La Revue de Cuisine
clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, piano, violin, cello
notes by Anthony Suter
First performance: November 1927, Prague. Suite premiered January 1930, Paris.
The complicated romantic lives of anthropomorphic kitchen utensils serve as the plot of Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů’s 1927 ballet, La Revue de Cuisine (a hard-to-swallow bite of information, to be sure). The main characters are the Pot and the Lid (a seemingly happily married couple, of course), and the seductive whisk and dishcloth. A violent broom makes an appearance as well, though the day is saved when a Monty Python-esque giant foot boots the lid back to the pot. The story, strange as it may be, is not exactly unique to the time. Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges of 1924 featured characters such as a teacup, a clock, and a host of animal characters, and Stravinksy’s 1911 Petrushka centers on a similar romantic entanglement involving puppets.
The suite was extracted from the full ballet and downsized from a chamber orchestra to a sextet strikingly similar to Stravinsky’s ensemble for L’histoire du soldat—Martinů used piano instead of percussion and cello instead of bass. Like Stravinsky (and Ravel in the aforementioned work and Darius Milhaud’s La création du monde), dance music and a particularly European interpretation of American jazz play a huge role in the musical style of the work.
The suite consists of four movements, opening with the Prologue. A trumpet call kicks of an off-kilter march, which is a very cleverly constructed piece of chamber music. Uneven rhythms and bits of the various tunes are passed around and tossed through the ensemble with abandon. The Tango is the first of the two interior dance movements; it’s presented as a smoky, seductive number heavily featuring the trumpet and bassoon. The Charleston movement begins rather deceptively, as cascades of notes in the winds overlay an ominous ostinato in the lower instruments. This, of course, gives way to a sunny Charleston, replete with all the musical trappings one would expect. The Finale recalls the opening of the work and provides the soundtrack for the happy reunion of the Pot and the Lid, cleverly offering bits (dare we say tasty morsels?) of the other movements to pull the work together.