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Recordings & Discussions of Cantatas: Cantatas BWV 1-50 | Cantatas BWV 51-100 | Cantatas BWV 101-150 | Cantatas BWV 151-200 | Cantatas BWV 201-224 | Cantatas BWV Anh | Order of Discussion

Cantata BWV 211
Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Kaffeekantate)
Discussions - Part 1

Previous Messages

Adam La Spata wrote (October 16, 1999):
Sometime in early 2000, I will be directing a performance of the Coffee Cantata (BWV 211) at my school. I already have the score (thank you Dover) but am looking for the individual parts (so I don't have to extract them on my own). Does anyone know where I can obtain them, either for rent or purchase? Also, does anyone have any helpful tips regarding interpretation and performance of this work?

The music man wrote (October 16, 1999):
Check with Dover; also parts can be obtained from a large number of music Publishers of Sheet Music--Kalamus comes to mind--they have Urtext scores which will put you into the same fix you are in now unless you and your performers learn the old fashion clefts and notation forms. I highly recommend these.

You need to try to have all your scores and parts from one publisher because the readings could be different from different publishers---especially when you are dealing with Bach and Beethoven scores. Check with your local Music supply store that caters to Symphony Orchestras, and school orchestras and does rock and roll bands more as a sideline.

There is an inherent danger in taking a score as you have (Dover) and extracting a performance score from it.

Publishers usually assume that the score like you have is a study score for a conductor or music lover and do not put all the details in it than a Performance score would have. You need a PERFORMANCE SCORE with all parts (including Organ and Continuo parts which some musical idiot suppliers will not give you unless ask for it) Please also ask for a conductor's PERFORMANCE score. If you do not read Thorough Bass--G. Schirmer in New York has some good written out thorough bass parts but I do not recommend their scores otherwise because of corruptions. (If you order form G. Schirmer, you will have to get another score and parts, which you can use for comparison) You can learn Thorough bass in one of the books that Dover publishes (or use to --if no longer available look for it in used book stores and antiquarians) If you are a good true Jazz musician (well grounded in group improvisational techniques)---you may not have to learn thorough bass as long as you stay away from the forbidden 7ths and 5ths and other harmonies that are so typical of the Jazz form but you would play these parts using the same improvisational techniques you use to play Jazz (no solos though!).

Please be on the watch out for corrupt scores: a Magnificat Score I bought without seeing it first called for a Clarinet to play the Oboe d'amour part. Clarinets were not even in use for Orchestra in Bach's time).

 

Discussions in the Week of March 18, 2001

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 18, 2001):
Background

This is the week of Cantata BWV 211 according to Pablo Fagoaga's suggestion, and the first in his suggested list. For good background about this popular cantata I recommend reading the page "Ey! wie schmeckt der Coffee (Oh, how sweet coffee tastes) - Bach's "Kaffeekantate" BWV211 (1734): A Brief Excursion Into the Time of its Creation..." In the following address: http://www.geocities.com/raptus/kaffeekantate_e.htm
Another recommended site is Luke Schwartz's 'J.S. Bach's Secular Cantatas' - in the page dedicated to Cantata BWV 211: http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/2547/bwv211.html
Furthermore, when the subject of 'Bach and Opera' is discussed, Cantata BWV 211 is often mentioned as an example. You can read lively discussions about this subject in the Bach Cantatas Website in the General Topics section, in the following address: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Opera.htm

Personal Viewpoint

Free from my obligations to give some background about this cantata, I can tell you a small personal story connected to its subject. I made my Bach tour during September-October 1999, visiting 17 towns and villages with Bach connection in the regions of Thuringia and Saxony in a course of 13 days. The one before last town I visited in Germany (there was additional place in the Czech Republic) was Leipzig. We arrived there in the morning and immediately after arranging the accommodation, we asked for the concerts of the day. A concert in St. Nikolai Church was planned for 16:00 and a second concert in Gewandhaus in the evening. We had many free hours ahead of us for touring the city. Our first station was of course St. Thomas Church. Unfortunately, at that time the Church was under heavy reconstruction. Although we could get in, we were able to see almost nothing inside, not even Bach's grave. Afterwards we had been walking all around the city until the time of the concert in St. Nikolai came. Georg Christoph Biller conducted the famous Thomanerchor in Cantata BWV 19 and some other music. The performance of the cantata was ordinary, or at least that was the way I heard it then, with much less tuned ears than I have today. We still had couple of hours before the time of the evening concert. We felt that it was the right time to have a cup of coffee and I thought that the best place would be the Coffee-House near St. Thomas Church, where we could have a good look at Bach statue. There were some people inside, but it was not very crowded (The year was 1999 and not 2000 and it was not the tourist season). We sat outside the Coffee-House for about ten minutes, but nobody approached us. We came in and ordered in English two cups of coffee and said that we would be waiting outside. Another ten minutes passed and nobody approached our table. We got up and left the place angry immediately. We found a big and empty Coffee-House near the Gewandhaus. The service was excellent and so was the coffee. Do I draw any lessons? Not really. It is just a small story about my experience with coffee in the city of Bach.

Parameters for reviewing the recordings

Due to limitations of time and space, I had to limit my review this time. To judge such an amusing cantata, I chose to concentrate on some simple parameters.

The girl: should sound like fourteen to eighteen years old. Her main characteristics are - light-hearted, stubborn, witty, sexy.
The father: Compulsive, authoritative, loving, merciful, naive?
Relation: in the dialogue movements they should sound like a father and a daughter, whatever it means.
Narrator (also the potential bridegroom): Inviting, knows how to tell a story.
Voices: not so important here, but beautiful voices never harmed anybody. This cantata is International - the quarrel between father and daughter started when the first human daughter was born, about three million years ago and still going strong today! And everybody loves a cup of coffee. Therefore, I do not think that a good German accent is as important here as in the sacred cantatas.
Acting: this is indeed a mini-opera and the vocal roles should be acted and not only sung.
Approach: Should be sung with 'tongue in cheek'.

