Motherland of the Reformation

Motherland of the Reformation

The peak of Protestant church music

Johann Sebastian Bach was highly regarded during his lifetime as a virtuoso, an organist and an organ inspector, but his compositions were known only to connoisseurs and soon fell into oblivion. It was not until the mid-19th century that Bach was given the recognition that he had long deserved. The brilliant musician spent the last 27 years of his life in Leipzig, where he was a teacher at St Thomas School and cantor at St Thomas Church. Bach wrote many of his most famous works in Leipzig, filled with the spirit of the Reformation. In the house of his friend Georg Heinrich Bose, opposite St Thomas Church, the Bach Archive and the Bach Museum is now accommodated. Bach is buried in St Thomas Church. There are two monuments for him, one in front of the church at another in the adjoining park. In honor of the man considered by many to be the greatest composer of all time, the Leipzig Bach Festival takes place every June.

A musical genius

We may be thankful for his role in rediscovering the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, but Felix Mendelsohn Bartholdy earned enough merits of his own. The grandson of the great Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn was baptized as a Reformed Christian and, was given his second, “Christian” surname “Bartholdy”. The musical prodigy came to Leipzig in 1835. There he shaped the conductor of the present day, helped the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra to world fame and founded the first German Conservatory. Mendelssohn wrote important works of sacred music such as the oratorios “St Paul” and “Elijah”. The house in which Mendelssohn lived and died is still standing and is now the only authentic memorial to the musician. The monument that was removed and melted down by the Nazis has been faithfully recreated and now stands outside St Thomas Church, where a window also commemorates him.

Heavenly voices

What is now one of the most famous choirs in the world has a history of more than 800 years. The St Thomas Boys Choir or Thomanerchor started at the school adjoining St Thomas Church. To be allowed to attend school, the boys had to perform musical duties in the church. This has not changed. Every Friday or Saturday, unless it is on tour, the choir performs the motets and cantatas. Thus, visitors can hear Bach’s works sung in the same location that he first performed them as cantor of the choir, even if he was allegedly often dissatisfied with his singers. The St Thomas Boys Choir also performed on the occasion of the Leipzig Disputation but it seems that the music could not help overcome the differences between the reformers and the Catholic church.

The Leipzig Music Trail

On a 3.3 mile walking tour, the most important locations of Leipzig’s extremely rich musical heritage can be explored. Stations include the Bach Museum, the former apartments of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Robert Schumann, St Nicholas Church, where Bach premiered his St John Passion and Christmas Oratorio, and the Museum of Musical Instruments, one of the best in the world. Also part of it is the new monument for Richard Wagner who was born in Leipzig and found fame in Dresden. In the Old City Hall at the market square Bach signed his contract. The “Arabian Coffee Tree”, Europe’s second oldest coffee house, has been a regular meeting place for musicians and other artists. And in the famous Gewandhaus Concert Hall and the Leipzig Opera House opposite great music is still performed today.