Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Bach and Coffee

My grandmother has a funny name for female coffee addicts; She calls these people, and she always included herself among them, coffee hags.

Male coffee hags also exist! I know a man, a brilliant surgeon, who actually thought he was dying after three days of sheer physical agony, until his wife figured out that she had accidentally bought a pound of decaffeinated coffee. Growing up hearing my grandmother’s tales of coffee hags and their headaches had their effect on me and I remained caffeine free, for the most part, until my mother bought me an electric coffee maker. She wanted us to have coffee together at my house. I was 34 years old when I was thus corrupted. And my life as a coffee hag has not been the same. I simply cannot function without coffee in the morning.

Anyway, the problem of women and their black brew in society is not a new one. Almost 300 years ago Johan Sebastian Bach wrote a delightful cantata precisely about a father’s relationship with his upstart daughter who refuses to give up her coffee habit. Although the lyrics were actually written by Christian Friedrich Henrici, I am certain but that Bach being a responsible father of 20 kids, knew about coffee and relationships. He must have understood, as is abundantly clear, that no human person should ever try to take away a woman’s coffee.

My recording of this piece is in German and while I do know a smattering of that language, I understood only enough to want to look up a translated edition of what is commonly known (according to my CD cover) as the Coffee Cantata. I can also testify that the tune is so charming that I sometimes sing along. Not knowing the words or the notes has never been an obstacle for me.

What I had understood from listening with my limited German vocabulary was that this young lady preferred coffee to boyfriends. Now that’s an authentic coffee hag, according to my understanding of the term. Having read the translation, I can tell you the scoop: little Lieschen found coffee more delicious than a thousand kisses. In fact she threatens that if she doesn’t get three bowls, not cups but bowls, of coffee a day, the torment will drive her to shrivel up like a piece of roast goat. Not an attractive alternative. Well, I won’t give away the ending to this delicious tale of suspense, but it involves some form of prenuptial agreement. So we know that some German young ladies were getting wiser by the time this was written, in the early 1730s.

Now think about the possibilities. This is a work of music that is begging for a new audience and a Starbucks endorsement. Consider a “Starbucks Coffee Cantata by Bach”. Maybe we can get a sing along version. With free coffee.