Sleepers Awake to J.S. Bach's Coffee Cantata
If you think you get cranky when you miss that first morning cup of java, how about this: "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." That's a line from Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Be still, stop chattering), BWV 211, or as it's more popularly known, the Coffee Cantata, by Johann Sebastian Bach. When Bach wasn't writing prodigious amounts of music for Lutheran religious services as Cantor at the Thomaskirche and as Director of Music for the main churches in town, he was down at the Zimmermannsche Kafeehaus, or Cafe Zimmerman, a coffee house in Leipzig. It was the meeting place of the Collegium Musicum, a music society that Bach directed between 1729 and 1737, the period during which he wrote the Coffee Cantata. The concerts that were given there were open to the public and free. Old Zimmerman's expenses were paid by the coffee and other goodies he sold, perhaps kind of like a Starbucks today. We often think of Bach as this serious figure who wrote profoundly serious music, and he certainly did that. But, there was a lighter side, too. The Coffee Cantata is a secular work that is essentially a mini-comic opera about a person addicted to coffee. The story concerns the father, Schlendrian, who is trying break his daughter's habit by threatening to not allow her to marry. You can tell that Lieschen is addicted to her caffeine fix because she sings a love song to her coffee. Everything works out all right in the end, though. While seeming to agree with dad to stop, she tells all her suitors that they must allow her to have her coffee or she won't marry them. In the end, the moral of the story seems to be that drinking coffee is natural. So, go ahead have that second cup of coffee without guilt. I think old Johann Sebastian must have drank a lot of the stuff to write the phenomenal amount of music he did.