In one of the most important commemorations in Europe in 2000, Germany honored Johann Sebastian Bach on the 250th anniversary of his death. Throughout the year, German cities and towns, many with direct historical associations to the great composer, celebrated his life and music with hundreds of concerts, festivals and a host of other events. In the province of Thuringia, where Bach spent so much of his life, special Bach Weeks offered a variety of events and special performances.
What follows next is a J.S. Bach time-line with information on places associated with him in his lifetime.
The City of Eisenach - born into a musical tradition
Here, in 1685 Johann Sebastian Bach was born to Johann Ambrosius and Maria Barbara Bach. He was baptized at St. George's Church where members of the Bach family were employed as organists from 1665 to 1797. Bach attended the Latin School, where previously, Martin Luther had been a pupil. Bach’s father, who conducts the city orchestra gives him an introduction to music.
Eisenach is a Wartburg town in Thuringia, a region steeped in close associations with J.S. Bach. Of special interest are the Bach Memorial and school, Wartburg, Luther House, Preachers Church, Rueter Villa with Wagner Collection, St. George's Church with the baptismal font where J.S. Bach was christened, Church of St. Nicholas.
Bach House in Eisenach was purchased by the New Bach Society in 1906, thus preserving it for posterity. The house is a superb example of a home in the early 1700s. Furnished with original furnishings from Thuringia, it provides an outstanding example of the middle-class lifestyle in the time of J.S. Bach. Also includes a display of historic instruments from 17th and 18th centuries, exhibits and extensive collection of documents and memorabilia relating to J.S. Bach.
Ohrdruf - the loss of loved ones
After the death of his mother in 1694, and his father in 1695, the orphaned Bach, was sent to live with his brother Christoph, who is 13 years his elder. Like his father, Christoph is a musician. He was employed as the organist at St. Michael’s Church. Christoph enrolled his younger brother Bach in to Ohrdruf’s Lyceum School and instructed him in organ playing.
The town of Ohrdruf dates from 724 A.D. Of interest are: Ehrenstein Palace, a Renaissance building which houses the Ohrdruf Municipal Museum, Archives and Library. Traditional concerts are held regularly in the Rococo Chamber and the palace courtyard. Also, Church of the Holy Trinity c.1714, Sichhof Chapel with the altar from the former palace chapel dating from the late 15th century and the Tobias Hammer - the last of 40 hammer works located along the River Ohra.
Luneburg - furthering his education
In 1700, at 15 years of age, Bach was enrolled in the famous choir of St. Michael’s Monastery School. Here he completes his Abitur (advanced level of education) and in two years time passes his final examinations. A Bach Week is staged in his honor here each year in the summer.
Of interest in Luneburg are: St. Michael’s Monastery which dates from the 14th century, Luneburg Town Hall with 13th to 18th century elements, collection of art treasures in the 12th century Lune Monastery.
Arnstadt - a brilliant career begins
Bach found employment in Arnstadt as organist at the New Church (now the Bach Church) from 1703 to 1707. In 1707, he married his second cousin Maria Barbara Bach with whom he would have seven children. Of interest in Arnstadt are: Museum of Municipal History with Bach Memorial, Renaissance Town Hall with ornamental gable, “town” of wax dolls in Palace Museum known as " Mon Plaisir," and the Museum of Steam Locomotives.
Lubeck - an inspirational meeting
In 1705, Bach made a three-month journey to Lubeck to meet organ master Dietrich Buxtehude in St. Mary’s Church. This visit inspires Bach to introduce the musical innovations which so characterized his later work. Lubeck is a Hanseatic city on the Baltic Coast. Of other interest in Lubeck are: the 12th century St. Mary’s Church, Old Town with over 1000 Gothic brick houses, museum harbour, Heinrich and Thomas Mann Museum in Buddenbrook House – the world’s oldest pub.
Muhlhausen - origins of a family
J.S. Bach was organist here at the parish Church of St. Blasius in 1707-1708. Bach meets and marries his cousin Maria Barbara Bach. Of Interest in Muhlhausen are: Parish Church of St. Blasius (13th/14th centuries), Bach Church, Town Wall 12th- 14th centuries, Town Hall 13th – 18th centuries, Church of St. Mary’s 12th – 15th centuries.
Weimar - a royal appointment
From 1707 to 1717, Bach was court organist and “Cammermusicus” of the court orchestra. In 1717, he was made concert master, a position which provided him with considerable artistic freedom. It was in this period that he developed his unmistakable cantata composing nearly 30 sacred cantata as well as the “Hunt Cantata”. Bach asked for the position of musical director which the Duke refused at first, and subsequently placed Bach in custody before ultimately granting his request for the post. Of interest in Weimar: Red Palace and Bach Memorial, Goethe and Schiller Statue, Goethe House, Schiller House, Liszt House, municipal Church of St. Peter and Paul.
