an ode to coffee

"Les buveurs de café," by Flemish painter Paul-Joseph Delcloche (1716-1755)

Les buveurs de café,” by Flemish painter Paul-Joseph Delcloche (1716-1755)

Ah, coffee! The drink adored by artists around the world for centuries: musicians, painters, philosophers, writers….Without the late-night spurts of energy fueled by this fragrant, smoky black drink, who knows how much more barren our libraries and museums would be?! (Pardon my hyperbole…maybe I’ve had a little too much myself this morning.)

Coffee came from the Middle East to Europe through the trading ports of Venice, and even Pope Clement VIII could not resist its allure, saying, “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it and making it a truly Christian beverage!” Thus, in 1600, he declared coffee Christian, ignoring protests to ban the “Muslim drink,” and opened the door for coffee to saturate the West. (Thanks, Pope Clement. You the real MVP.) Coffee houses throughout Europe quickly became popular places for social gatherings, and the Zimmermannsche Kaffeehaus–or “Café Zimmermann”–in Leipzig is one of the most famous, for hosting public concerts in which many of J.S. Bach’s secular cantatas were performed…including:

The Coffee Cantata.

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stranded on a desert island (#2)

A blog series in which a musician shares which three pieces they would choose to listen to, if they were hypothetically stranded on an island and could only listen to those three pieces for the rest of their life. Want to contribute? Contact me here!

This week, I share my own choices (and realize how cruel it actually is of me to limit people to only three pieces when I ask them this question)!

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stranded on a desert island (#1)

A new blog series in which a musician shares which three pieces they would choose to listen to, if they were hypothetically stranded on an island and could only listen to those three pieces for the rest of their life. Want to contribute? Contact me here!

This week’s contributor is Eric Tran, a fellow graduate student and a pianist friend who has an inspiring enthusiasm for music and also has the distinction of being both a composer and a talented performer. Without further ado:


Three pieces on a desert island.

This challenge is the worst. Just three pieces? On a desert island? Not even a *dessert* island? Both ways I’m sure to die quickly, but here I would be unable have my creme brûlée… nor would I be able to float to safety on a giant donut (would eat accidentally) or a raft of a million marshmallows tied together with twizzlers (would not eat).

OK, enough of the food fantasies. I will also assume that I would break the conditions of the challenge by selecting pieces that by nature would radically change – else I would select an improvisation. 😛

Here we go – three pieces accompanied by brief notes with my thoughts and experiences:

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musical excerpt: fuga from Bach’s sonata no. 2 in a minor

Bach can be one of the most difficult musical giants to grapple with. His works go beyond those of many other composers’ in their demands on mental acuity and musical finesse, and it’s no secret that many students struggle to find an appreciation for Bach, particularly when Baroque aesthetics and conventions seem so far removed from the modern world. For some, a love for Bach has to develop slowly over a longer time, with accumulated exposure to the expressiveness of his musical lines and the grand purity of his harmonies–and the growing realization of how deeply his music is steeped in the vibrant colors of his society, of dance or church or court.

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