Review of Complete Recordings

During last week I have been listening to 14 complete recordings of Cantata BWV 211. There are at least 5 additional recordings of this cantata and they are also listed below. With such popular cantata and popular subject it seems inevitable that there are more, but I do not have any further information about such possible recordings. I am also not aware of any recording of individual movement from this cantata. See: Cantata BWV 211 – Recordings.

[2] Rolf Reinhardt (Early 1950's ?)
I do not have this recording.

[5] Karl Forster (1963)
Soprano - Not suitable. Heavy vibrato and too mature.
Bass - Very expressive and singing apparently right, but not convincing.
Tenor - Mediocre.
Accompaniment - Non-HIP. Thick and heavy.
Approach - Operatic and old-fashioned; humourless and even tiresome.

[6] CollegiAureum (1964?)
Soprano - Marvellous - both voice (bell-like and young) and interpretation. Who can say NO to her?
Bass - Brings out the many faces of the father - both angry and merciful. You can almost visualise his acting through his singing. It is indeed operatic, but in the good sense of the word.
Tenor - Good voice, but not belonging.
Accompaniment - Early HIP. Splendid - clean and professional, but also spontaneous.
Approach - Somewhat heavy, yet charming.

[7] Rudolf Ewerhart (1966)
Soprano - Delightful singing, but the voice does not have the bell-like quality of Ameling.
Bass - Impressive voice, but the 'anger' factor is missing.
Tenor - Very good and inviting.
Accompaniment - Not HIP, but good and supportive.
Approach - Spontaneous and natural.

[8] Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1968)
Soprano - Excellent. Young and beautiful.
Bass - Excellent.
Tenor - Excellent.
Accompaniment - Early HIP and transparent.
Approach - Very enjoyable and natural. Much less forced than some of Harnoncourt's sacred cantatas recordings are.

[9] Peter Schreier (1975)
Soprano - Somewhat mature and forced. She does not sound as fresh, natural and spontaneous in this role as some of her rivals do.
Bass - Somewhat too hard and inflexible. His voice here lacks some warmth.
Tenor - What can I say? The jewel of this rendering, however small his part is.
Accompaniment - Non-HIP, but clear.
Approach - Somewhat dry and dogmatic.

[10] Neville Marriner (1981)
I do not have this recording.
Gordon Eck said wrote about it in 'J.S. Bach Home Page':
"I was expecting great things from this recording and was very disappointed. This is the worst recording of these compositions that I have encountered. While the tempos are good the soloists are terrible. I had never heard of Julia Varady before this recording and after hearing her voice I know why. During the high notes of "Heute noch, lieber Vater tut es doch" she sounds like a goose being strangled. If you want a recording of these works Christopher Hogwood's on L'Oiseau-Lyre with Emma Kirkby and David Thomas is wonderful."

[12] Hans-Martin Linde (1983)
Soprano - Good voice, but misses some of the occasions.
Bass - Good voice and confident interpretation. The best of the vocal soloists.
Tenor - Voice rather good, but hesitant interpretation.
Accompaniment - HIP. Light and lively.
Approach - Humorous, enjoyable.

[14] The Friends of Apollo (1985)
Soprano - Fresh and strong voice, but most of the other factors are missing.
Bass - Concentrate more on smooth singing than on expressiveness.
Tenor - Pleasant and expressive.
Accompaniment - HIP. Airy.
Approach - Energetic, but I do not hear the acting.

[15] Pál Németh (1986?)
I do not have this recording.

[16] Christopher Hogwood (1986)
Soprano - Young, fresh and attractive. Somewhat naive.
Bass - Three-dimensional portrayal of the father. Good rapport between the father and the daughter.
Tenor - Good.
Accompaniment - Very light and humble, but sensitive.
Approach - Flowing and alert.

[18] Mátyás Antál (1992)
Soprano - Engaging and full of good intentions, however something in her voice disturbs me.
Bass - Too forceful and insensitive to the textual content of his role.
Tenor - Nothing to write home about.
Accompaniment - Workmanlike and not clean.
Approach - There are better accounts than this rather ordinary rendering.

[21] Gustav Leonhardt (1994)
Soprano - Exciting, joyous and sexy.
Bass - Cover every nuance and detail.
Tenor - Do the outmost of his small part.
Accompaniment - Light and vigorous.
Approach - Juicy, bubbling and humorous.

[20] Bernard Labadie & Les Violons du Roy (1994)
Soprano - Delightful and engaging. Young and enthusiastic. And what an attractive voice she has. The best soloist in this rendition.
Bass - Impressive voice, but unimpressive acting. Limited range of expression.
Tenor -
Accompaniment - Non-HIP. The strings are somewhat thick, but the winds are very good.
Approach - Good coffee with slight French aroma.

[24] Helmuth Rilling (1996)
Soprano - Tempting and witty. Charming voice.
Bass - Warm and beautiful voice and sensitive interpretation.
Tenor - Impressive and satisfying.
Accompaniment - Non-HIP. Colourful with excellent playing.
Approach - Lively, flowing and amusing. High level rendering from every angle - beauty of voices and matching between them, convincing acting, accompaniment and internal integrity.

[23] Ton Koopman (1996)
Soprano - Sounds young, but her timbre of voice is not attractive to my taste. She sounds too calculated and her acting is not convincing.
Bass - A loving father. I do not hear the anger. The dialogues between the father and the daughter lack tension.
Tenor - Attractive and humorous.
Accompaniment - HIP and light. High level playing, if not exceptional.
Approach - balanced, but lacks spontaneity. Pleasant but not dramatic.

