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Bach 360°: The Man About Leipzig

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In the New York real estate market, buyers and renters worry about space, light and location.

Nearly 300 years ago J.S. Bach faced many of the same preoccupations when he moved from Cothen to Leipzig to take a new job as cantor and music director. He quickly landed a "4-BR, renovated apt. with park VU" but it was also – to borrow from New York real estate parlance – “cozy.”

“Bach’s apartment in the St. Thomas School was cramped,” said Christoph Wolff, the respected Bach scholar and Harvard University music professor. “There’s no question about it."

Floor plans to the apartment show that the Bach family had about 800 square feet spread over four floors, including four bedrooms, several closets and storage areas, a maid’s room and an office suite. Not everyone got a bedroom to him- or herself, said Wolff, “So people were doubling, tripling up.”

Bach scholars have long questioned the rationale behind the composer’s move to Leipzig, as it appears to have been a lateral career step at best. Not only did his wife, Anna Magdalena lose her stipend as a singer, but Bach also took a pay cut while assuming more work as a teacher at the St. Thomas School for boys. He was responsible for directing several choirs which performed in the town’s four churches as well as teaching Latin (he ended up delegating the latter task to others).

But while the pay was modest and rooms were cozy, like a savvy New Yorker, Bach knew a deal when he saw one. He was able to live rent-free while enjoying an envious commute: the apartment’s office suite was connected by a hallway to the school’s classrooms and library, which contained hundreds of his books and scores. “Right next door was the room for Bach’s copyists, the students who would have to prepare the performing parts from Bach’s score, so this was a relatively substantial working area where Bach spent a lot of time,” said Wolff.

Other amenities included ground-floor laundry with a built-in copper wash basin, basement storage with two caches for beer, and a heated second-floor living room with a large table that seated twelve.

But perhaps most coveted to Bach were those familiar twin perks: light and views. The St. Thomas School was flush with the city wall, according to Wolff. “So Bach looked into an organized landscape because Leipzig was surrounded in that area by parks. He was looking into a French-style park where the landscape was really organized the way we know it from Versailles and other fancy palace parks.

“I think when he looked out of the window, it must have given him at least some ideas about musical architecture that related to what he was seeing.”

The B Minor Mass, Magnificat, passions, Christmas Oratorio, Goldberg Variations and the Art of Fugue all date from the years Bach spent in Leipzig.


Free Download [Expired]: Jennifer Koh Plays the Sarabande from the Partita No. 2 in D minor (BWV 1004)
This New York violinist recorded the Partita No. 2 for her latest recording, Bach and Beyond, which features the title composer'
s music alongside unaccompanied violin works by composers who followed in his wake. (Available at Arkivmusic.com)

Programming Highlights for Monday, March 25 (all times approximate)

7a   Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G, BWV 1049

8a   Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, BWV 1068: Air on the G String

       English  Suite No. 1 in A Major, BWV 806

9a   Keyboard Concerto No. 4 in A Major, BWV 1055

11a/12p Christmas Oratorio Part 1-3

1p    Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, BWV 1068

2p    Cantata BWV 198, "Lass Furstin, lass noch einen Strahl"

3p    Keyboard Partita No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 826

4p    Passover Show

5p    Cantata BWV 212, "Mer Hahn en neue Oberkeet"  (We have a new lord of the manor) Known as the “Peasant” Cantata.  Composed for Zimmerman’s Coffee House in Leipzig.

7p    Keyboard Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052

8p    The Musical Offering