Ey! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße
(Oh, how sweet coffe tastes)
Bach's "Kaffeekantate" BWV211 (1734):
A Brief Excursion Into the Time of its Creation...

 



Johann Sebastian Bach
Portrait by Haussmann, 1746

 

Do you also enjoy a good cup of coffee?  Well, then you are in good company here!

Both the writer of this web site and its main composer Beethoven are respectively were passionate coffee drinkers.   While the otherwise not very "domestic' Rhinelander, according to reports by some of his contemporaries, was supposed to have grinded his own coffee beans and to carefully have counted out sixty! beans per cup for this purpose, not long after the Turks had brought coffee to Vienna during their storm at the Austrian capital in 1683,  namely only two years after, in 1685, coffee also made its first appearance in the laater realm of Thomas Cantor Bach, namely in Leipzig.  

In order for me to be able to report more details of this, I am very pleased that, by a fortunate coincidence, I came across a delightful little booklet by Hans-Joachim Schulze (the Director of the Leipzig Bach Archive) entitled Ey! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße from the year 1985.  Readers of the creation history of the St. Matthew Passion might remembers that it was Professor Schulze who was so kind as to provide me with details with respect to the year 1727 as the year of the premiere of this work.  In his booklet that was probably published for the Bach year 1985, he writes:

".  .  .  1685 war für die Messemetropole Leipzig in mehrfacher Hinsicht ein Schicksalsjahr.  Nicht nur wurde im fernen Eisenach dem Stadtpfeifer Johann Ambrosius Bach ein achtes Kind beschert, das auf den Namen Johann Sebastian hörte (wenn es dazu aufgelegt war) und Jahrzehnte später dem Leipziger Rat, der Kirchenbehörde, den Ratsmusikern und den Chorschülern aus allerdings unterschiedlichen Gründen manches Kopfzerbrechen bereitete - 1685 soll auch die Geburtsstunde des ersten Leipziger Kaffeehauses geschlagen haben, des noch heute florierenden Lokals "Zum arabischen Coffee-Baum" (Schulze: 6 - 7; Professor Schulze reports here that 1685 was a fateful year for the trading center Leipzig in may ways.  Not only was there born in the remote Eisenach, to the town piper Ambrosius Bach, his eigth child who answered to the name of Johann Sebastian (if he was in the mood for it) and who would, decades later, cause much trouble for Leipzig's town council, the church authorities, the town musicians and choir pupils, albeit, due to quite different reasons--1685 was also supposed to be the year of the opening of the first Leipzig Coffee house that still flourishes today, "Zum arabischen Coffee-Baum" [to the Arabian Coffee Tree]).

Schulze further reports that the ennjoyment of coffee did not only find general approval in Leipzig and elsewhere, but also opposition, such as from circles that were interested in further beer consumption by the public-at-large, and that mainly for tax revenue considerations.  Here and there, as Schulze reports, coffee drinking was prohibited by German authorities by legal punishment and that this also created the peculiar occupation of the coffee smeller who spied on everybody with his nose in order to discover transgressions against the coffee prohibition.  Coffee houses were also reported as being immoral facilities in which waitresses would be only too willing to serve "more than coffee".  Nevertheless, coffee drinking also became very popular in bourgeois circles.  At the time of Bach's holding the office of Thomas Cantor, there existed such flourishing establishments as the "Richter'sche Kaffeehaus" and the "Zimmermann'sche Kaffeehaus"..

 



The Zimmermann'sche Kaffeehaus
Etching by Johann Georg Schreiber, 1712


However, before we return to Leipzig's cultural and coffee house scene of that time in general, let us also take a look at Bach's estate that, according to Schulze, also contained the following:

" . . . 1 große Coffeekanne (wert) 19 Taler 12 Groschen, 1 ditto kleinere 10 Taler 20 Groschen, 1 Coffee-Teller 5 Taler 12 Groschen; An Kupffer und Meßing...: 1 meßingene Coffee Kanne, 1 ditto kleinere, 1 dito noch kleinere . . . " (Schulze: 40 - 41--Schulze reports here that Bach owned 1 large coffee pot valued at 19 taler 12 groschen, 1 smaller coffee pot worth 10 taler 20 groschen, 1 coffee plate at 5 taler 12 groschen, and of copper and brass items, 1 brass coffee pot, 1 smaller coffee pot, and 1 very small coffee pot)

