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
, 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
The Libretto (my translation, leaning somewhat toward the literal rather than preserving the verse form):
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!
Schlendrian: Don't one's children cause a hundred thousand
trials and tribulations! What I say to my daughter every day goes without
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.
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!
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
Lieschen: Yes, yes! Just leave me my pleasure (Vergnügen)
Schlendrian: You disobedient Lieschen you, go along with it then!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, Macmillan Press, 1994
"Coffee Cantata" in "Bach's Secular Cantatas", http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/2547/bwv211.html
(this also contains the original German libretto)
"Java Bach: How coffee inspired Bach to write his only comic cantata...",