[13] Johannes Somary (1984)
Soprano - Nice, sweet, attractive and expressive. The best soloist of this rendition.
Bass - Ordinary bass voice and the interpretation is also not exceptional.
Tenor - Competent.
Accompaniment - Non-HIP. Lacking charm.
Approach - Middle of the road.

[26] Jeanne Lamon & Tafelmusik (1999)
I do not have this recording.

[17]
I do not have this recording and many of its details are not known to me.

Conclusion

This is one of the few of the cantatas discussed so far in the BCML, which has many good and satisfying renderings. I found it very difficult to point out one as the best in the crop.

And if I dare say - this cantata is very enjoyable and I have learnt to like it, especially after understanding its libretto (which I translated into Hebrew). But, after all, it is not multi-layered as many of Bach's sacred cantatas are. Hearing it 28 times (every recording twice) during a course of one week is a little bit too much, even for a music composed by Bach. I think I am going to take a rest from this cantata for couple of months… But I believe that I shall continue to drink coffee…

And as always, I would like to hear other opinions, regarding the above mentioned performances, or other recordings.

Andrew Oliver wrote (March 21, 2001):
I do not have the Coffee Cantata so I cannot comment on it. Doubtless several of you do have it, so what do you think of it?

Jane Newble wrote (March 21, 2001):
(To Andrew Oliver) I am trying to work my way through it, but I really can't get switched on to the secular cantatas. This one put me off when I saw it done on the Koopman Video [25]. Nothing to do with Koopman, or Klaus Mertens, but it was the person who played 'Lieschen' (forgotten the name) who I found quite difficult to take.

Johan van Veen wrote (March 21, 2001):
[25] It was Anne Grimm, I think.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (March 22, 2001):
(To Andrew Oliver) Well, what about the Coffee cantata? It was one of the first J.S. Bach music that I heard so it has always a particular place in my heart. I think this the closest music to opera that Bach wrote. It is actually a mini-opera and it is often played with staging: in this way I saw it in December coupled with "L'oca del Cairo" the (wonderful) unfinished opera by W.A. Mozart (strange couple isn't it?).

I am a hard coffee drinker so...I have a great feeling with the heroine, we share the same passion!

I have the version recorded by C. Hogwood with E. Kirkby [16], but it's a long time I want to buy the Leonhardt one with B. Bonney [21]. However for me this is the best secular cantata.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (March 22, 2001):
Just coffee...and like tea (cantatas).

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 22, 2001):
It is one of the few cantatas I really don't like. I can't listen to it at all; I find it trite and uninteresting...

Blasphemy, perhaps, to say such a thing...

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 22, 2001):
(To Kirk McElhearn) The Coffee cantata as to text is a pre-figuration, as it were, of the opera by Emmanuel Wolf-Ferrari The Secret of Suzanna. That opera dealt with the daughter's secret of smoking. Actually Bach's cantata should maybe be re-texted as a Marijuana cantata and then it would have textual relevance for the 1960’s and further. Musically I have always found it, together with the Peasant cantata, with which it was always paired in the LP generation, very pleasant and delightful, but not sublime.

It is a Bach of fun and of this world very much. And we should never forget the Bach of this world of pleasures and normal life.

Philip Peters wrote (March 22, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Absolutely. And I agree with you so that makes at least two sinners ;)).

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 22, 2001):
Believe it or not, I think that an interesting issue lies behind the discontent some members are showing for this cantata. It happens to me the same. I don't find it special. Some of you may ask why I chose it for this week. Well, precisely because it is SO unexplainably (to me, of course) famous. When almost everybody says something is good or special and I don't feel the same, it makes me terribly curious.

I wouldn't go as far as to call it a dull or "bad" piece of music, but definitely not very charming. I'm trying to figure out myself which elements can be causing so much different appreciation of this portion of Bach's Werke. It comes to my mind the idea that some of the elements can be:

a) Length: a vast proportion of the secular cantatas are around 50% longer that the average Sacred ones. This is not a minor thing. I notice that with time, I got "used" to Sacred Cantata's timings, and structure. I just happen to expect certain things to go in a relatively framed way. For example, a Cantata "should be" more or less the sequence of a Chorale or a Symphony, a couple of arias with recitatives as kind of "splitters". Then, closing chorus. May be you even find "exciting" to listen to a work that begins with a "secco" recitative BUT certainly my "tolerance" to surprises has unconscious limits. For instance, I don't expect (neither I like) a "machine gun" of recitatives. But it happens all the time in secular works; they have MANY movements, and usually half of them recitatives. This connects directly with length, because this monotonous structure makes them feel EVEN LONGER than they really are.

b) Baroque Language: Well, Baroque Opera is not precisely the hottest chick among Opera lovers. Some of them accuse the monotony. Some others point out the unnecessary long timing. I will take as a representative the "king" of Baroque Opera: Händel. I LOVE Händel operas, BUT only if I listen to about 45 minutes of them, or a selection. Händel almost always take THREE CDs to make his point!!! Coincidentally, this is the same trouble (I'm just referring to musical troubles) that Wagner has to reach a massive acceptance. Another point about Baroque style is the lack of histrionics. Baroque Operas sound like a judiciary hearings rather than "Drama per Musica".

But at this point, I see one useful conclusion: You have to judge the secular cantatas in their own terms. And that implies connecting them (in the most cases) with Baroque opera rather than comparing them to sacred cantatas. As Riccardo Nughes points out, Coffee Cantata is the closer Bach got to Opera. BUT remember. We're talking BAROQUE opera.

c) Out-of-date topics: Clearly, Bach sacred Cantatas refer to certain matters that are deeply related to human beings. Even if you are not a religious person, you can feel reflected on the feelings and worries of the sacred cantatas. They are about religion, fate, humanity, sadness, loneliness, joy, happiness. To sum up, they go right to the worries that come along with self-consciousness that defines mankind. "Ich habe genug" (BWV 82) touches deep feelings, may be more if you are religious, but in fact the only difference between religious men and the ones who are not, are the answers... the questions are the same. Back then, now and forever. On the other hand, a discussion on Coffee as an improper vicious for a lady sounds outrageous and silly. You have to make a huge effort to "simulate" the 18th century mentality of the average listener (not to mention the effort needed to share his sense of humour!!). And given the fact you can only fake it, you probably could never FEEL it. So, with no "preparation", not only Bach secular cantatas, but also Baroque Opera and Drama per Musica in general, are not only silly, but also boring and absolutely non-hilarious.