With respect to the "upward mobility" of the former immoral facilities towards musical meeting places, Schulze features a report that was published in a Leipzig music magazine in 1736, thus two years after the writing of Bach's "Kaffeekantate":

"Die beyden öffentlichen Musikalischen Concerten, oder Zusammenkünffte, so hier wöchentlich gehalten werden, sind noch in beständigen Flor. Eines dirigiert der Hochfürstlich Weißenfelsische Capellmeister und Musik-Director in der Thomas- und Nikelskirchen allhier, Herr Johann Sebastian Bach, und wird außer der Messe alle Wochen einmahl, auf dem Zimmermannischen Caffee-Hauß in der Cather-Strae Freytag abends von 8 bi 10 Uhr, in der Messe aber die Woche zweymahl, Dienstags und Freytags zu eben der Zeit gehalten. Das andere dirigirt Herr Johann Gottlieb Görner, Musikdirektor in der Pauliner Kirche und Organist in der Thomaskirche . . . Die Glieder, so diese Musikalischen Concerten ausmachen, bestehen mehrentheils aus den allhier Studirenden, und sind immer gute Musici unter ihnen, so daß öffters, wie bekandt, nach der Zeit berühmte Virtuosen aus ihnen erwachsen. Es ist jedem Musico vergönnet, sich in diesen Musikalischen Concerten öffentlich hören zu lassen, und sind auch mehrentheils solche Zuhörer vorhanden, die den Werth eines geschickten Musici zu beurtheilen wissen" (Schulze: 27--"Both musical concerts or meetings that are held here weekly, are still practiced.  One is conducted by the Kapellmeister of the Prince of Weissenfels, the Music Director at the Thomaskirche and Nikelskirche here, Johann Sebastian Bach, and, during regular times outside of the trade fair seasons, it is held once a week, at the "Zimmermann'sche Kaffeehaus" in the Cather-Strasse on Friday in the evenings from 8 to 10 o'clock, during the trade fair seasons, however, twice weekly, on Tuesday and on Friday.  The other (concert) is conducted by Mr. Johann Gottlieb Görner, Music Director at the Paulinerkirche and organist at the Thomaskirche. ...  The members of which these musical concerts are comprised are mostly local students and among them ae always good musicians so that, as is known, very often, they develop into famous virtuosos.  Every musician can join them in order to be heard in these public musical concerts, and the audience mostly consists of such listeners who can appreciate the value of a skilled musician).

From these details we can learn that Bach, who was in his early fifties at that time, was surrounded by Leipzig's coffe culture in his own home as well as in his non-Thomas Cantor musical activities in Leipzig.  In the tenth chapter of his new Bach biography, Christoph Wolff offers a good overview of Bach's activity as Director of the "Collegium Musicum" that was soon named after him and that he directed from 1729 to 1741, with some interruptions.  It is probably best to quote this passage directly from Wolff:

"Zweifellos stellte die Leitung des Collegiums eine größere Verpflichtung dar. Bach war nun zusätzlich zu seinen ständigen und regelmäßigen Aufgaben in der Kirchenmusik auch noch das ganze Jahr hindurch für die Organisation und Gestaltung einer wöchentlichen Konzertreihe verantwortlich. Das Programm dieser sogenannten "ordinairen Concerte", von den beiden Collegia der Stadt in gegenseitiger Abstimmung dargeboten, verdichtete sich durch zusätzliche Auftritte während der dreimal jährlich stattfindenden Handelsmessen (s. Tab. 10.2) noch weiter" (Wolff, deutsches Leseexemplar: 380--Wolff explains that the direction of the Collegium Musicum was certainly a considerable obligation and that Bach, in addition to his regular responsibilities in the filed of sacred music, was now also responsible for the organization and performance of this weekly concert series, and that the program of the so-called 'ordinary concerts' was time-coordinated to meet the requirements during the regular season but also the increased workload during the three trade fairs held annually).

