Toronto-based Tafelmusik is one of the world’s leading period performance ensembles, renowned internationally for its distinct, exhilarating, and soulful performances. Founded in 1979 by Kenneth [...]
They spoke about it
The Coffee Cantata
The Coffee Cantata was written c.1734 to a text by the Leipzig poet Christian Friedrich Henrici, who under the pseudonym Picander published several volumes entitled Ernst-schertzhaffte und satyrische Gedichte (“Gravely droll and satirical poems”).
Coffee had recently become popular in Germany, and Leipzig’s coffee houses were particularly fashionable. Zimmermann’s Coffee House was the home of Leipzig’s Collegium Musicum, an association of musicians and university students founded by Telemann in 1702. Bach assumed direction of the Collegium in 1729, six years after moving to Leipzig. Concerts were presented weekly at the Coffee House: in the winter on Fridays from eight to ten o’clock, and in the summer, transferred to the garden, on Wednesdays from four to six o’clock.
The light-hearted Coffee Cantata was written for the Collegium. The text pokes fun at both the infatuated young coffee-lovers and the righteous “old guard,” who could see nothing but evil in the new beverage. The story is simple: Lieschen (Lizzy), a young town girl, has fallen madly in love with coffee, and will sacrifice anything for her “three cups a day.” Her father Schlendrian, a name which translates roughly as “Old Stick-in-the-Mud,” is just as determined to keep his daughter from the wicked drink. The capricious Lieschen is accompanied by the wistful flute, while the stubborn Schlendrian is accompanied by an ostinato bass. Only when her father threatens to forbid her from marrying does Lieschen change her mind.
Picander’s poem ends here, but Bach sees in Lieschen a more cunning girl, and adds the final recitative and chorus, in which Lieschen declares her plan to marry no man unless he first signs a contract allowing her all the coffee she wishes. Bach was, after all, writing the cantata for performance at Herr Zimmermann’s Coffee House—and Bach was known to enjoy his own “three cups a day!”
The Peasant Cantata
The Peasant Cantata was commissioned by Carl Heinrich von Dieskau, Superintendent of Tax Collection in the Leipzig District. In August 1742 a ceremony was held on his estate at Klein-Zschocher near Leipzig. He had just come into a large inheritance, and his tenants were invited to join in the celebration and to offer their customary marks of homage. Dieskau asked Bach to compose a cantata for the occasion. Picander once again provided the text, this time written in a rather earthy upper Saxon dialect.
Bach responded in kind, writing in a musical style that reflects both the dialect and the content of the text. He referred to the work as a “cantate burlesque,” and incorporated traditional German and Polish folk tunes into the rustic opening sinfonia and several of the arias. The dialogue between the soprano and bass also gave Bach the opportunity to poke fun at the new trends in music of the day: simplicity and directness on the one hand, and elaborate mannerisms on the other.
The Coffee and Peasant Cantatas offer a rare glimpse into a side of Bach’s character that is often forgotten: the great genius of baroque music had a lively sense of humour, and a taste for both coffee and beer!
© Charlotte Nediger