Bach 360°: The Man About Leipzig

AUDIO: Bach Scholar Christoph Wolff on the Composer's Apartment

Monday, March 25, 2013

St. Thomas Church School in Leipzig (Bach's home is at the end of the square) St. Thomas Church School in Leipzig (Bach's home is at the end of the square)

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

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

Produced by:

Jenny Houser


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Comments [31]

tatyana from New York

It is easier to be on matzo diet for the whole time of Passover, then to be on Bach diet for 10 days!

Mar. 29 2013 01:58 PM
JR from westchester

Bach 360...Yawn!

If, as other people here suggest, WQXR is catering to a special interest group with this never-ending airing of Bach, it is a disgrace.


Mar. 29 2013 12:21 PM
GEL from Manhattan

I was raised in a Lutheran church and was "Bach-ed" to death at an early age. Thus, I equate Bach with religion. I've wondered how our Jewish listeners feel about nothing but Bach on QXR during Passover.
I know there are devotees who welcome this programming... but there seem to be an equal number who are unhappy. I really don't think it's fair for a station that depends on pubic support to cater to one interest group for such an extended period.

Fortunately, I've discovered WRR in Dallas.... listening as I type. I've been listening to QXR for over 45 years. Perhaps I'm an old fogey.. but it really doesn't need to be "so cute." People either like classical music or not. All the clever little ploys aren't really going to "convert" someone who doesn't have an ear.

Mar. 29 2013 12:38 AM
Boris from Manhattan

I don't really get all of the comments comparing Bach 360 to "a steady diet of ice cream". Ice cream is sweet but ultimately one dimensional, and not very nutritious. The music of J.S. Bach, on the other hand, is a feast! I listen every day, thinking, "I am hearing music that I have likely never heard before, which I may not hear again in my lifetime, by the man whom I consider the greatest composer in human history."

There is so much richness, subtlety, joy, solemnity, and yes, variety, inherent in this music. Hearing the same themes repeated in different works, played by different instruments or performers, each with their own nuances. Hearing cantata after cantana, each with its own unique flavor. From the mightiest chorales and masses, to the deceptive simplicity of the Two-Part Inventions...what greatness, all from the pen of one lone man.

No criticism of anyone else intended; to each his own. But, I'd suggest taking advantage of the last few days of this glorious ride to open one's ears, move beyond what may seem a surface monotony, and wallow in the music for all that it's worth! For me, listening to Bach is the closest thing to heaven on Earth that I can imagine. Thank you WQXR, for an incomparable experience.

Mar. 28 2013 07:30 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

This marathon is so counter-intuitive (10 days! for an experiment. Columbia's station only did 4 days for Bach and they regularly do single individual marathons - usually 1 day for jazz greats). For me their Bach marathon was oppressive within 20 minutes. Ten days is like the torture 'Bush I' did to get the church to turn over Noriega.

Even if you like cantata, organ and harpsichord, 10 days seems more than 'a bit' much.

So what's up? This is supposed to be a commercial station. Professional and all that. Not college kids reading some copy off a record (workstation) in dry monotone. That means the answer was likely cash. A donation from a big money entity. Probably something with a name that isn't pronounced the way it's spelled.

Mar. 28 2013 07:22 PM
Naomi Eisenberger from New Jersey

All radios in our home and our cars are set to WQXR and have been for about four decades. Our children, now parents themselves, were raised on this station from days in utero. They love classical music.
By the time we got to spending hours and hours in the kitchen this week while preparing for Passover, the novelty of Bach 360 had just about worn itself out. Today, we no longer listen to 105.9 at all.
Enough is others have said, Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey may be irresistible, but not as a steady diet. PLEASE don't do this again!

Mar. 28 2013 04:02 PM
Chris from Brooklyn

Checking in to see if anyone else feels the way I do. At least there are some out there. If WQXR does another marathon like this, I am going to yank my support. It's not a lot that I can give, but I feel like I am a fool to support such programming. To say we can never have enough of Bach, and such gimmicks as Beethoven appreciation month -- just seems to me I am being automatically grouped into some pre-conceived notion of "we" -- and it is all somewhat condescending. By the way, I always appreciated Beethoven, why must I be told to do so, as if I were a school child? This is getting to be too much.

