Great Lakes Baroque Brews Up Bach's 'Coffee Cantata'

Jun 13, 2018

As many coffee aficionados know, love for coffee can be a powerful force. But widespread adoration for coffee is nothing new. In fact, Johann Sebastian Bach dedicated a song to the beloved beverage many years ago. On Friday, Great Lakes Baroque performs Bach's "Coffee Cantata" at the Skylight's Cabot Theatre as part of an all-Bach musical program.

Although many people generally associate the Baroque period - and especially Bach - with darker, more melancholy tones, Bach's "Coffee Cantata" strikes a much lighter, joyful note. The German Cantata will be conducted by Jory Vinikour and sung in part by soprano Kristin Knutson. However, to ensure the audience grasps the song's message, Kristin and two others will act out a short play in English (and in costume) beforehand.

In Bach's time, coffee was becoming increasingly popular in Germany, and Vinikour adds, "could be seen as a kind of newfangled habit, although Bach was certainly not opposed." Knutson quips, "How else did he write so much?"

Indeed, the song's lyrics translated to English read, "Coffee! I must have coffee!" Vinikour, on the fringe of coffee addiction himself, admits the song resonates strongly with him.

Despite the lighthearted nature of the song, coffee acts as an allegory for something perhaps more important. What could be more important than coffee, you ask? The comic element belies the classic tension between "the old fashions of the father not wanting to live in the present and the daughter wanting to move into something more free and modern," Vinikour says.  

Great Lakes Baroque performs an all-Bach musical program Friday night, June 15th, at the Skylight Music Theatre's Cabot Theatre in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward, with shows at 4:00 and 7:00 pm.