Pablo (still thinking about this)

Johan van Veen wrote (March 22, 2001):
(To Philip Peters) Make that three: I would never buy a CD with this one. I generally prefer the more "serious" stuff anyway.

Pieter Pannevis wrote (March 22, 2001):
Just to be correct: make it three (not my cup of tea)

Jane Newble wrote (March 22, 2001):
(To Philip Peters) Three :o)

Sybrand Bakker wrote (March 22, 2001):
(To Yoël L. Arbeitman) Sorry to say so but your assertion about Bach and Wolf-Ferrari is very much akin to the assertion Christ is prefigured in the Tenach. IMO, you could only say chronologically Wolf-Ferrari 'borrowed' (or stole if you want to) the idea from Bach. Phrasing it the other way is just as incorrect as asserting Bach predicted his own death day: this is simply utter nonsense.

Sybrand Bakker wrote (March 22, 2001):
[25] (To Jane Newble) Anne Grim(m?)

I just loved this rendition and considered it as very trustworthy. Maybe 'Lieschen' should have been a bit younger (Mertens is somewhere is in 40's, and I estimate Anne Grim as at least 30), but given the fact that Arleen Augér was singing the Countess in Figaro when she was older than 50, while the original Rosina is no older than 18-21, I think we should at least allow for that. Of course, Mertens as Schlendrian was the absolute star.

Jane Newble wrote (March 22, 2001):
Sybrand Bakker wrote:
[25] < I just loved this rendition and considered it as very trustworthy. Maybe 'Lieschen' should have been a bit younger (Mertens is somewhere is in 40's, and I estimate Anne Grim as at least 30), >
My problem was mainly with the way she acted, I seem to remember. I shall have to see it again. Perhaps I had an off day. And I agree about Mertens. He was wonderful. But the whole thing did not make me want to listen to this cantata again.

Diederik Peters wrote (March 23, 2001):
I actually find it one of the most satisfying of the secular cantatas.

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 23, 2001):
Pablo Fagoaga wrote:
< We can tend to think there is something special going on between Bach and numbers. I feel seduced by the idea, but Aryeh's silence is starting to worry me. > Aryeeeeeeeeeh!! Are you there, or you're just waiting till we go back to the group's business?? >
Thanks for your concern. I am back on track and my review of the various recordings of Cantata BWV 211 has been already sent to the list.

I don't mind if the list members want to discuss numbers, gematria, etc. If this is a way to refresh from the cantata discussions, it's O.K. Regarding myself, I do not have much interest in such topics.

But I wonder if some energy will be left to listen also to Cantata BWV 211, or at least give it a try. The messages from respected members of BCML regarding this cantata during last week tended to ignore it as an uninteresting piece of music. I understand such point of view, because I thought the same before last week. During the many listening to it I have leant to like it and found it as a charming work of art. This is not a sacred cantata, but it is still Bach!

Enrico Bortolazzi wrote (March 23, 2001):
(To Aryeh Oron) After reading of no interest in this cantata from the list I was waiting your comment. As usual very well informed. Thank you very much.

I have only two recordings of BWV 211:

[9] (Peter Schreier) This was released as Archiv (silver label).

[16] (Christopher Hogwood)

My opinion:
Of these two recordings I prefer the Schreier one. Even if non-HIP, here we have an excellent cast, probably the best one can dream. The direction of Schreier is very good, giving to this cantata a dramatic tone. In particular I like very much Adam, his rendering of the father. In this role I think his voice is very good. On the other side Hogwood seems to handle this score like a bad copy of a church cantata: I cannot figure it like an operetta when I listen to this recording.

Surely it's not one of the best works by Bach, but I listen to it with pleasure (not the same for the other cantata usually coupled with it, Bauern Cantata). The story is very poor and not so interesting for us but the music has some top-level moments. My interest in this cantata arose when I saw on TV the video with Schreier and probably Adam. I don't remember very well because was at least 10 years ago, but was very funny. Has somebody seen it?

Sybrand Bakker wrote (March 23, 2001):
(To Diederik Peters) I agree with you.
I will briefly discuss the three recordings I have.

[16] Christopher Hogwood, Emma Kirkby, Rogers Covey-Crump, David Thomas.
A very disappointing recording. The main cause for this is the coarse and hard voice of David Thomas (what has BTW happened to him), who treats Schlendrian as if he was a complete bully. In this context Kirkby just sounds too innocent.

[21] Gustav Leonhardt, Barbara Bonney, Christoph Prégardien, David Wilson-Johnson.
Bonney must be by far the best Lieschen. She sings her part youthful and yet without exaggeration. David Wilson-Johnson is a fine Schlendrian, much more sadder and wiser than David Thomas. Prégardien is Prégardien; he has an excellent voice for this music. Gustav Leonhardt usually takes fast tempi on the slow side; his 'Madchen die von harten Sinnen' is not an exception. It almost sounds a bit dull in the beginning, but in the end the tempo seems to be very effective.

