Preservation Battles for Bach, Ives Homes Take Unusual Twists

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Many former homes of history’s great composers have been destroyed by war, natural disasters or workaday real estate development, yet advocacy groups have also sought to preserve what remains. Efforts to save the former homes of Romanian composer George Enescu and the saxophonist John Coltrane are two recent examples. This week came word of two more unusual developments on the preservation front.


A Petition to Create Bach Pilgrimage Site

A group of German Bach admirers and scholars called Bach in Weimar is mounting a campaign to build a new "Bach Meeting Place" on the site where the composer's home reportedly once stood.

From 1708 to 1718, Bach and his family lived in Weimar, Germany, where he was the organist at the ducal court. There he composed organ works, over 30 cantatas, portions of the Brandenburg Concertos and various works for violin and harpsichord. The house, which faced a public market, was badly damaged in World War II, and ultimately demolished in the 1980s. While its foundations and a Renaissance-era vaulted cellar have been preserved and placed under official heritage protection, they were sealed off and unceremoniously covered by a parking lot.

Hoping to generate attention around the upcoming 300th birth anniversary of Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Bach in Weimar campaigners have started an online petition addressed to German culture minister Monika Grütters and other officials to acquire the necessary permissions to build on the space. 

While details on the nature of the proposed building (right) are sketchy, the group maintains that it would occupy 15 percent of the current parking lot land, and that financing has been largely secured. "Even though we respect the justified economic interests of the owners in respect to this central location,” the petition reads, "we are no longer able or willing to accept the stagnation of this unique location that has now gone on for over 20 years!”

Weimar has been home to famed artists including Goethe and Schiller and several large portions of the city are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage designations. Yet little exists for those music lovers on a Bach pilgrimage.

Local authorities or owners of the parking lot have not responded to the petition.


Charles Ives Memorabilia to be Displayed in Manhattan

A campaign in 2012 to turn composer Charles Ives’s house in Redding CT into a museum and artistic retreat fell through when the composer's son, Charles Ives Tyler, sold the property to a private owner. While there were widespread fears it would be razed to make room for a McMansion, the new owners have said they plan to commit to a "sensitive restoration of the site."

Meanwhile, this week, the American Academy of Arts and Letters said that it will open a replica of Ives's studio, along with an accompanying exhibition, at its headquarters in Upper Manhattan. The bookshelf-lined room is said to contain the entire contents of Ives’s workspace in the Redding house, where he composed and finished several of his major works, including Three Places in New England, the Fourth Symphony and about 40 songs.

Along with a piano and furniture, the Academy says the Ives estate donated 3,000 items that belonged to the composer, including newspaper clippings, photos and various keepsakes. Each item was cataloged and even details like pencil shavings are preserved in the replica studio.

"In recreating the Ives studio and preserving its contents in situ, our goal is to make this important documentary record permanently available to scholars and an interested public,” said Academy president Henry N. Cobb in a statement.

The exhibition will open to the public on March 6 at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which is located at 633 W. 155 St. An opening concert featuring performances of Ives's music is scheduled for April 13.

Photo: Charles Ives's former house, Redding, CT (Zoë Martlew)