Mar. 27 2013 06:09 PM
Tori B. from NYC and Albany,NY

It is such a previlege to have Bach for this ten day special celebrating!
I would stand in front of my stereo right before I go to bed, not wanting to turn it off but want to stay up all night and day to listen to Bach, learn more, savor more....
It feels just so safe to listen to Bach unlike those hateful comments.
Thank you WQXR and all the studies you have found!
AND thank you Bach!!

Mar. 27 2013 02:35 PM
Peter Feldman from New York City

All those who cannot bear so MUCH of Bach might tune WRR from Dallas online. New York City is not the only place to live in America and there are many STUPID people as WQXR who do not have LIMITS to their EXCESSES. WQXR does not make any favor to BACH. WXQR had better programmers when it was owned by The New York Times. Who are those fools who pay money to sustain these IDIOTS managing WQXR like real amateurs?

Mar. 26 2013 09:46 PM

I can't bear to turn off WQXR these days even for my beloved Phillies games, am enjoying Bach 360 just this much. Don't know what I enjoy more, hearing my favorites, or discovering what will become new favorites. The audience reaction certainly seems to be mixed, but I for one think I'll be in withdrawal when it's all over!

Mar. 26 2013 08:05 PM
Mirella Sanseviero from long island NY

Per Favore Bastaaaa!!!

Mar. 26 2013 06:22 PM
Sarah Meyer

After enduring the pledge drive (which I supported)and looking forward to the return of regular programming the Bach 360 experiment began. Enough already! An analogy.....I love ice cream but if I was told I could only eat ice cream for ten days I'd probably never eat it again. Please....don't do this to us again.

Mar. 26 2013 05:05 PM
Thomas A. Mainenti from West Orange, NJ

I love classical music. I love Bach. Hemingway even credited J.S.Bach's use of counterpoint with helping to teach him how to write a sentence. As a kid I loved repetition, as all children do, and would often spend hours playing Chopin's Military Polonaise in A-major over and over. To this day, some five decades later, I often hit the "repeat" button on my CD player and listen to a beloved classical piece many times over: Chopin, of course, the second movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, the first movement of his Waldstein, the second movement of Mozart's Concerto No. 21, among many other pieces of Mozart's, to name just a few. As a teenager, I once played a Gregorian chant so many times that my father later claimed it was the closest he'd ever come to committing murder. And now, God rest his sweet Sicilian soul, I understand why. . . . whomever it was at WQXR-FM who came up with the idea of playing Bach around the clock for ten days ought not be allowed to die of natural causes.

Mar. 26 2013 04:15 PM
Peter O'Malley from Oakland, New Jersey

I'm not objecting to Bach, though I agree with the listener who asked, in response to another feature why this imitation of WKCR had to be done now in the bicentennial year of Verdi and Wagner, and in Benjamin Britten's centennial year, why this could not have waited while those three were acknowledged. I guess we'll never know.

One complaint, though. I have known since back when Jeff Spurgeon was a pop radio announcer what "BWV" stands for. Why does he have to sound like he's talking down to the listeners when he reads this type of copy?

Mar. 26 2013 03:49 PM
Suzan Carrington from New York City

One CAN have enough of a good thing. After the second day of listening to Bach I'm not tuning into WQXR until April rolls around.

Mar. 26 2013 02:03 PM
wayne cresta from Morristown NJ

Enough of Bach already!!!! What were you thinking!?

Mar. 26 2013 01:55 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

Just a note on this experiment in college level broadcasting (re the already referenced and buried WKCR Bach marathon mention).

I've got a theory on what makes people listen to particular radio stations. It's based on watching people in cars with push button radios. They'd already pre-selected their favorite radio stations yet still, on occasion, they'd literally dive to the radio to push some 'other' button when some tune began (within 3 notes!!).

Thus my theory on radio listeners. They don't listen because a station plays a preponderance of music they enjoy, but instead because it plays a minimum of music they detest.

I can listen to WQXR (henceforth referred to as "The Q") because it only rarely plays music I don't enjoy (find offensive, repulsive, throat - check that - wrist slashing inducing). But with the Bach festival that's no longer true.

Please! Please! Please! Can someone immolate themselves in the Greene Space that we might have the likes of David Dubal on to give us quality music and elucidate the difference between good interpretations and majestic ones?

Sure, The Q's Bach marathon isn't its standard "Top 200" classical hits, so change is nice. But maybe I'm stronger than Bach (not likely) since I'd rather be water boarded by church elders than listen to more church music (Bach's only viable choice for a career - its not like they had piano bars then).