[8] Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Rotraud Hansmann, Kurt Equiluz, Max van Egmond.
I just love the voices of Equiluz and van Egmond, and I like van Egmond as a person. I once attended a lecture, at which he, as an introduction, explained why he stopped singing. He told us he was forced to use more and more effort to maintain his voice, and he decided he didn't want that: he wanted to enjoy life for a few more years. That was a very honest answer. The acoustics on this recording are bad, the soloists sound from too far away, and the orchestra is sitting opposite you. Harnoncourt’s choice of tempi is evidently better than Leonhardt’s and you would buy this cantata for van Egmond alone.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 24, 2001):
[snip] (To Sybrand Bakker) On BWV 211, I share your view on the Harnoncourt version [8]. It's poor technical quality is a real pity!!!

I also have Rilling's (Hänssler) [24] and the Naxos Release [18] (Sorry, I lent the CD - I don't remember to whom!!-, and I really don't remember the name of the conductor).

[24] Rilling's recording is technically better than Harnoncourt, and even though I usually find Rilling almost always too "heavy", somewhat in slow motion, this is not true this time. In fact it is a few seconds faster than Harnoncourt. On the other hand, Rilling is not very convincing when it comes to clarity of the lines, and in my opinion Rilling's soloists are not so proficient as the Harnoncourt ones.

[18] When it comes to the Naxos recording, well, I consider Naxos a very good label, many times the best choice for half the money than the other recordings available. Usually, when I don't consider their releases VERY good, at least I always think of them as the optimal "get-to-know-the-music" choice, because for a reasonable price, you can get in touch with music you didn't know, getting a competent version with no painful payment.

Not this time. With a couple of operas and with BWV211 I found out that certain pieces of music that are complex, or "dense", or (how can I say it) a little hard for an untrained ear, the get-to-know version MUST be an outstanding one. Because otherwise, to the aridity of the music you must add the unwise reading, so you can never tell where the bad impression came from. I think this is the case of Secular Cantatas (let's face it).

I don't like the soloists, and as with other vocal music, I think a bad vocal performance can lead you to a terrible misconception of the values of the music.

Patricia Cunningham wrote (March 24, 2001):
[5] I'm a newbie and I don't think I understand the protocol, but here goes with a comment or two. I have an LP (don't laugh!) of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Lisa Otto, with members of the Berlin Philharmonic. I believe the CD version is still available. This is an "entertainment," so one doesn't look for sublime music in it, but one does look for a light touch, and I feel that Fischer-Dieskau delivers this without the clomping over-acting that mars some productions. I don't care for Otto, whose soprano is less playful than shrill, and whose intonation seems a trifle unreliable. The instrumental work is clean and bright, as it should be.

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (March 25, 2001):
Well, it's been a hard week in the group. Too much coffee, maybe?? :o)

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 25, 2001):
[6] (Collegium Aureum) I agree here with Aryeh's assessment of this performance.

[25] (Ton Koopman) Yes, Anne Grimm's voice takes some getting used to, and because I do not have any other recordings to compare this with, other than the one above in which the soprano is very good, I've listened to Grimm's aria a number of times and found it to be acceptable. Perhaps it's Koopman's orchestral accompaniment that helps to make this aria my favourite in this cantata. Listen to Koopman's use of lute, guitar, and harpsichord throughout the cantata. In the recitative-dialog Mvt. 7, an exchange between Liesgen and Schlendrian, is underlined by using the heavier harpsichord for Schlendrian's accompaniment and the lute for Liesgen. A nice effect!

Looking at the score for this cantata while listening, I noticed that Bach used the same type of musical word pictures as in his sacred cantatas. Does this mean that a secular cantata like this one might lend itself to converting it into a sacred cantata? I don't think so. Does anyone know of any instance where Bach converted a secular cantata into a sacred one? I can't think of any instance. How frequently he did just the reverse! What is there about certain arias (with different words, of course) in this cantata, that would make them not feasible to be included in a sacred cantata? Could these arias serve both a secular and a sacred purpose, if the original purpose was secular? Is the music in the arias interchangeable? What happens to the musical word pictures when the text is changed? By moving, as Bach occasionally did, from an elevated sacred purpose to a less sacred, but perhaps still solemn purpose, he uplifts the secular to a higher level. What if Bach used an aria from the Coffee Cantata in a church setting with an appropriate sacred text and someone nevertheless associated it with performances given in the coffee houses with the original text? Would this pull the sacred aria back down to the level of the secular purpose for which it originally had been conceived? Is this the reason Bach never did this?

Musical Word Pictures: In Mvt. 1 the text, "er brummt ja wie ein Zeidelbär" referring to Schlendrian's 'grumbling' appears as accompanimin Schlendrian's Aria Mvt. 2. The violins in measure 1 state the 'grumbling' motif, which is picked up in the bass in measure 3 where it really begins to sound like grumbling. At the words, "hunderttausend Hudelei" particularly at measure 12, simply enunciating all the sixteenth notes with a syllable on each sixteenth note, draws attention to how great the number is that is being spoken about. Similarly, in the Aria mvt.4, the soprano sings about, "tausend Küsse" (measures 26-7) at which the flute breaks into thirty-second notes. In Aria Mvt. 6, the bass sings, "Doch trifft man den rechten Ort," (if you hit the right spot) which, if you listen to some of the odd jumps in the bass line in the first 6 measures, (Liesgen's wilful mind may also be represented here) makes sense for the continuo players who need to watch out more carefully that they 'hit the right notes'. In Aria Mvt. 8 takes the idiomatic phrase, "es steht mir an," Bach isolates the literal meaning of 'stehen' and has the voice at measure 60 literally stand still on one note that is held out for almost four complete measures! Unfortunately, Anne Grimm decides to put a trill in the middle of this long hold, thereby destroying whatever meaning Bach had intended to convey.

