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8.550641 - BACH, J.S.: Cantatas, BWV 211-212
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Coffee Cantata), BWV 211
The career of Johann Sebastian Bach, the most illustrious of a prolific musical family, falls neatly into three unequal parts. Born in 1685 in Eisenach, from the age of ten Bach lived and studied music with his elder brother in Ohrdruf, alter the death of both his parents. After a series of appointments as organist and briefly as a court musician, he became, in 1708, court organist and chamber musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar, the elder of the two brothers who jointly ruled the duchy. In 1714 he was promoted to the position of Konzertmeister to the Duke, but in 1717, after a brief period of imprisonment for his temerity in seeking to leave the Duke's service, he abandoned Weimar to become Court Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, a position he held until 1723. From then until his death in 1750 he lived in Leipzig, where he was Thomaskantor, with responsibility for the music of the five principal city churches, in 1729 assuming direction of the university collegium musicum, founded by Telemann in 1702.
At Weimar Bach had been principally employed as an organist, and his compositions of the period include a considerable amount written for the instrument on which he was recognised as a virtuoso performer. At Cöthen, where Pietist traditions dominated the court, he had no church duties, and was responsible rather for court music. The period brought the composition of a number of instrumental works. The final 27 years of Bach's life brought a variety of preoccupations, and while his official employment necessitated the provision of church music, he was able to provide music for the university collegium musicum and to write or re-arrange a number of important works for the keyboard.
The Coffee Cantata and the Peasant Cantata both suggest the kind of dramatic work Bach might have written had he been employed, like Telemann, in Hamburg, where there was a tradition of opera. The first of these was written in Leipzig in 1734 or 1735, using a text by Picander, the pseudonym of Christian Friedrich Henrici, the author of texts for many of Bach's church cantatas. Henrici was a versatile writer and poet. He had settled in Leipzig in 1720 and seven years later joined the local administration as an official of the post office. He continued his career, which culminated in 1740 with the positions of Assessment and liquor Tax Collector and Wine Inspector. The Coffee Cantata was presumably written for performance at one of the Friday evening meetings of the University collegium musicum at Zimmerman's coffee-house in the Catherinenstrasse.
The fashion for drinking coffee had spread through Europe in the second half of the seventeenth century. The nature and medicinal properties of the drink had earlier been observed, not always with approval, by visitors to Turkey, but it is said that Coffee and the croissant owed their later popularity to the relief of the Siege of Vienna in 1683, when the retreating Ottoman armies left ample supplies of the former. In Bach's Coffee Cantata, scored for soprano, tenor and bass, with flute, strings and basso continuo, Schlendrian tries to cure his daughter Liesgen of the habit of Coffee-drinking by threatening to prevent her marrying until she desists. Liesgen secretly arranges that her future husband should commit himself to allowing her to continue, in a secret prenuptial agreement. The opening narrative is introduced by a tenor recitative, preceding Schlendrian's aria of complaint. In an aria with a spirited flute obligato, Liesgen, his daughter, expresses her love of coffee. Schlendrian, in his next aria, hits on a plan, which he announces in the following recitative, to the apparent dismay of his daughter, expressed in her subsequent formal aria, with its central contrasting section. The denouernent is left to a brief tenor recitative, followed by a final chorus, accompanied by the flute, as well as the strings, in which we are told that coffee-drinking is an ineradicable habit.
The burlesque Peasant Cantata, Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet, also uses words by Picander and honours the Leipzig chamberlain Carl Heinrich von Dieskau, who, on 30th August, 1742, was installed as lord of the manor of Klein-Zschocher. Dieskau had general oversight of taxes, so that Picander's light-hearted tribute was not entirely pointless, in view of his own recent appointment.
The Peasant Cantata opens with a mock overture, in which one disconnected episode follows another, played by violin, viola and basso continuo. In the first duet the two villagers, in an attempt at the dialect of Upper Saxony that Picander finds difficult to sustain, praise their new master, who gives them beer, to a popular melody. Mieke, the woman, finds comfort in love, in a song where coarse words are hardly matched by the melody of a polonaise. The man pleads with the tax-collector for leniency in another polonaise. His wife, in the following recitative, praises the lord of the manor and, to the sound of the popular Spanish dance, La folia, declares him a capable man. Indeed, her husband adds, the village has done well in the recent conscription, and, Mieke suggests, similar influence might be exercised on the taxation authorities. In an aria accompanied by violin and viola, she gives her views on tell-tales. The man now turns his attention to their master's pious wife, over-careful with money, since they have had to make a contribution of fifty thalers to the celebration. Mieke, with flute obbligato, sings in honour of the chamberlain, and her husband offers, in contrast, a more homely tribute, to the accompaniment of the hunting-horn. She finds this open to criticism before such a fine audience, but sings her own simple prayer for sons for the chamberlain. The man now counters with something he regards as more sophisticated, in townsman's style, but offering the same sentiment. The couple, their tribute completed, now go to the tavern, concluding with their wishes for the prosperity and well-being of their overlord.
Failoni Chamber Orchestra
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