Monday, January 10, 2011

Bach and Mendelssohn

1 GOTTESDIENST... the German word for "worship service." This would be my final opportunity to visit St. Thomas, and I was eager to have the full Sunday morning experience in Bach's home church.

Having studied Bach and his music as students, we are taught several hard and fast facts: 1) church started early "back in the day," usually at 7 am; 2) services were long, lasting often more than 3 hours; and 3) the cantata was performed just before (or after) the sermon...or on special Sundays when an extended cantata would have been featured, half before and half after the sermon.

So, none of these was true this day. The worship service began at 9:30 am (reason enough to give thanks!), it was slightly over an hour in length (though the additional service for communion added an extra 30 minutes or so) and the choir did not sing an entire cantata. Rather, they performed the concluding chorale from Cantata #1 WIE SCHOEN LEUCHTET DIE MORGENSTERN. In addition, they sang several other motets and hymns throughout the service.

The sermon lasted about 20 minutes. *I think* the minister was talking about the shift away from the celebrations of was the first Sunday after Epiphany after all. He also noted the upcoming vote in southern Sudan...I believe framed in reference to the reunification of Germany 20 years ago. However, as I was only able to understand about every fifth word, a lot of this is conjecture!

Following the service, Jon and I found a cafe for a bit of coffee ("milchkaffe"...frothy, smooth and sweet) and a bite to eat. Seated on the main town square, it was a perfect spot to people watch--families, young couples, folks walking dogs (and bringing them inside the restaurant)...all seemed so naturally organic and at ease. Very relaxing!


The St. Nicholas Church was one of the four in Bach's care, and during his lifetime one could see one from the other. They're not very far apart, in fact. However, the many tall buildings, hotels and shops constructed in the last 200 years mean one has to thread one's way through the streets and alleys to get from one to the other.

The Nicholas Church is actually a bit bigger than St. Thomas, though the exterior is less ornate.

Once inside, the 18th century renovations are immediately evident. The entire interior has been recast in a classical motif. Bright, airy colors and lots of natural light. Even the gothic columns have been given roman treatment, with ornate green palm leaves on top.


As my time in Leipzig was nearing its end, I knew I wouldn't be able to hit all the places on my wish list (Opera, Gewandhaus Orchestra Hall, Schumann House). Figuring we had time for just one more, we decided to go visit the Mendelssohn House, where Felix lived the last years of his life. This way, we'd at least walk past the Opera and the Orchestra Hall.

Guided by well-placed street signs, we work our way to the Mendelssohn house, located less than a quarter mile from the Gewanhaus (Mendlessohn was the conductor of that orchestra in its original home). The Mendelssohn museum, located on the first floor of his house, occupies the same space used by the composer as his living quarters for the final years of his life, and in which he died in 1847.

We saw lots of fascinating items: original furniture owned by Mendelssohn and his family (much of it Beidermeier), gifts (including a beautiful chest from England), handwritten musical manuscripts (including this one from ELIJAH, the Part II aria "Hear Ye, Israel") and watercolors by the composer after his trips to Italy.

Our last full day in Leipzig concluded with a nice meal at "Bar Fusz," a clubby place with typical Saxon fare, plus just about anything else one could imagine...Thai, Italian, pizzas, etc. On Monday, we take the train to Berlin for several days of sightseeing.

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