling wine is often associated with the first act of the opera, the lavish party scene where we first get to know the principal characters and are introduced to their blossoming love story. I would like to make the argument that a particular style of sparkling wine, Crémant D’alsace, would pair perfectly with the opera in its entirety because of its luxurious quality for a fraction of the cost. No need to feel guilty about sipping on this creamy, apple-tinted beverage for the span of an entire opera. Check out this synopsis of La Traviata to learn more if you’ve never seen the opera before. Fun fact - Crémant is produced using the same technique as Champagne but cannot be labeled as such since it uses grapes grown outside the Champagne region in France.
Nadia Boulanger’s Fantaisie pour piano et orchestre + Merlot
Despite her undeniable potential and brilliance, Nadia Boulanger abandoned composing relatively early in her life following the death of her sister and fellow composer, Lili. Today, she is instead best known as one of the most influential music educators in history, having worked with such recognizable musicians as Philip Glass, Thea Musgrave, and Quincy Jones. Fantaisie pour piano et orchestra is one of the few gems we have to become acquainted with Nadia as a composer. The piece begins with drama and vigour which eventually acquiesces into lush, melodic romance. Romance ultimately gives way to a flurry of passion at the finish. For drinking, we need a wine substantial enough to withstand the dramatic shifts in mood and supple enough to honour the music’s grace. Try a rich, fruity, and delicious red wine such as Merlot. You won’t go wrong searching for options from the right bank of Bordeaux.
Alban Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder + Syrah
Alban Berg’s musical style is known for bridging the gap between Romanticism and the newer techniques popularized by his contemporaries such as Schoenberg and Webern. In fact, Berg spent several years studying composition with Schoenberg. While Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder (“Seven early songs”) are considered to be an example of his “student” compositions, the composer would later rework these songs on multiple occasions. They are now a staple of Berg’s oeuvre, and their more mature manifestation still pays homage to his Romantic roots. Highly dramatic, sensual, and endlessly captivating, this set of songs would pair beautifully with a purple-hued Syrah. If there was ever a time to pop open a bottle of this inky, rich, and spicy nectar, listening to these songs would be it. As you sip, you can follow along with the English translation of the text here.
Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132 + Mourvèdre
If you’ve spent any time on my blog, you may have noticed that I have a very strong attachment to Beethoven. Consequently, I couldn’t bear to leave him out of this wine pairings collection. The famously moody composer’s last few string quartets, including Op. 132, are legendary in their darkness, unpredictability, and vulnerability. In a way, works such as this one are an autobiography of the emotional state of the declining composer as he approached death. At this point in his life, Beethoven had retreated from public life and turned his focus exclusively to composing. For a piece weighed down by the emotional heaviness of a troubled artist, I would recommend drinking a rich, earthy, and tannic red wine such as Mourvèdre (also known as Monastrell in Spain). A quick note about Mourvèdre - it’s common for winemakers to blend this particular grape with others. Don’t worry if you can only find one of these blends. They’re delicious and will still pair beautifully with the piece.
Rachmaninoff’s Vespers (“All-Night Vigil, Op. 37”) + Trousseau
When you think of Sergei Rachmaninoff, you likely recall his virtuosic classical piano music or his highly Romantic orchestral writing. That’s one of the reasons why his introspective and personal All-Night Vigil is so intriguing. Rachmaninoff’s Vespers are among the most beloved and impactful pieces in choral repertoire. He even thought them to be among his best work (which is notable for a composer who was known to be extremely critical of his own music) and requested one of the movements to be sung at his own funeral. For a piece of music as contrastingly rich and intimate as this, I would recommend drinking a Trousseau. A nice alternative to Pinot Noir, this lighter red wine is full of dark berries, spice, and a wonderful earthiness. The fact that it’s more difficult to track down than a Pinot Noir makes it even more special. If you’d like to follow along with the text, you can find an English translation here.
Sound Garden Product
Classical Inspirations: Sergei Rachmaninoff
Discover the amazing stories of both familiar and lesser-known trailblazing composers!
Classical music figures come to life as you learn, listen, and engage!
Suitable for ages 6-12.
Amy Beach’s Symphony in E minor “Gaelic” + Chenin Blanc
Amy Beach is known today as the first American woman to publish a symphony and gain notoriety as a composer of large-scale orchestral works. She also devoted much of her life to advocating for her fellow women composers. It seems only fitting to feature her notable first symphony in this post celebrating great classical music works paired with wine. Beach’s “Gaelic” symphony is known as such due to its traditional Gaelic and Irish themes and pays homage to the influx of Irish immigrants as a significant contributor to the 19th century American identity. Chenin Blanc is a white wine grape that varies quite dramatically once bottled depending on region and style. For this particular work, try a “tendre” Vouvray - off-dry, floral, aromatic, and classic… a lovely companion for Beach’s late-Romantic writing.
Sound Garden Product
Classical Inspirations: Amy Beach
As well as the Classical Inspirations series for ages 6-12, we also offer:
Classical Sessions for adults and teens
Composer Activity Guides for parents/carers of ages 0-6
I hope this article inspires you to experience more music by classical music composers with a gorgeous glass of wine. If you’re interested in learning more about how to pair classical music and wine, I invite you to check out this Will Sing for Wine article on how to pair music and wine. Happy listening!
Interested in writing a guest post?
Download and complete the form below!