Sybrand Bakker wrote (March 25, 2001):
< Thomas Braatz wrote:
< used the same type of musical word pictures as in his sacred cantatas. Does this mean that a secular cantata like this one might lend itself to converting it into a sacred cantata? I don't think so. Does anyone know of any instance where Bach converted a secular cantata into a sacred one? I can't think of any instance. How frequently he did just the reverse! >
I'm not sure I am understanding your correctly. Parodies from secular to sacred are manifold in Bach, the Weihnachts-Oratorium (BWV 248) is full of it. Parodies from sacred to secular do not occur at all, or you must be capable of showing me any example, but I trust you can't. Bach and his contemporaries didn't differentiate between sacred and secular music as much as we do, in fact they didn't differentiate at all, as all music is to the glory of God. Hence they used the same compositional techniques in sacred as in secular music. Alfred Dürr has written a nice introduction to the Weihnachts-Oratorium, where he clearly demonstrates Bach didn't parody secular music unchanged. He took notice of the changed text, adapting the music accordingly. A specimen of this is the chorus 'Jauchzet, frohlocket' originally 'Toenet, ihr Pauken'.

Jane Newble wrote (March 25, 2001):
< Thomas Braatz wrote:
< used the same type of musical word pictures as in his sacred cantatas. Does this mean that a secular cantata like this one might lend itself to converting it into a sacred cantata? I don't think so. >
This is an interesting question.
I tend to agree, and I have wondered why.
After listening to this musical advert for coffee several times, I find some things quite amusing, but what really stood out for me most was that I missed something. And what I missed was a soul. I don't want to be so arrogant as to say: Bach's soul, but that is how I felt it. There is some nice music in this cantata, but it seems as if it was written at a different level. That level would not be capable of being lifted up, because the starting point was 'low', and almost 'superficial'. At least in Bach's mind these tunes would forever be first and foremost associated with coffee and the social drama accompanying it. The other way around, that would not matter, because as Thomas says, the secular cantata would then be lifted to a different plane.

There is plenty of evidence in church music history for using secular tunes, even in Luther's time ('Why should the devil have all the good music'), but it does not seem that Bach applied this to his own compositions. We don't know of course that he may have done so in the lost cantatas, so I don't think we can ever be dogmatic about it.

On a more 'technical' level, I have only the Brilliant Classics variety (Edith Mathis, Peter Schreier and Theo Adam), and I do like the recording and the voices, although I can not get over enthusiastic about a mature soprano yelling 'coffee' at the top of her voice, but that's personal taste, I suppose. I do like the musical word pictures, and the last coro especially.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 25, 2001):
(To Pablo Fagoaga) Maybe that's Bach's Fault in that cantata where he sides with those who imbibe coffee. Maybe they will re-discover a Bach anti-coffee cantata. JUST SAY "NO". A good cantata text, nicht wahr?

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 26, 2001):
Sybrand Bakker wrote:
>>Parodies from secular to sacred are manifold in Bach, the
Weihnachts-Oratorium is full of it. Parodies from sacred to secular do not occur at all >
Thanks for your correction! Mea culpa! I must have been musing (or dosing?) last night when I wondered about the direction of transformation Bach took with his cantatas. I looked up just a few cantatas and was referred to some research that Alfred Dürr and Werner Neumann did for the NBA I/1 KB pp.28ff, (1955) the first volume of the NBA to appear. Dürr definitely sets the tone with a very well researched article on the origin and course of development of BWV 36, an Advent cantata. The cantata went through 5 (!!!) transformations, all under what experts call Bach's "Werkökonomie", a method of producing compositions for various requirements without having to compose new pieces all the time. He used his own, over and over again, however sometimes words and music did not always have the same 'musical word' connections, despite his and Picander's help in finding a solution that would work. BWV 36 began as a birthday cantata (November 30, 1726) called, "Steigt freudig in die Luft." Then two more secular versions in the early 1730's. The first version as a sacred cantata, "Schwingt freudig euch empor" around 1732/33 is the fourth in the series and demonstrates how Bach managed this feat of transformation with Picander's help: He dropped the recitatives and the dance-like final chorus and then replaced it with the chorale, "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern". In the final version of the Advent cantata he included a new chorale strophe/verse based on "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland." Voilà! - the transformation is now complete!

The transformation that really 'dawned on me' after Sybrand Bakker mentioned the Weihnachts-Oratorium (BWV 248) is the Easter Oratorio (BWV 249). One of the first recordings of Bach's vocal music that I heard is the Easter Oratorio (Bach Guild with Felix Prohaska). After the Sinfonia and Adagio and opening chorus there were these arias and recitatives that told the wonderful story of Easter morning, but I never could 'get over' the sheer beauty of one of the arias, sung by Kurt Equiluz (1951??!!). Singing sweetly about the travails of death and projecting words like 'durch dein Schweißtuch sein' (try to sing these words, that's a real mouthful!) somehow did not fit the music entirely. Many years later I discovered the reason for my uneasiness - I used to think that Bach, somewhat like Schubert, was at the mercy of the few texts he had at his disposal. This was not the case. The Easter Oratorio in its earlier incarnation was a "Schäferkantate", a pastoral (having nothing to do with pastors in a church) cantata, where we find two men (shepherds), Damoetas and Menalcas, who meet two young shepherdesses, Doris and Sylvia. The men ask the women who are gathering garlands to bring to the celebration (the purpose of this cantata) to accompany them, whereupon the women respond, "What are we going to do about the sheep that we are tending?" The answer is not "Sheep shall safely graze" which comes close, but rather 'Rock yourselves to sleep, you well-nourished sheep and down there, deep in the valley whereyoung grass is growing, we will find you again when we come back.' That is the text of this supremely beautiful aria. The two recorders and the words absolutely fit the situation being described. In NBA II/7 you will find under the notes of the arias and choruses both the original text (secular - which came first) and the sacred text (which came last). Sometimes, as in this transformation, some definite problems arising from this process of parodying become apparent. We are looking directly into Bach's workshop and we see how he tries to solve the problem, "How much of the composition can I reuse and still make it fit a new text with the least expenditure of effort?"