Further, in his table 10.2, Wolff lists the performance times of the "ordinary concerts" in detail, and from this can be seen that Bach's Collegium Musicum usually performed at the Zimmermann'sche Kaffeehaus in the Catharinenstrasse or in the Zimmermann'sche Caffeegarten at the Brimm'sche Steinweg, while Görner's Collegium Musicum usually performed at the Richter'sche Kaffeehaus in the Clostergasse.  In winter, Bach's Collegium Musicum performed at the Zimmermann'sche Kaffehaus every Friday from 8 to 10 p.m., and during the trade fair seasons each Tuesday and Friday from 8 to 10 p.m., and in summer, at the Zimermann'sche Kaffeegarten each Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m., while Görner's Collegium Musicum performed at the Richter'sche Kaffeehaus each Thursday from 8 to 10 p.m. and also there during the trade fair season, each Monday and Tuesday, from 8 to 10 p.m..

Also with respect to BAch's works that were likely to be performed there, Wolff's biography offers two very helpful tables, the content of which I will try to present here in essence.

Wolff's table 10.4 deals with the "Instrumentalen Ensemblemusik für die  'Ordinairen Concerte'" (Wolff, German reading sample: 386, thus with instrumental ensemble music for the 'ordinary concerts'). Due to the lesser relevance of these works for our present discussion, let me just mention that Wolff divides these into three categories, namely into sonatas (from BWV 1023, the Sonata in E minor for violin, Bc [assigned by him to 1723 with a question mark] to BWV 1031, the Sonata in E-flat Major for Harpsichord and Flute, the earliest copy of which he mentions as belonging to 1746/49), into concertos (from BWV 1044, the Concerto in A minor for Flute, Violin, Harpsichord, Strings, Bc, assigned to 1729 - 1734, to BWV 1062, the Concerto in C minor for two Harpsichoards and Strings, Bc, assigned to -1736), and into suites (from BWV 1056, the Suite in C major for two Oboes, Bassoon, Strings, Bc, assigned to - 1725 to BWV 1067, the Suite in A minor for Flute, Strings, Bc, assigned to -1738/39).

Here, we may move on to the for us more relevant work category, namely the " Moralischen Kantaten" (moral cantatas) for the "Ordinairen Concerte" (ordinary concerts), which Wolff lists in his table 10.3, and this table I want to essentially refer to in its entirety:

BWV 204, Ich bin in mir vergnügt, assigned to - 1726/27, a Cantatae "Von der Vergnügsamkeit" (Text: Christian Friedrich Hunold), BWV 201, Geschwinde, geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde, assigned to 1729, a Dramma per musica "Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan" (Text: Picander), BWV 216A, Erwählte Pleißen-Stadt, assigned to 1729 with a question mark,  "Apollo und Merkur" [Über die Stadt der Gelehrsamkeit und des Handels], (Text: Christian Gottlob Meißner), and BWV 211, Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, assigned to - 1734, Dramma per musica "Über den Caffee" (Text: Picander).

Now that we have considered Bach's expansion of his Leipzig activities from his office of Thomas Cantor to that of Music Director of the Collegium Musicum named after him, but also his certainly less significant involvement in Leipzig's coffee culture, we can move on to discussing the Libretto.

With respect to this, Schulze reports that already in 1703, the French composer Bernier published a cantata with the title "Le Caffee", and that not long after that, German authors such as Johann Gottfried Krause from Weissenfels featured a cantata text with the title "Lob des Coffee" (praise of coffee) in his "Ersten Bouquet Poetischer Blumen So wohl bey Freuden - als Trauer-Fällen, In müßgen Neben-Stunden An dem anmuthigen Saalen-Strande Abgebrochen" (First Bouquet of Poetic Flowers, Plucked in Joyful Moments - as well as in Moments of Grief, in Leisure Hours at the Banks of the Saale River), in 1716, and the Silesian Daniel Stoppe had the text to his Coffee Cantata printed in 1728.

