By Rob Mohr
On Sunday September 29, the Music House hosted music and coffee aficionados alike for a viewing of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht BWV 211 (performed by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir) or as it is better known, the Coffee Cantata.
Along with the viewing, the Music House provided three different coffees for sampling from artisan brand H.C. Valentine: Aztec Roast, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, and Volcan Beru.
Bach wrote the Coffee Cantata at some point between 1732 and 1735, and may have been inspired by the Café Zimmerman in Leipzig, Germany. Bach probably performed his cantata for the first time there as well. Although Bach never wrote an opera, this cantata (per Merriam Webster: “a composition for one or more voices usually comprising solos, duets, recitatives, and choruses and sung to an instrumental accompaniment”) is fairly close to one.
The 10 movement cantata opens with the narrator quieting the audience and introducing the characters, Schelndrian, sometimes translated as “stick in the mud,” and his daughter, Lieschen. Schelndrian wants his daughter to stop drinking her beloved coffee and threatens numerous punishments, including barring her from marriage if she does not stop drinking coffee.
He finally gets to Lieschen to agree to give up coffee if he can find her a husband. While Schlendrian is searching for a husband, the narrator reveals that Lieschen has been secretly telling prospective suitors that in order to marry her they must let her keep drinking coffee. The cantata ends with Schlendrian, Lieschen, and the narrator agreeing that “drinking coffee is natural.”
“It struck me as somewhat ridiculous that Bach wrote an entire cantata about coffee, but I guess that shows that musical expression can be about anything,” Hannah True (C’21) said, “I tend to think of the baroque period as superbly antiquated, but there I was sipping coffee, listening to a dispute over someone who drinks coffee too much and I was enthralled, to say the least.”