I learn something new almost every day on the Bach Mailing Lists, sometimes I need to jog my own memory and do a bit of research to correct false notions that seem to crop up from time to time.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 26, 2001):
I think I have found the original source and time of a confrontation between the 'giants' among Bach scholars as the division between those who were still trying to preserve the sanctity of the origin of Bach's sacred music and those on the other side who began offering more and more evidence to the contrary. The turning point appeared in articles published in the Bach Jahrbuch of 1936 and 1937. In 1936 Arnold Schering was still maintaining without sufficient proof on a wrong assumption that the Osanna of the B-minor Mass (BWV 232) was an original composition not based on anything prior that Bach had composed. The following year, 1937, in the BJ, Friedrich Smend established as a principle that Bach always worked from the secular to the sacred in his transformations, a suspicion that Spitta had once uttered, but could find no proof for. With Smend the evidence was beginning to be presented, and further research in the years that followed has proven his point (as with Dürr - BWV 36 previously discussed here).

Jane Newble wrote (March 26, 2001):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< I think I have found the original source and time of a confrontation between the 'giants' among Bach scholars as the division between those who were still trying to preserve the sanctity of the origin of Bach's sacred music and those on the other side who began offering more and more evidence to the contrary. >
Beginning to think that I read and thought all the 'wrong' things about this subject!! I am so glad to be on this list...it's amazing how much there is to learn! Very grateful for being put right,

Jim Groeneveld wrote (March 28, 2001):
I would like to add some remarks to those already presented here on BWV 211:

As several people on this list have expressed their dislike (or lack of appreciation) for the Coffee Cantata of Bach I would like to note my appreciation for a cantata like this one. I do notice the somewhat different style and atmosphere from the sacred cantatas, but that is what attracts me. If I am not mistaken there is some amount of frivolity to observe in this cantata. Bach is playing with the music the notes, feels free and does with it as he likes. He seems to feel at ease. The music isn't boring, but, contrary to that, relaxing and pleasant. Of course it doesn't have the heavy weight and serious meaning of much of Bach's other music, but it doesn't have that pretention either. He might have written this cantata from the viewpoint of a hobby.

The question may be whether Bach opposed to the use of coffee or whether on the other hand he just was in favour of coffee. In the last case the cantata might be regarded as a protest song (against the disapproval of coffee), as there are so many during the past ages, especially in our contemporary pop music (the 19-sixties). But the impression I have is that it probably didn't matter him at all, but that he only was mocking with the discussion about coffee, apparently going on during that time. He makes a joke of that discussion and at the same time presents the well-known eternal generation conflict (which I have with my oldest son about beer), which gives it some more weight. My overall impression of the cantata is one of cheerfulness.

That impression is strengthened by the recorded performance I have:
Harnoncourt's one, apparently from 1968 [8] in the review by Aryeh Oron). I still have got it on LP with the Coffee Cantata at side B and the (also very enjoyable) Peasant Cantata at side A. I must have bought it around 1973 as the cover also indicates the year 1972. It must have been one of the first HIP performances that I met at that time and it sounded new, but very attractive to me. It's been some time since I played it lastly, because my turntable has been put away due to space problems. Recently I heard and saw a performance with acting musicians by Koopman on TV, which I also appreciated very much (possibly [25] in the above-mentioned review?).

So I vote in favour of the Coffee Cantata. Bach might have written (and kept) more of that kind of playful music for me. I'll drink to that [;-)

Pieter Pannevis wrote (March 28, 2001):
(To Jim Groeneveld) As a fervent beer drinker (better "un amateur de la biere") and seeing that beer drinking was and is a favourable hobby I wonder why it was called the beer drinking cantata. Shame you put the turntable away; I still enjoy my Stanton element. Well any way I'll second you (or your son), Jim. ...to put a light note after all this downs!

Jim Groeneveld wrote (March 30, 2001):
I do like HIP clearly more than non-HIP, but not just because it's HIP, historically justified, but because to my feeling it fits the kind of music much better. The music has been created initially to be performed in a way we now call HIP. The older the music the more that applies. HIP is and sounds less (or at least differently) cultivated than performance practices since say Mozart. To me Hip’s of Baroque and older music sound more simple, direct, closer to natural vocal and instrumental (in)capabilities (and of course habits) of that time, with yet many possible types of expression (e.g. rubato). Not every musician at that time had the same amount of training or needed to have it. Music and especially vocal music originally (in the Middle Ages) was intended to be performed by ordinary people singing with untrained voices. (Some music even could be sung correctly only while drunk, as suggested sometimes.)

Anyway an extreme example of music where non-HIP practices like vibrating would be clearly not applicable is ancient (Gregorian) music where a single melody is sung with pure parallel fifths only. It is quite clear that the purity of the fifths would be lost completely if singers would vibrate. The everlasting discussion on whether and how this would apply to music by Bach is currently going on again at the Bach List ('JS Bach and other Early and Baroque Music List' <BACH-LIST@LISTSERV.UH.EDU>) with the subject "Sebastian Bach and the piano". The main reason for preferring HIP, stressed there by several contributors, is that only HIP naturally fits the music; and several reasons have been mentioned to explain why. Experiments have even been carried out to even apply the assumed HIP Baroque style to later (Rococo and early Romantic) music (Harnoncourt and several others).

Two days ago on the Bach Cantatas list I gave my (favourable) impression of Bach's Coffee Cantata (BWV 211) as performed by Harnoncourt in 1968 (an LP version) [8]. Yesterday I realized myself that I do also have the complete Bach Works on Brilliant Classics, so I had another performance (on CD) as well: Schreier's one (1975), reviewed by Aryeh Oron as [9]. I hadn't heard it yet, so yesterday evening was its première for me. Well, what a difference! Compared to Harnoncourt's one it's heavy, bombastic (like Beethoven) and it certainly is not HIP. It mostly is (experienced) slower (though objectively not much overall). The soloists’ voices vibrate extensively and it sounds much too seri. I can imagine people, hearing such a performance, to find it less interesting.

