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JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH—COMEDIC BARISTA

GLORIOUS BACH. OF COURSE. Majestic Bach. Sure. But comedic Bach?? And a purveyor of coffee?? 

Yes, as confirmed by his Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, BWV 211, aka Kaffeekantate. Wikipedia describes this secular cantata as “essentially a miniature comic opera. In a satirical commentary, the cantata amusingly tells of an addiction to (or rather dependence on) coffee.” 

Satirical? Amusingly? Two more words not usually associated with this earliest of the Three B’s, the other two being Beethoven and Brahms.

Johann Sebastian Bach, 1685–1750, German composer extraordinaire. Portrait by E.G. Haussmann, 1748.

Catalogue Numbers. A cantata (Italian, literally “sung”) is a vocal composition with instrumental accompaniment. Bach wrote more than 200 cantatas between 1707 and perhaps 1745. Like other Bach pieces, they are identified by their Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach works catalogue) numbers. BWVs are fairly recent, first published in 1950, a second edition appearing in 1990.

Also, vocal compositions are often identified by their first line of lyrics: Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (“How beautifully shines the morning star”), BWV 1, is Bach’s first catalogued cantata.

A Hint of Comedy To Come. A translation of BWV 211’s first line is “Keep quiet, don’t chatter” sung by the tenor Narrator. Getting the audience’s attention, he introduces bass Schlendrian and daughter soprano Liesgen. 

Google Translate offers one meaning of Schlendrian as “rut.” Wikipedia says “Stick in the Mud.” (Schlamm is “mud.”) Let’s call his daughter Sweet Lisa. 

“He’s growling like a honey-bear,” the Narrator says, “Hear for yourselves what she had done to him.”

Stick in the Mud’s Muddle. Says the father, “Don’t we have with our children a hundred thousand muddles? Oh, If only I could have my way: get rid of coffee!”

Sweet Lisa’s Response: “Father, don’t be so hard! If three times a day I can’t drink my little cup of coffee, then I would become so upset that I would be like a dried up piece of roast goat.” 

It’s even funnier auf Deutsch: ein verdorrtes Ziegenbrätchen.

Sweet Lisa and Romance. “Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße, Ah! how sweet coffee tastes! Lieblicher als tausend Küsse, Lovelier than a thousand kisses…

Well, there’s the problem. Sweet Lisa is hooked on Java.

An Historical Pause. In fact, coffee had growing popularity in Bach’s time, only to increase as it and other things Turkish became fashionable throughout Europe.

Not without controversy, though. Cynthia R. Greenlee observed in Bon Appétit, June 14, 2017, that coffee “was once thought to be a devilish drink unfit for children, women, and men concerned about their virility (seriously!).”

Image from Bon Appétit, June 14, 2017.

Greenlee quoted Duke University’s Brian Schmidt: “We know that Bach loved his family, God, and sacred music. And we also know he loved beer, brandy, and coffee.” At the time, the 1730s, Bach was living in Leipzig, what Greenlee called “a German city with a burgeoning coffeehouse scene—Saxony’s answer to the Bay Area or Brooklyn.” 

Zimmermann’s Coffeehouse, Leipzig. Engraving by Johann George Schreiber, c. 1720.

Back to Sweet Lisa and Her Dad. Schlendrian threatens to prevent his daughter from marrying if she fails to give up coffee. Liesgen has a sudden change of heart. 

Or does she? 

As Schlendrian lines up prospective lovers, Liesgen secretly tells each that coffee drinking must accompany any other future fun. 

A Happy Ending. The cantata ends in a happy trio of Narrator, Schlendrian, and Liesgen: “Die Katze lässt das Mausen nicht, The cat does not leave the mouse,
Die Jungfern bleiben Coffeeschwestern, young ladies remain coffee addicts.”

Die Mutter liebt den Coffeebrauch, The mother loves her cup of coffee, Die Großmama trank solchen auch, the grandmother drank it also.. Wer will nun auf die Töchter lästern! Who can blame the daughters!”

A fine rendering of Bach’s Coffee Cantata can be seen at YouTube.

Exit stage left, to the nearest Koffeehaus.  ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022

One comment on “JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH—COMEDIC BARISTA

  1. Bill
    February 21, 2022

    No person as intelligent as Bach would be able to resist sarcasm and satire.
    Thank you.

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