Articles from the Boston Compass

JUNE COMPASS: Zach’s Facts


The almighty German composer Johann Sebastian Bach, known for his work expanding the complexity of harmony and rhythms of western music, may have wrote some of his blistering lines and arpeggios while on a serious caffeine high. Yes, Bach loved coffee, so much so that he wrote a cantata (a vocal work, often one that tells a story) about it. The work is popularly known as the Coffee Cantata but is actually named Schweigt Stille, Plaudert Nicht, which translates to Be Still, Stop Chatting—a title that perfectly sums up a twitchy coffee buzz.

The piece tells a comical tale  of a father named Schlendrian, which means “Stick in the Mud”, and his frustrations with his daughter’s obsession with coffee. Coffee was somewhat of a controversial substance at the time, feared by some to be be a devilish drink not fit for children, women, or men concerned about vitality, and coffee houses were considered to be bawdy places not typically suitable for women. Not only did the cantata intend to parody coffee addicts, it also celebrated a strong-willed woman determined to get her fix.

The piece was written and performed for the crowds at the Zimmerman Coffee House in Leipzig, a popular destination for local musicians and artistic types. Bach ran a small “house band” at the cafe and performed concerts weekly. Nowadays, the piece is often performed as a “mini opera” with full costumes and staging. So the next time you’re sitting at a cafe and drinking a dank brew, pour a little out for J.S. Bach.



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