Dresden - a visiting artist
Bach never realized his greatest wish – to become the Royal Court composer to the Prince Elector in Dresden. However, Bach did perform concerts in Dresden on the Silbermann organs in the Church of Our Lady and the Church of St. Sophia. Today, the Bach heritage in Dresden is kept alive by the Kreuzchor Choir, the Virtuosi Saxoniae, the Dresden Chamber Choir, the Dresden Bach Choir, and the Bach Camera Musicale. Of interest in Dresden are: the Semper Opera House, Royal Palace, Zwinger Palace, Loschwitz Elbe Palaces, Pillnitz Palace, Cathedral, The Church of Our Lady, the Church of the Holy Cross, Three Kings Church, Old and New Masters Art Galleries, “Green” Vault Treasure Chamber, Porcelain Collection, and the Konigstrasse.
Kothen - a court appointment
The district town of Kothen officially dates back to 1313 when it received its charter, but was first documented in 1115. In 1717, Prince Leopold appointed J.S. Bach court musical director. Thus began what may be considered the most peaceful period in Bach’s life. Even when he resigned his post in 1723, his release was a friendly occasion . He continued to serve the Prince as music director from his new home in Leipzig. While in Kothen, Bach composed overtures, secular cantata, chamber music works, violin concertos, and the six Brandenburg Concertos.
After the death of Bach’s first wife Maria Barbara in 1720, he married Anna Magdalena Wulcken the following year.
Of interest in Kothen are: Kothen Palace, Palace Chapel with Zuberbier organ, Hall of Mirrors Naumann Museum, neo-Renaissance Town Hall, municipal and cathedral church of St. James, St. Agnes Church in Dutch Baroque style with valuable paintings from the Cranach workshop, and St. Mary’s Church.
Leipzig - taking up a prestigious musical post
Bach spent 27 remarkably productive years in Leipzig. He arrived here in 1723 to undertake the positions of Cantor at St. Thomas’s Church and Director of Music for the city of Leipzig. It is considered by many, that in his “Leipzig years” Bach created his most important compositions. These include St. John and St. Matthew Passions, The Art of the Fugue” and the Mass in B Minor.
Leipzig is uniquely suited to perpetuate interest in Bach. Indeed, its extraordinary resources include the Bach Archives, the Bach Museum, St. Thomas’s Church Choir, Offices of the J.S. Bach Competitions, Leipzig Bach Festivals, and Headquarters of the New Bach Society.
Under the headline “Bach- End and Beginning,” the Leipzig Bach Festival 2000, which coincided with the 75th Bach Festival of the New Bach Society, presented works from the late years of the composer’s life.
Under the directorship Georg Christoph Biller, 16th St. Thomas Cantor since Bach, the Leipzig Opera, the Gewandhaus Orchestra, St. Thomas Boys Choir as well as renowned Bach musicians from around the world presented an outstanding program. Visitors attended orchestral concerts, oratorios, chamber concerts, organ excursions in the authentic Bach environment.
The city of Leipzig itself has much to offer the visitor. In the city arcade, Madler Passage has been the city’s most exclusive shopping promenade for centuries. This is also the location of Auerbachs Keller – well known for its connection with the legendary barrel ride of Dr. Faustus. Patrons of the cellar restaurant can relive scenes from Goethe’s drama: “Faust I”.
Restored city arcades like Specks Hof, Barthels Hof or Steibs Hof present new shopping areas and fascinate the visitor with their unique architecture. The legendary café and museum Zum Arabischen Coffee Baum Europe’s oldest remaining café-restaurant reopened in 1998. One of Germany’s most impressive Renaissance buildings – the Old City Hall is located at the market square. It is now the home of the Museum of City History. Behind it you will find the old Stock Exchange with the Goethe Monument prominently at its front.
Other points of interest in Leipzig include: Battle of Leipzig Monument, Russian Memorial Church, Leipzig Main Station (Europe’s largest terminal station), St. Nicholas Church (Leipzig’s oldest and largest), St. Thomas Church – home of the celebrated boys choir, Bach Monument, Mendelssohn House – the only museum commemorating composer Felix Mendelssohn. The Leipzig Opera, located at Augustus Square is over 300 years old, while the concert hall of the Gewandhaus Orchestra was founded over 250 years ago.
Erfurt - home to a musical dynasty
Generations of the Bach family lived here and worked as musicians. His parents were married in the merchants church in 1668. J.S. Bach was closely associated with the Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt and records show that he inspected the church’s new organ in 1716. Of interest in Erfurt are: Cathedral Hill with St. Mary’s Cathedral and the church of St. Severus, Kramer Bridge, Augustinian Monastery, Petersberg Citadel and the Imperial Hall.
Bach House in Eisenach: http://www.bachhaus.de
We wish to express our appreciation to the German National Tourist Office in New York, and the Leipzig Tourist Service for providing the materials from which this article was produced.
Photo top: Bach Monument in Leipzig