In eighteenth-century Leipzig, coffee addiction was an increasing social problem. J.S. Bach, one of Leipzig’s most famous citizens, was no stranger to the coffee mania; in fact, the secular performance ensemble Collegium Musicum, of which Bach was the director, performed twice weekly at the Zimmermannsches Caffeehaus, a coffeehouse in the middle of town.
Many of Bach’s pieces from the 1730s and ’40s were written for the Collegium Musicum; there were harpsichord and violin concertos as well as vocal pieces. Certainly the most interesting piece he wrote during this time was Schweight stille, paludert nicht, also known as The Coffee Cantata. Written in 1732, this amusing little piece is all about the dangers of being addicted to coffee.
Although it is called a cantata, Scheigt stille, plaudert nicht (which means Be still, and stop chattering) is really a mini comic opera. The piece is all about a man named Schlendrian (literally, Stick in the Mud) whose daughter Lieschen is addicted to coffee. He is disgusted by her addiction and threatens to take away her meals, clothes, and anything else pleasing unless she quits—but of course, she doesn’t care. Finally he says that he won’t let her marry anyone unless she gives up coffee. That ultimatum finally makes Leischen have a change of heart. Schlendrian goes off to find her a husband, but she secretly tells every potential suitor that she won’t marry them unless she’s allowed to drink coffee. In the end the father finally comes around, though—the last song in the piece is a trio between the Narrator, Schlendrian, and Leischen in which they sing “drinking coffee is natural.”
The piece was a terrific hit when it was first performed—in, of course, a coffeehouse.