IMHO music like the Coffee Cantata should not be performed so seriously (as by Schreier) as for example Passion music, it sounds too much cultivated. It should be performed much lighter, the instrumentalists should not so much play on, but rather play with their instruments; the soloists should not take their task too much as a burden, but rather smile and laugh while singing in a relaxed way. On itself it is delightful music and may be sung by (seemingly) less cultivated, innocent voices. Acting and other (emotional) expressions than the music only, make up half the performance, especially (visually) on stage, as applies to more arts than music alone. Don't be too serious, be happy and express that!

Bach may have written the cantata with the intention to make some nice, joyful performance of it. And in his time performances were only to be attended and thus seen live as well. Today we often have to do with only the audible part, canned, (almost) faultless, perfect, sterile recordings. The vivid visual, live part is lacking and thus the missing expressions might IMHO be compensated for by exaggerating the audible expressions a little bit, making the performance somewhat more lively, apparently spontaneous, maybe somewhat less perfect, without loosing professionalism. I have a slight preference for unique, possibly not perfect, live performances (like Leonhardt himself has); not sloppy, but controlled. Here we reach a point of discussion, that I raised on another newsgroup (nl.muziek.klassiek I think it was) last year, on what kind of recordings in terms of musical performance quality would be preferable.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 30, 2001):
(To Jim Groeneveld) Most very likely, such cantatas were indeed given in partial performance. I have seen in Vienna Telemann's Der Schulmeister (is that the correct title or is it Der Musikmeister?) and other such cantatas, while in concert performance, certainly acted out and with laughing out loud reactions by the audience.

 

Bach’s Coffee & Peasant Cantatas from Tafelmusik

Donald Satz wrote (April 15, 2001):
[26] Bach's Coffee Cantata BWV 211 & Peasant Cantata BWV 212 are secular and very light. The librettos are innocuous and sometimes silly; however, there's a playfulness and joy of life which redeem them. Bach's music is often glorious and well brings out the play and joy.

In the Coffee Cantata, we have a father very upset that his daughter craves coffee for its caffeine. He's determined to rid her of the habit. Dad, knowing what he controls, lists off a series of deprivations his daughter will be subjected to if she doesn't stop drinking. To each she responds that she will gladly accept the deprivations in order to keep drinking her beloved coffee. But when he mentions the withdrawl of a marriage offer, she tells him she would rather have a husband than coffee. Picander's libretto ends at this point, but Bach adds a recitative and trio where the daughter tells us that her marriage contract will include her right to drink coffee at any time she likes. It's all done in fun, and a good performance reflects it. Even the story-line has a universal appeal in that the confict is between parents who see their offspring going off in undesired directions and the offspring who have no intention of giving in to authority.

The Peasant Cantata is all about good times. Two young adults are very hot for one another but find plenty of time to honor and spoof their masters; they also love to drink alcoholic beverages. This is definitely a stress-free and fun-loving cantata.

Given the similarities of the two cantatas, they are often found together on record. That's the programming that Jeanne Lamon and Tafelmusic use on their recent disc for Analekta [26]. The vocal soloists are soprano Suzie LeBlanc, tenor Nils Brown, and baritone Brett Polegato. The catalong number is FL 2 3136.

For comparison, I used Christopher Hogwood's recording of both works on a Decca CD [16]. Hogwood has the excellent fortune to team with Emma Kirby and tenor Rogers Covey-Crump; both are exceptional. Kirby's white voice is tailor-made for the music. She brings youthfulness and lightness to the point of perfection. The bass David Thomas is not as enticing, but he is certainly enjoyable. Hogwood directs excellently with crisp and idiomatic performances from the Academy Of Ancient Music.

Reviews I have read of the Tafelmusik recording have been rather unkind, noting that neither Tafelmusik nor the vocal soloists display sufficient charm and joy for the high-spirited moods of the music. I can't deny that Hogwood's vocalists are better than Tafelmusik's. Suzie LeBlanc can't match Emma Kirby for youth or high-spirits, and tenor Nils Brown pales next to Rogers Covey-Crump. However, Brett Polegato is very good in the baritone role. Tafelmusik does present a darker atmosphere than Hogwood, and I'm sure that the reviews have considered that a negative.

Still, there is one area where Tafelmusik is even better than Hogwood; there's a rhythmic bounce and vitality in the Tafelmusik performances which is irresistable. Just listen to the ending duet of the Peasant Cantata to hear that rhythmic vitality which propels the Tafelmusik reading past Hogwood's. Also, the strings are outstanding and quite prominent. Overall, I have to prefer the Hogwood disc, but Tafelmusik brings some special qualities to the works which make their recording easy to recommend. As for the darker readings, my musical preferences don't recognize that aspect as a major detriment.

Don's Conclusions: Although not an essential acquisition, Tafelmusik is very enjoyable; in my view, any deficit in joy from the performers is well compensated by the infectious pacing and rhythm provided by Jeanne Lamon. Additional listenings only serve to enhance my admiration for Lamon's direction and decision-making. The final verdict is a strong recommendation tempered with a little caution concerning the vocalists Suzie LeBlanc and Nils Brown. I'll be keeping this Tafelmusik CD in my 'frequent play' stacks since it offers highly pleasureable elements not found in other recordings I have heard. The cover art is attractive and liner notes acceptable. If my tastes tend to mesh with yours, you can safely purchase the disc and expect many hours of enjoyment.

 

Continue on Part 2

Cantata BWV 211: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2

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