Bach’s Coffee Cantata

Bach's Coffee Cantata

Do you love coffee? Have you had your coffee this morning? Do you know, in 1734, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a cantata about the temptation and power of coffee?

You might know that Bach wrote a lot of sacred cantatas to be used in church services; his Leipzig years (1723-1750) were especially a prolific time for sacred cantatas. In Leipzig Bach was responsible for the musical training of the boys choir at Thomasschule and oversaw music at four main churches of Leipzig--the Thomaskirche, the Nikolaikirche, the Matthäeikirche (or Neukirche) and the Petrikirche. There he wrote five cycles of cantatas for the Church year. What this means is that he wrote enough cantatas for every Sunday for five years. Totally he wrote over 300 sacred cantatas--the first four cycles were completed in the late 1920s, and the fifth took a little longer and was finished in the early 1940s. Unfortunately, about two-fifths are considered lost.

What is less known is that he also wrote some secular cantata, among which more are lost than those that survived. The Coffee Cantata, "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be silent, don't chatter") (BWV 211), is one of them. This cantata reflects the growing popularity of coffee at that time in Leipzig. The Coffee Cantata was probably performed by Collegium Musicum at Gottfried Zimmermann's coffee house.

The text by Picander was about a father (Herr Schlendrian) advising his daughter (Liesgen) to give up coffee, otherwise she would not be able to find a husband. The clever Liesgen then replies that she would just find a husband who would let her have coffee. You can find the entire text and translation here.

You might not expect to find words like "Dear Father, do not be so strict! / For if I may not thrice each day / My little cup of coffee drink, / I'll turn indeed to my distress / Into a dried-up goat for roasting." in Bach's music. But they surely show that people's strong desire for coffee isn't only a recent thing.

If you can relate to Liesgen, the coffee-crazy girl, let's listen to this coffee cantata now! (And perhaps make some coffee to go with it!)

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