Bach’s caffeine-based love affair

Did you know JS Bach was a coffee fiend? He even wrote a caffeinated cantata...

Published: December 11, 2017 at 10:00 am

Like Beethoven, JS Bach was seemingly addicted to coffee and is said to have consumed up to 30 cups a day.

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He famously wrote Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, BWV 211 (aka the Coffee Cantata) about a woman – aptly called ‘Aria’ - attempting to overcome her addiction to the beverage.

Her father attempts to ban the drink to stop her addiction; in a heartfelt plea that surely ranks among the most poetically striking and richly symbolic of all texts set to music, Aria sings, 'Coffee, I have to have coffee, / and, if someone wants to pamper me, / ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!'.

She even declares that, without the drink, she 'will turn into / a shrivelled-up roast goat.'

The plot ends happily in Bach’s Coffee Cantata, with the father agreeing that three cups of coffee daily can be included in her marriage contract.

Bach was a regular at Leipzig's Zimmermann Coffee House and it's likely that the cantata (more a mini comic opera) was premiered there.

Coffee wasn’t the only drink Bach enjoyed. During a trip to Halle in 1713, the composer’s beer bill amounted to eight gallons of alcohol!

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‘Die Katze lässt das Mausen nicht’, 10th movement of Bach’s Coffee Cantata

Authors

Freya ParrDigital Editor and Staff Writer, BBC Music Magazine

Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.

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