Who will then be surprised that also Bach's industrious text writer Christian Friedrich Henrici, alias Picander, the writer of the text to the St. Matthew Passion, just at the very time of the first staging of this sacred work (namely in 1727) also took up the subject of coffee in the following text:

"hier ward vor wenigen Tagen
Ein Königlich Mandat ans Parlament geschlagen,
das hieß: Wir haben längst und leider wohl gespürt.
da bloß durch den Caffee sich mancher ruiniert.
Um diesem Unheil nun beizeiten vorzugehen,
soll niemand sich Caffee zu trinken unterstehen,
der König und sein Hof trinkt selben nur allein,
und andre sollen nicht dazu befuget sein.
Doch dann und wann wird man Permission ertheilen...
Drauf hörte man daselbst ein immerwährend Heulen;
ach! schrie das Weibesvolk, ach nehmt uns lieber Brod,
denn ohne den Cafee ist unser Leben todt.
Was wollen wir denn früh zum Morgenbrot genießen,
nun müssen wir die Zunft, Cafee zu trinken schließen;
wie öfters werden wir bey unsrer Einsamkeit
betrübt zurücke stehn; da war es gute Zeit,
da jene, die und ich vertraut zusammen kamen
und bey dem Lomber-Spiel ein Schälchen Kaffee nahmen.
Das alles aber brach doch nicht des Königs Sinn,
und kürzlich starb das Volk als wie die Fliegen hin.
Man trug, gleichwie zur Pest, so haufenweise zu Grabe
und nur das Weibesvolk nahm so erschchrecklich abe,
bis da man das Mandat zerrissen und zerstört,
so hat das Sterben in Frankreich aufgehört" (Schulze: 35 - 37).
(Here, a few days ago, there was
A Royal Decree posted outside the parliament,
Which read: Unfortunately, for a long time, we have felt
That merely by coffee many a person is ruined,
Thus, in order to counteract this in a timely fashion,
Nobody shall dare to drink coffee,
Only the King and his cour drink it, themselves,
And others shall not be entitled to do so.
However, now and then, permission will be granted...
Following this, one heard an incessant crying;
Oh!, cried out the women folk, oh, take our bread, instead,
Since, without coffee, our lives are dead!
What shall we enjoy along with our morning bread,
Now we have to abandon the coffee-drinking habit;
Very often, we shall sadly retreat
Into loneliness; these were good times,
When we gathered in confidence,
And, when playing the Lombar game, had a cup of coffee.
However, all of this could not sway the King,
And soon, people dropped dead like flies.
One carried, as in the days of the black plague, many to their graves,
And women were decimated so terribly,
Until the Decree was torn apart and destroyed,
Thus the dying found and end in France.)

Schulze describes Picander as a weakly-built, yet industriously-writing "poet" of occasional works who first eeked out a living as a private teacher and writer of ossasional poetry who, from 1727 on, held a post as 'Actuarius' at the Leipzig Post Office and moved up a rank in this career before he became a land and drinking tax collector in Leipzig.

The above text already shows that, in his "coffee poetry", Picander concentrated on the caffeine dependency of the female gender.  This tenor also governed the text of his "Kaffee-Kantate" at the end of the third part of his "Ernst- Scherzhafften und Satyrischen Gedichte" (Serious-Humorous Satyrical Poems) of  1732, of which one, according to Schulze's report, does not exactly know if this edition was a re-print of an earlier text and whether or not it had already been set to music by another composer.  It is also not known what, in 1734, might have moved Bach to compose his music to it--a casual request by a Leipziger, a request by one of his friends, or even the urge to write "better music" to it if it was, indeed, already set to music by another composer.

Let us introduce the three actors in this 'dramma per musica', namely the narrator, the Father named Schlendrian (in German, a lazy individual), and his daughter Liesgan.  Let us feature the original text (from:  Picander, Ernst-Schertzhaffte und Satyrische Gedichte, Bd. 3, Leipzig 1732 - Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig) and an English translation below each part,

 



XIV: On Coffee.
C A N T A T A


that is opened by the narrator as follows:

 



Keep silent, do not chat,
And listen to what is happening now;
There comes Herr Schlendrian
With his daughter, Liesgen;
He is growling like a honey bear
Hear for yourselves, what she has done to him!


after which Schelndrian's aria begins:

 



Aria
Schlendr.
Does one not, with one's children,
Have a hundred thousand troubles!
What I keep telling everyday
To my daughter, Liesgen,
Is passing without heed.
Da Capo (Repeat)


Schlendrian continues:

 



You naughty child, you naughty girl,
Oh! When will I reach my aim,
Do away with coffee!


