Coffee: A Classical Muse
This playlist celebrates coffee and the café culture that arose around it in 18th-century Europe that has inspired composers, writers, and artists from Paris to Prague, including Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Find your own inspiration whenever you visit Lincoln Center at the Prelude Café & Bar Curated by Nespresso, located in the lobby of Alice Tully Hall.
Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, BWV 211/ Kaffee-Kantate (Coffee Cantata)
Edith Mathis, soprano
Kammerorchester Berlin led by Peter Schreier
Bach was an early adopter of all things coffee and even wrote a cantata about the struggle between a father and his coffee-addicted daughter. (Spoiler alert: She wins!) Here she sings of her love for coffee:
"Ah! how sweet coffee tastes!
Lovelier than a thousand kisses,
smoother than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I must have coffee,
and if anyone wants to give me a treat,
ah!, just give me some coffee!"
Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826: I. Sinfonia – BACH
Glenn Gould, piano
Like the composer with whom he is most associated, iconoclastic pianist Glenn Gould always had a mug nearby, including on the piano as he rehearsed Bach's Partita No. 2 in this excerpt from the documentary The Art of Piano.
Don Giovanni, K.527, Act I: "Riposate, vezzose ragazze" – MOZART
Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, bass-baritone; Luca Pisaroni, bass-baritone; Konstantin Wolff, bass-baritone; Mojca Erdmann, soprano; Diana Damrau, soprano; Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Rolando Villazón, tenor
Mahler Chamber Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Whether it was at Café Tomaselli in Salzburg or Vienna's Café Frauenhuber, Mozart took his coffee black. His most dastardly opera villain, Don Giovanni, used coffee in his seduction schemes. This party scene begins with coffee and ends with some of the most impressive ensemble singing you'll ever hear.
Adagio and Rondo in C Minor, K.617 - MOZART
Philippe Bernold, Thomas Bloch, Maurice Bourgue, Xavier Gagnepain, Agnès Salem-Bialobroda
You know who else loved coffee? Benjamin Franklin, who frequented the Parisian café scene as the United States Ambassador to France. He wrote: "Among the numerous luxuries of the table…coffee may be considered as one of the most valuable. It excites cheerfulness without intoxication; and the pleasing flow of spirits which it occasions…is never followed by sadness, languor or debility." Franklin also invented the glass harmonica, which Mozart loved and which you can hear played live at the Mostly Mozart Festival on July 24 and 25.
Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K.622: III. Rondo – MOZART
Martin Fröst, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
About two months before his death, Mozart wrote to his wife: "I had Joseph summon Primus and bring me black coffee, with which I smoked a wonderful pipe of tobacco; then I orchestrated almost all of Stadler's rondo." That's Anton Stadler, the legendary Austrian clarinetist for whom Mozart wrote his famous Clarinet Concerto. Twenty-first century virtuoso Martin Fröst channels Stadler's spirit here.
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60 – BEETHOVEN
Concentus Musicus Wien conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Like everything in his life, Beethoven was very particular about his coffee. He insisted on only drinking coffee he made himself and legend has it that he would count out 60 beans to obtain the perfect brew. There's no record of a piece he wrote that was explicitly fueled by coffee, so we went with Opus 60, which just happens to be his glorious Fourth Symphony, in a buzzing performance conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
La Cenerentola, Act 2: "Sia qualunque delle figlie" – ROSSINI
Enzo Dara, Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna conducted by Riccardo Chailly
Rossini, a proto-foodie who loved a well-sourced cup of joe, lamented that the stimulating effects of coffee were short-lived. According to his friend Honoré de Balzac, a famous caffeine fiend himself, Rossini once said: "Coffee is a matter of fifteen or twenty days: luckily the time to make an opera." In this scene from Rossini's opera La Cenerentola, Cinderella's father Don Magnifico expresses gastronomic glee at the prospects of his daughter's marriage to a prince, culminating in cake and coffee.
Candide, Act I, Scene 3: Aria, "Glitter and Be Gay" – BERNSTEIN
Diana Damrau, Munich Radio Orchestra
Voltaire, the author of Candide on which Bernstein based his Broadway-opera hybrid, allegedly consumed 40–50 cups of coffee a day. This sounds far-fetched, but so does the idea of anyone being able to sing Bernstein's stratospheric showpiece, which Diana Damrau does with ease.