Confessions of a Bachophile, Chapter 4

Mm! how sweet the coffee tastes,

More delicious than a thousand kisses,

Mellower than muscatel wine.

Coffee, coffee I must have,

And if someone wishes to give me a treat,

Ah, then pour me out some coffee!

Lieschen’s aria, J.S. Bach, Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht
“Coffee Cantata” BWV 211

Memories are curious things, indeed.

It was sometime in the late 80s. I distinctly remember trudging up Broadway amid a flurrying snowfall in the middle of winter. I can’t recall the exact destination (somewhere on the Upper West Side), but I vividly recall the exact motivation—a program of all-Bach including the secular cantatas.

I truly can’t remember whether the venue was a church or some other performance space, but I remember coming inside from that cold windy walk, cheeks burning, and thanking Zeus for the warm interior. The performing group first opened with a Bach instrumental work which I vaguely remember to be the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, then followed with the “Coffee Cantata” BWV 211 before taking an intermission.

As I got up to stretch my legs,  the aroma of freshly brewed coffee surrounded me. I thought, “How clever! Perform the ‘Coffee Cantata’ and have coffee in the lobby.” Rushing to the lobby, I saw people were milling about, heading for the restrooms, perusing programs–but there were no refreshments of any kind. I was certain I had caught a whiff of coffee, but, oddly no one else had had the same experience.

The second half of the program consisted of the “Wedding Cantata” BWV 202 followed by the “Peasant Cantata” BWV 212. By the end of the concert, though, my obsession was complete and overwhelming. All I could think about was finding the nearest coffee shop and getting a caffeine fix.

Luckily, this was the 80s. No Starbucks, yet, but there was a typical Greek coffee shop on a nearby corner. Over barely adequate coffee and pie, I pulled out a pad and furiously wrote myself a note: “Stage ‘Coffee Cantata’ and serve really good coffee. Will drive the audience nuts.”

Well, it’s now 2010, and really good coffee is much easier to find. Finding a good Coffee Cantata will be easier as well—the KSO is offering the work on an all-Baroque concert at the Bijou on March 7th. I hope they’re serving coffee, though.


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