The "Coffee Cantata" is the nickname of a cantata (BWV 211, "Schwegt stille, plaudert nicht") written by Bach around 1732 as an answer to the coffee craze that was sweeping Leipzig in the 1730s. Lighthearted and short, the piece remains a popular performance choice because: (1) it's about coffee, and (2) it is extremely funny, especially done in the original German.

The cantata as written is scored for soprano, tenor and bass, accompanied by transverse flute, 2 violins, 1 viola, and continuo, but it has also been transcribed into a standard 4-part choral format (the reading of which is loads of fun).

Bach wrote about twenty such "secular" cantatas, mostly to be performed as comic pieces or masques. It's the closest he came to writing comic operettas, and even the brief dalliances he allowed himself did not sit well with the local church officials and magistrates. The libretto he chose was a satirical poem by Christian Friedrich Henrici, who went by the name "Picander" when writing social satire. The story concerns a willful daughter named Lieschen who is addicted to coffee. Her father, Schlendrian, threatens to forbid her various privileges (essentially he grounds her) in order to cure her of her habit, but she is willing to give them all up. He then says that he will deny her a husband, and she swears that she will give it up. As he leaves to seek out a husband for her, she secretly vows to rebuke all suitors unless they promise to allow her to drink coffee once they are married. The complete translated text is below. If you read German it's versified and funnier; there's a link in the sources at the bottom.

Bach wrote the Coffee Cantata at Zimmerman's Coffee House in Leipzig, which had become a fashionable social establishment. In the evenings Bach held concerts there, sometimes featuring students from a performing society Telemann had formed called the Collegium Musicum. He debuted the Brandenburg Concertos there, among other things, in an open-air concert.

The Libretto (my translation, leaning somewhat toward the literal rather than preserving the verse form):

1. Recitative
Narrator: Be quiet, don't chatter (plaudern), and listen to what's happening: Here comes Herr Schlendrian with his daughter Lieschen; he is growling like a honey-bear. Hear for yourselves, what she has done to him!

2. Air
Schlendrian: Don't one's children cause a hundred thousand trials and tribulations! What I say to my daughter every day goes without fruit.

3. Recitative
Schlendrian: You angry child, you disobedient girl, Oh! When will I get my way: Give up coffee!
Lieschen: Father, don't be so strict! If I don't get my bowl of coffee three times a day, then I'll shrivel up like a piece of roasted goat from my torment.

4. Aria
Lieschen: Oooh! How the coffee really hits the spot, lovelier than a thousand kisses, more mellow than muscatel wine. Coffee, coffee I must have, and when someone wants to give me a treat, well, then give me some more coffee!

5. Recitative
Schlendrian: If you don't give up drinking coffee, then you won't go to any wedding feast, nor will you go out walking.
Lieschen: Oh well! Just leave me my coffee!
Schlendrian: Now I've got the little minx! I won't get you a whalebone skirt in the latest fashion either.
Lieschen: I can stand that easily.
Schlendrian: You won't be able to stand by the window and look out at people.
Lieschen: Also that, but I beg of you, leave me the coffee!
Schlendrian: You won't be getting a silver or gold band to go in your bonnet.
Lieschen: Yes, yes! Just leave me my pleasure (Vergnügen)
Schlendrian: You disobedient Lieschen you, go along with it then!

6. Air
Schlendrian: Girls that are hard-hearted are not easy to win over. But if one hits the proper spot, then one can come away lucky.

7. Recitative
Schlendrian: Now follow what your father said!
Lieschen: In everything, just not the coffee.
Schlendrian: OK then, you'll just have to get used to not getting a husband.
Lieschen: Oh! Father, a husband!
Schlendrian: I swear, it won't happen.
Lieschen: Until I can forego the coffee? From now on, coffee, remain left alone! Father, listen: I won't drink any of it.
Schlendrian: Then you shall finally have a husband!

8. Aria
Lieschen: Today, even, dear Father, get it done! Oh, a man! Truly, that suits me splendidly! If it could happen soon then at last I could have a real lover before bed, instead of coffee!

9. Recitative
Narrator: Now old Schlendrian goes off to see if he can get a husband for his daughter Lieschen; but Lieschen secretly lets it be known: no suitor comes into my house, unless he has given me the solemn promise, and written into the marriage contract, that I will be permitted to make myself coffee whenever I want to.

10. Trio
All: A cat won't stop chasing mice, and young women remain coffee-sisters. The mother loves her coffee break, the Grandmother drinks it also. Who can therefore chastise the daughters!

Sources: The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, Macmillan Press, 1994
"Coffee Cantata" in "Bach's Secular Cantatas", (this also contains the original German libretto)
"Java Bach: How coffee inspired Bach to write his only comic cantata...", article

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