To this, Liesgen replies:

 



Liesg.
Herr Father, do not be so strict,
When I can not, three times a day,
Drink my cup of coffee,
Then I will, in my torment,
Shrivel up like a dried-out roast goat !


This is followed by the aria:

 



ARIA
Oh! How sweet coffee tastes,
Lovelier than a thousand kisses,
Softer than Muscatel Wine,
Coffee, Coffee, I must have,
And if someone wants to delight me,
Let him pour me coffee.
Da Capo (repeated)


 


Aria: Ey! wie schmeckt der Coffe süße...



Father Schlendrian's objections against this lead to the following argument:




Schl.
If you do not let go of coffee,
You shall not attend weddings,
And you shall not go for walks.

Liesg.
Oh, yes!
Just let me have my coffee.

Schl.
There I have the little minx!
I will not let you have a whalebone skirt
of fashionable width!

Liesg.
I can easily accept that.

Schl.
You shall not step up to the window
And watch people passing by.

Liesg.
That, too; I only ask
To keep my coffee.

Schl.
You shall not, from my hand,
Receive a silver or golden ribbon
For your bonnett.

Liesg.
Yes! Yes! Let me only have my pleasure!

Schl.
You naughty Liesgen, you,
Thus you go along with all of it.


Here, Schlendrian's second Aria sets in:

 



ARIA
Girls who are of a stubborn mind
Cannot be easily persuaded.
However, if one hits the right spot,
Well, then one happily progresses!


 


Aria: Mädgen, die von harten Sinnen



After his second Aria, Father Schlendian repeats his demand for obedience, resulting in the following dialogue:

 



Now take heed of what your father says!

Liesg.
In everything, but not with coffee!

Schl.
Well then! Thus you have to be content
That you shall never take a husband!

Liesg.
Oh, yes, Herr Father, a man!

Schl.
I swear, you shall not get one!

Liesg.
Until I let go of coffee?
Well! Coffee, then, be set aside,
Herr Father, listen, I shall not drink any!

Schl.
Thus you shall get one, after all.


Liesgen's "agreeing" Aria concludes Picander's text:

 



Aria
Liesg.
Still today,
Dear father, let it happen, Oh, a man!
Truly, this is my desire,
If it only happened soon,
That I finally, before coffee,
Even before going to bed,
Shall have a dashing lover!


However, Bach did not leave it at that.  He brought the narrator back and, very likely, as Schulze reports, wrote the following recitative for him:

"Nun geht und sucht der alte Schlendrian,
wie er vor seine Tochter Liesgen
bald einen Mann verschaffen kann;
doch Liesgen streuet heimlich aus:
Kein Freier komm' mir in das Haus,
er hab es mir denn selbst versprochen
und rück es auch der Ehestiftung ein,
daß mir erlaubet möge sein,
den Coffee, wenn ich will, zu kochen" (Schulze: 61)
(Thus, there goes the old Schlendrian,
To see how he can find for his daughter Liesgen,
A man, very soon;
However, secretly, Liesgen spreads this word:
No suitor shall enter my house
Unless he promises me, himself,
And even enters it into our marriage contract,
That I shall be allowed
To, when I want, make coffee).

 



Recitative: "Nun geht und sucht..."


This recitative is followed by this final verse in form of a song-like trio:

"Die Katze läßt das Mausen nicht,
die Jungfern bleiben Coffeeschwestern.
Die Mutter liebt den Coffeebrauch,
die Großmama trank solchen auch,
wer will nun auf die Töchter lästern!" (Schulze: 62).
(The cat will not stop to chase mice,
And maidens will remain coffee lovers,
The mother loves the coffee habit,
Grandma drank it, too,
Who shall rebuke the daughter?)

