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Bach and the Coffee Cantata

This is the second post in a two-part blog series by HACU National Internship Program digitization intern Hannah Noël about the life and work of Johann Sebastian Bach, in honor of his 334th birthday last Thursday, March 21; the first post can be read here.

During his tenure in Leipzig, toward the middle of his career as Cantor of St. Thomas Church, Bach was heavily involved with the city’s Collegium Musicum, a secular performance ensemble started by Georg Philip Telemann in 1702. Bach assumed directorship of the collegium in 1729 and began to perform with the ensemble regularly at Café Zimmerman (Zimmermannsches Kaffeehaus), a coffeehouse and local social centre for gentlemen in Leipzig.

One of the more unique works that Bach composed at this time was the secular cantata Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (literally “be still, stop chattering”), better known as the Coffee Cantata (BWV 211). Composed probably between 1732 and 1735, the cantata is essentially a miniature comic opera that tells the story of a disgruntled father, Schlendrian, who argues with his caffeine-obsessed daughter, Lieschen, about what he perceives to be her bad habit of indulging in too much coffee. The opera consists mostly of a back-and-forth dialogue between these two characters; bewildered by Lieschen’s devotion to the drink, Schlendrian unsuccessfully tries to bribe his daughter into renouncing caffeine in favor of settling down with a husband while Lieschen evades his commandments with clever maneuvers and outright disobedience. The work lampoons both the wild popularity of coffee in 18th century Leipzig, as well as the mildly sanctimonious belief held by some of Leipzig society at the time that coffee drinking was a bad habit that needed to be broken.

The libretto was written by Bach’s longtime collaborator Christian Friedrich Henrici (better known as Picander) and consists of 10 movements, composed for three vocal soloists in the roles of: Lieschen (soprano), the Narrator (tenor), and Schlendrian (bass). The NLS Music Section currently only has the second movement from the cantata, Schlendrian’s bass solo Hat man nicht mit seinen Kindern, in braille (BRM22691).

We here at the Music Section feel this cantata is particularly timely, as the recent switch to daylight saving time has left many people a little dazed and perhaps more dependent on caffeine than they would normally be. It is some comfort to think that the humans of nearly four centuries ago could so readily identify with the modern world’s dependence on the cherished, fragrant coffee bean. Perhaps, had he been born into this modern world, you might have found Bach hanging out at his local Starbucks in Leipzig, drawing inspiration (and sweet sustenance) from the joy of coffee just as he did at the Zimmermannsches Kaffeehaus in 1702.

Please contact us to request braille, digital audio-cartridges, or large-print materials or to download audio materials from BARD. We’re happy to help you find music scores or music instructional materials. Our phone number is 1-800-424-8567, option 2. You can also e-mail us at [email protected].

 

Braille

Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750

  • Hat Man Nicht Mit Seinen Kindern. For piano. Section by section and bar by bar formats. (BRM22691)
  • Sonata VI in G Major for Violin and Obbligato Harpsichord: BWV 1019. For violin and harpsichord. Line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM36642)
  • Fantasie und Fuge, Organ, BWV 542, G Minor. For organ. Bar by bar format. (BRM23703)
  • Air: From Overture or Suite in D, BWV 1068. For organ. Bar by bar format. (BRM22694)
  • Sheep May Safely Graze = Schafe können sicher weiden. For piano duet. Section by section format. (BRM25635)
  • Schweitzer, Albert. Schweitzer’s Suggestions for Performance of Toccata and Fugue in D minor. For organ. Paragraph format. (BRM04217)
  • Tovey, Donald Francis. A Companion to Bach’s Art of the Fugue. Braille text. (BRM09608)

Audio

Large Print

Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750

  • First Lessons in Bach: Book 2: 12 Short Pieces. For harpsichord and piano. (LPM00150)
  • Two Part Inventions. For piano. (LPM00499)
  • Choralvorspiele in authentischer Folge. For organ. (LPM00466)
  • Partita in D Minor – Sonata No. 1 in G Minor. For solo violin. (LPM00791)

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