Friday, January 7, 2011

Bach Rules!


After a great night's sleep, I started out this on a different route into the heart of the city center. Along the way, I passed numerous antique shops and an enormous construction site (for the city's new major construction project, an underground tunnel from the main train station to the southern part of the city), and found myself in a small, charming little coffee shop/bakery where I had a light breakfast. Tasty "milchcaffe" and jelly-filled pastry (New Year's resolution on hold till I get home). All for about 3 Euros (about $4.50). Not bad!

Next, it was time to "meet" Bach's church for real. Retracing my steps from last night, I greeted the statue, then made a quick detour to the Bach Museum to confirm the time of the museum tour this afternoon.

Signs hanging outside the church entrance helped frame the historical significance.

Following a noisy tour group inside the tour, I was surprised to see an actual wedding taking place at the same time. At the far end of the nave, I realized that the wedding party likely couldn't hear any of the noise of the tourists, so we all quietly looked around, snapping photos.

The huge church boasts a roof pitch steeper than any other in Germany, 63%, and its neogothic design is most readily apparent in the wooden ribbed vaults in the triple nave ceiling.

To the right hand side of the photo above is a series of beautiful stained glass windows, each dedicated to prominent figures in church and city history. Included are Martin Luther, Felix Mendelssohn and (of course) our composer.

One of the advantages to visiting a church during a wedding ceremony is that the lights are all on. Another is that there is music! Though both organs at Saint Thomas were installed after Bach's lifetime, the newer one, from the year 2000, was intended to be typical of the organs Bach would have known. In fact, it was constructed and installed for the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, in 2000. And, it was the instrument being used to provide accompaniment for the wedding.

It was stunning, STUNNING to hear and see it in action. I'll try to get a clip of it posted in the next day or two.

Near the top of the pipe-work, you can see the fancy script design that Bach used, recreated by the organ builder for this instrument. Really nice touch! It was so wonderful simply to sit there and soak it all in, I stayed for about 90 minutes, well past the end of the wedding, taking pictures, listening to more music, exploring. Next it was time for a trip to the giftshop and more pictures around the outside of the church. (ie, statue of Felix Mendelssohn)


Later in the afternoon, I took part in a guided tour of the Bach Museum. Located just across the street from the church, this opened only 6 months ago, and is a wonderful overview of Bach's time and work in Leipzig. The curation is very well done, with English translation of all the signage. There's a great display on paper and ink analysis, too. This is an important area in Bach scholarship, as only recently have experts been able to correctly date numerous works and letters from the composer. An authorized copy of the famed Hausmann portrait of Bach hangs in the first room, where one can also see a copy of the infamous letter of "complaint" Bach wrote to the Leipzig town council. In it, he requests greater funding for his musicians, whom one cannot expect to work for nothing.


I made sure I was near the front of the line for entrance to the church for the evening concert/service, called "Motette." Given each week on Fridays and Saturdays, these programs recall Evensong in their construction...some speaking, reading and praying, but mostly lots of music!

Leading the service was the Choir of St. Thomas, the very choir that Bach led for so many years. Comprised of about 50 boys and young men (ages 6-18, I'm guessing), they started with two movements of the motet JESU, MEINE FREUDE, singing a cappella. I was impressed with the strength of the singing...clear, solid, youthful sounding. And I noticed that many of the boys, including some of the youngest, were singing this challenging repertoire without any printed music. I guess having learned it over 250 years ago pays some dividends!

Other music in the service included the JS Bach arrangement of Telemann's JAUCHZET DEM HERRN, ALLE WELT and a contemporary work for 4-part chorus and string bass by Heinz Werner Zimmerman. This was very intriguing, with the chorus singing in a usual fashion...homophonic, chordal statements, with a recognizable cantus firmus in one voice or another. But the string bass played everything pizzicato, and in a rhythmic way that gave the whole work a slightly jazzy feel. I'm definitely going to check this piece out when I get home. The organ postlude was the Vierne Toccata in D, Op. 14, played at the much larger (and more romantically voiced) organ from the back balcony.

As it was a service rather than a strict concert, the audience ("Gemeinde," as we were called in the program) were expected to participate. We sang Psalms, and chanted the Lord's Prayer in German (grateful that the words were printed..."Vater unser im Himmel....") The participation factor-particular singing and chanting in German-raised the experience to an authentic level. More than a museum piece, I was there, taking part in a continuous history of worship and music that has also been shared by so many...great thinkers, historical figures, and me.

After the service, I stopped by the table to buy a CD, and met a charming member of the choir who was working as "shop keeper." He was probably 11 or 12. I made my best attempt to inquire (in German) if there was a CD with the music of Zimmerman on it, and the young man replied in very good English! Grateful for the help, we spoke for a couple moments...he said he had been in the choir 5 years already, and that they have rehearsal every day for 2 hours. What a life!

Found a great spot down the street for pizza, salad and beer to cap off a great day in the city. Looking forward to my partner Jon's arrival in Leipzig I may be able to post a photo with one of us in it!


  1. Glad you're having a good time! Hope Jon gets in safely - can't wait to see more pictures!

  2. I remember walking those same streets during my trek with the USAF whilst flying between Bosnia and Germany. As a flier, you know the required "crew rest" periods. I usually had three days in Germany to muck about. Leipzig was one of the mucking about stops!
    Joshua A.

  3. What a wonderful recap of some thrilling moments, Eric. I almost felt as if I were there! Keep the great photos and recounts coming, Maestro.