To this, Schulze has the following to say:

"Dieser etwas lang geratene Abgesang, ein liedhaftes Terzett mit Begleitung aller Instrumente, dem Tanzcharakter der Bouree nahestehend und durch originelle Dreitaktgruppen mit einem Stich ins Unkonventionelle versehen, schlägt mit den Kapriolen der konzertierenden Flöte nochmals die Brücke zu Liesgens Loblied auf ihr Leib- und Magengetränk. Somit wäre alles zum guten Ende gekommen - in Bachs Kantate" (Schulze: 62; He writes that this somwhat lengthy ending, a song-like trio, with the accompaniment of all instruments, is close in character to the Bouree and that the flute's capricious frolicking forms a bridge back to Liesgen's Aria in praise of her favorite drink and that everything finds a good end--at least in Bach's Cantata).

In conclusion, I want to feature two interesting comments, the first of which is rendered by Albert Schweitzer in his Bach biography:

"Zu diesem Libretto hat Bach eine Musik geschrieben, hinter der man eher Offenbach als den alten Thomaskantor vermuten würde. Man könnte das Stück, so wie es ist, als einaktige Operette aufführen" (Schweitzer: 613; Schweitzer expresses the opinion that Bach has written a music to this libretto that would sooner be expected from an Offenbach than from the old Thomas Cantor Bach and that one could stage it as a one-act oeretta).

To this can also be noted that both Schweitzer (613) and Schulze refer to the following Frankfurt announcement:

" Dienstags, den 7. April wird ein fremder Musicus im Kaufhauß unter den Neuen Krämen ein Concert aufführen, in welchem unter Anderm der Schlendrian mit seiner Tochter Lissgen in einem Dramate wird gemacht werden" (Schulze: 67; which announces that on Tuesday, April 7, a foreign musician will hold a concert at the department store "unter den Neuen Kramen", in which, amongst other itsems, Schlendrian and his daughter Liesgen will be featured in a 'dramate'),

which refers to the year 1739.  Thus, as already the thologian and organist Schweitzer was able to point out at the beginning of the 20th century, there was also another side to Bach than his strict "sacred music" side.  This certainly very friendly attitude towards women also found expression in Wolff's biography in the chapter, "Ein abgerichteter Singvogel und "Nelken für die Frau Liebste"" when Wolff reports that Bach, in his letter of June 1740 to Johann Georg Hille, Cantor at Glaucha near Halle, asks if the latter can obtain, against payment, for his wife a song bird as a present, that she apparently would have loved to have, and when he, only a few months later, expresses thanks in a letter for another present he obtained for his plant-loving wife, namely some carnations, which caused Wolff, on the basis of the title of this chapter, to conclude it with the following words:

"Und dennoch: Was uns heute als gänzlich unrealistische Arbeitslast erscheint, bot nicht nur Raum für unvergleichlich kreative Leistungen, sondern auch für solch zärtliche Aufmerksamkeiten wie die Besorgung eines Singvogels und von Nelken für die Frau Liebste" (Wolff, German reading sample: 453; Wolff expresses here that the to us perhaps unrealistic workload of Bach left him enough room for incomparable creative achievements but also for requests for a songbird and carnations for his 'Frau Liebste').

Sources:

Bach, Johann Sebastian.  BWV211, Kaffeekantate.  CD.  (Hänsler Edition).  Bach-Kollegium, Stuttgart.  Conductor:  Helmuth Rilling.  Christine Schäfer, Soprano, James Taylor, Tenor, Thomas Quasthoff, Bass.

Schulze, Hans-Joachim.   Ey! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße. Johann Sebastian Bachs Kaffee-Kantate in ihrer Zeit.   Leipzig: 1985, Verlag für die Frau.

Schweitzer, Albert. Johann Sebastian Bach. Leipgiz: 1954, VEB Breitkopf & Härtel.

Wolff, Christoph. Johann Sebastian Bach.  Frankfurt: 2000.  S. Fischer (Reading Sample).


(In the background, you can see the interior of an 18th-century coffee house.)