On a positive note, in checking in I did catch Simone Dinnerstein and Glenn Gould a couple of times (including the incredible Gould - Bach preludes) but I gave up on the oppressive church indoctrination.

The other day I had a passenger thanking me for playing a series of classical piano pieces (smartphone and bluetooth speaker combo) saying I'd made her day and she wanted to spend the rest of it in the cab with me (no, I'm not that good looking!). I capo'ed the ride with Gould playing the Goldberg aria. She sighed.

That, instead of The Q.

Mar. 26 2013 01:03 PM
James Maxeiner from New York - Maryland - Missouri

I can scarcely leave my radio or even sleep. You are presenting my favorites and works not previously known to me. Thank goodness for Internet radio. Thank goodness for WQXR.

Mar. 26 2013 11:37 AM
ah from nj

I am longing for some Rachmaninoff.

Mar. 26 2013 11:16 AM
Joe B. from NJ

Basta, Basta, Basta, Basta, Basta, Basta Bach, Bach, Bach, Bach, Bach, Bach!

Mar. 26 2013 10:47 AM
ann hodgkins from Denville NJ

I love Bach. You have played some wonderful pieces that we don't often hear. That being said I think a few hours a day of Bach programming would be great for this time period. 24/7 for this length of time is too much.
As we speak my husband has switched over to a jazz station.He has said thank God for Sirius radio. P.S. we are contributors and have been since you went public.

Mar. 26 2013 10:36 AM
Phil Peloquin

Please stop this nonsense of all Bach. Variety is the spice of life.

Mar. 26 2013 10:30 AM
Al Vulcan from Uniondale, L.I., NY

Enough already!

Mar. 26 2013 09:06 AM
Thomas Bibb

Every time I have vis1ted Paladio's Chiesa del Redentore I have been greeted by an organist playing Bach. There cannot be a more beautiful moment.

Mar. 25 2013 09:31 PM
John Cleaveland from Nutley, NJ

Wherever I am, at home or at work, I turn on the nearest radio or computer to hear these wonderful Bach compositions on WQXR! The variety of Bach's music is amazing! Inspiring! I look forward to each day. Many, many thanks to you for bringing us this sumptuous ten-day feast -- Bach360!!!

Mar. 25 2013 05:46 PM
Karen Langro

Oh Bach! How do I love thee? Lots! Listening to Bach makes the day even brighter as well as raising the spirits even higher! Thank you Bach!

Mar. 25 2013 05:34 PM

I'd have to agree with Charles here - too much of anything is just too much. To be honest he was never my absolute favorite - to my ears there is always something mechanical about his work that always left me feeling a) a great respect for the technical albilty - i think you could drop a cat on a key board and Bach could write a fuge out of of that and b) after a bit everything sounds alike and they all sound like excercises.
So to be frank this Bach 24-7 combined with the gushing about Bach is starting to get on my nerves.

Mar. 25 2013 04:33 PM
RCV from NYC

This has been absolutely beautiful! Thank you so much for this amazing event!

Mar. 25 2013 01:57 PM
Roni Gordon from New York, NY

I love Bach. I love ice cream. Unfortunately, I can't consume either twenty four hours a day, seven days a week for eleven days. The latter will leave you fat and diabetic. The former turns into torture akin to musical waterboarding. There are other great composers who should not be shut out for such a long period of time.

Mar. 25 2013 11:49 AM
michele caplan from Edgemont

I am cooking for Passover this evening. I am reminded that Mendelssohn's Jewish grandmother introduced him to Bach. Mendelssohn, a Lutheran, in turn revived Bach. If this story is apocryphal please let me know. On the other hand, I love the coincidences. Maybe I would rather live with the myth.

Mar. 25 2013 10:19 AM
Charles Zigmund from Carmel, NY

This debate is a new one on me, because it was long assumed that Bach took the church job is Leipzig because he wanted a good religious education for his children, and this was a place to get it. The drawbacks may later have made him wonder if it was worth it. Disciplining the students was hard, he was involved in continual wrangling with his bosses over money for instruments and singers, and his elaborate Baroque style was heavily criticized by both churchgoers and his superiors as too confusing and operatic. His position under attack, he built the sublime B Minor Mass from earlier cantata movements and presented it to the Elector of Saxony, who eventually granted what Bach sought, a court title, in 1736. This honorific protected him from his superiors, and his life was relatively tranquil thereafter.

Mar. 25 2013 12:29 AM

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