A series by Martyn Baguley
Imagine for a moment that the year is 1735 and you are in the German City of Leipzig. (You haven’t been to Leipzig? I did say ‘imagine’). As you stroll along, Cather Strasse Bach-like orchestral music comes from a cafe. The music fades, replaced by an angry tuneless baritone voice – ‘You wicked child, you disobedient girl! When will I get my way; give up coffee!’
The music is ‘Bach-like’ because it is his. The words were by the poet and librettist Christian Henrici. You are near Zimmerman’s Coffee House and listening to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Coffee Cantata which he and Henrici wrote for The Collegium Musicum, a small musical group based there. It was the nearest Bach ever got to writing music for an opera.
Bach loved his coffee, as did most of the fashionable and literary set in the 18th century. Its popularity had started earlier – much earlier. Travellers, including Marco Polo, are credited with bringing coffee to Europe from the Near East in the 17th century.
Like most new things, especially anything coming from the Orient, initially it was treated with suspicion. When it first arrived in Venice in 1615 the clergy condemned it as being the ‘bitter invention of Satan’. Opposition to it was so intense that Pope Clement VIII was asked to adjudicate. After sampling a mug of Java coffee he said ‘This devil’s drink is delicious. We should cheat the devil by baptizing it’.