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Leipzig

We have just returned from a short break in Leipzig, formerly the home of Johann Sebastian Bach. It was something of a music pilgrimmage for me, though we found time to do less music 'sights', such as the immense (and immensely impressive) Völkerschlachtdenkmal, a memorial to the dead of the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. I hadn't even realised there was a Battle of Leipzig then, but it turns out to have been the largest battle ever fought by mankind up to that point and sealed the fate of Napoleon, who abdicated shortly thereafter.

Anyway: I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the Bach side of things. There is certainly the Tomaskirche (pictured), where Bach was Director of Music for the last 27 years of his life. We went to a service there, which was moving enough. The church has two organs, JSB's grave, a memorial window to him and an excellent continuing choral tradition. Except the organs are relatively modern and definitely wouldn't have been played by Bach; the church interior was renovated extensively throughout the 20th Century, so that it looks nothing like what Bach would have known; and we're not even quite sure if the contents of the Bach grave are actually of Bach and not some random other gentleman. Bach was actually buried at St. John's, which was destroyed by bombing in WW2, so what were thought to be his remains were moved to the Tomaskirche in 1950 -but the identification of the St. John's grave as Bach's relied on 'folk memories' of him having been buried in a certain location.

Meanwhile, Bach also ran the Nicolaikirche, which was just a hundred yards or so from our hotel. It had its interior completely re-done during the late 18th Century in fantastic neo-classical style -meaning that it too bears no relation to anything Bach would have seen, no matter how splendid it looks today.

So we drove to Eisenach, Bach's birthplace. There, the Bachhaus is the place where Bach grew up until he was about 10. It is full of furniture from the mid-18th Century -except none of it was actually owned by the Bachs. The house, though, is as he would have known it -except for the minor detail revealed by one display photograph, of the morning after an American bombing raid in 1944 -namely, that the building was extensively damaged and thus what you see today is, mostly, a fairly modern repair job.

Back to Leipzig: the Bach Museum opposite the Tomaskirche is well worth an extended visit. I think we spent the best part of three hours in there, which is a bit of a record for us and museums of any sort! At one point, their guided audio tour invites you to look out of a window to a place where the Thomas School that Bach worked in (and composed in) would have been. Why isn't it there now? Because the Mayor of Leipzig decided to demolish it.

Yup. Just like that, in 1902, the place where Bach composed some of the most glorious works of music the world possesses was demolished. They managed to save a door (which they transplanted to the Eisenach Bachhaus museum).

So, sadly, I came to the conclusion that Bach isn't really in Leipzig anymore (unlike, say, Britten in Aldeburgh: go to that part of the Suffolk coast and Britten's presence is still real, tangible and immediate). There are some places he would have wandered, some buildings he would have known -but they mostly don't bear any resemblance to what he would have seen. Some of the most important places he lived and worked in don't exist. Even his grave might not be his.

I came to the conclusion that the only substantial, real monument to Bach these days is his music -and after learning about the Battle of Leipzig (some 60 years after his death), with thousands of Napoleon's troops camping in the town in a cold October, with their tendency to burn anything made of wood or paper to keep warm, I'm rather more surprised than I was that so much of Bach's music has survived the predations of time!

It was a flying visit, of course (three days), so no time to visit Weimar, Arnstadt, Mühlhausen, Köthen or the many other places in that corner of Germany that Bach would have known and visited or lived in. Perhaps the presence of Bach is better felt in those other places? Future visits may tell me!

I nevertheless enjoyed Leipzig a lot. It just wasn't the 'Bach lives Here' memorial I'd hoped to discover there -which probably says more about the level of my expectations than anything else.

blog/leipzig.txt · Last modified: 2019/02/24 11:29 by dizwell