Wednesday Bach Blogging: Coffee Cantata, BWV 211

Apollo's Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, in a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's comedy opera, the Coffee Cantata. Part 1 above; parts 2 and 3 below.


Apollo's Fire
- A Multi-Generational Concert (Young Artist Apprentices in collaboration with guest artists & principal players)

* Madeline Apple Healey, soprano
* Jeffrey Strauss, baritone
* Corey Shotwell, tenor

* Sarah Lynn, traverso
* Karina Schmitz, violin
* Augusta McKay Lodge, violin
* Cynthia Black, viola
* René Schiffer, cello

* Young Artist Apprentices of Apollo's Fire

Jeannette Sorrell, Musical & Stage Direction

A live performance:
January 22, 2015 • Mixon Hall • Cleveland Institute of Music

Performed in English, translation by Jeannette Sorrell

The only secular, non-church related vocal ensemble composition written by Bach to have survived, and possibly the only comic narrative piece he ever wrote, the short comedy opera Coffee Cantata is a delight from beginning to end, just like a good cup of coffee. Besides the concertos and orchestral suites (which were basically dance music) that he composed earlier in his life before settling in Leipzig and a career as musical director at St Thomas Church, this is a rare look into J.S. Bach's inner man, and we find that he was actually a pretty fun guy!

A quick review at Open Culture:

"J.S. Bach's Comic Opera, The Coffee Cantata  Sings the Praises of the Stimulating Drink

From the time that a nameless genius in either Ethiopia or Yemen decided to dry, crush and strain water through a berry known for making goats nervous and jumpy, coffee has been loved and worshiped like few other beverages. Early Arab doctors proclaimed the stuff to be a miracle drug. Thoroughly caffeinated thinkers from Voltaire to Jonathan Swift to Jack Kerouac debated literature, philosophy and everything in between at coffee houses. Author Honoré Balzac even reportedly died because of excessive coffee drinking (it was either that or the syphilis.)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was also apparently a coffee enthusiast. So much so that he wrote a composition about the beverage. Although known mostly for his liturgical music, his Coffee Cantata (AKA Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, BWV 211) is a rare example of a secular work by the composer. The short comic opera was written (circa 1735) for a musical ensemble called The Collegium Musicum based in a storied Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, Germany. The whole cantata seems very much to have been written with the local audience in mind.

Coffee Cantata is about a young vivacious woman named Aria who loves coffee. Her killjoy father is, of course, dead set against his daughter having any kind of caffeinated fun. So he tries to ban her from the drink. Aria bitterly complains:
Father sir, but do not be so harsh!
If I couldn’t, three times a day,
be allowed to drink my little cup of coffee,
in my anguish I will turn into
a shriveled-up roast goat.
          Ah! How sweet coffee tastes,
          more delicious than a thousand kisses,
          milder than muscatel wine.
          Coffee, I have to have coffee,
          and, if someone wants to pamper me,
          ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

The copywriters at Starbucks marketing department couldn’t have written it any better. Eventually, daughter and father reconcile when he agrees to have a guaranteed three cups of coffee a day written into her marriage contract. The lyrics in German and English can be read here."

PlayBuzz has an article with 10 fun facts about the Coffee Cantata, and a somewhat more scholarly short essay about the opera can be found on the Bach Choir of Bethlehem's website.

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