Eastern Germany's Three Great Cultural Cities

By Waters, Irene | Contemporary Review, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Eastern Germany's Three Great Cultural Cities

Waters, Irene, Contemporary Review

'WILLKOMMEN in Leipzig' proclaims the sign atop one of a group of communist era tower blocks (scheduled for demolition) opposite the railway station. Covering what would otherwise be their drab exteriors are massive colourful murals, one of which depicts a football match--the German Football Association was founded here--with the goal defended by an oversize Bach wearing the No. 1 shirt. On an adjacent wall Goethe appears with other well-known cultural giants associated with this and the surrounding cluster of cities. The eye-catching sight summarises this part of eastern Germany where the past is part of the present.

Leipzig has a long history as a centre of education, culture and trade. Granted a market charter in 1165, its university (founded 1409) is the second oldest in Germany, its printing presses turned out their first book in 1481 and the world's first newspaper in 1650. Today it houses the German National Library and hosts a major annual Book Fair. Along narrow cobbled streets, amidst restored Renaissance and baroque splendour--and some modern monstrosities--visitors tread in the footsteps of illustrious personalities whose lives are extraordinarily intertwined. If the abundant souvenir items bearing his name and portrait are any indication, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is indubitably the No. 1.

Yet it was not always so. Leipzig's councillors were responsible for appointing the Kantor (Director of Music) for their four churches, priding themselves on choosing a well-known composer. In 1722 they wanted Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), who had made an outstanding impression when a student in the city. But he was established as organist in all five principal churches in Hamburg and turned down the offer. So did a couple of other candidates. Head-hunting having failed, when Bach's application arrived there seemed no alternative. Although his audition overcame reluctance and the appointment was unanimous, discord sounded within two years, climaxing in 1730 when Bach received a formal letter of complaint proposing to reduce his salary. Instead of meekly accepting the rebuke and apologising, he fired off a ten-page response telling the councillors in no uncertain terms that, if they wanted to impress the world beyond their city, they should provide their Kantor with better working conditions. There is no known response.

Before coming to Leipzig Bach had spent some years (1703-17) as court musician and Konzertmeister to the Duke of Weimar and later from 1717 to 1723 as Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Kothen. The Prince was a music lover, Bach was well-paid, in charge of a proficient and salaried group of seventeen musicians and his compositions were presented at concerts in the castle's magnificent Hall of Mirrors. Concerts are still given there and (since 1967) a biannual Bach Festival is held in various venues in the town including a splendid new concert hall (opened March 2008) in the castle precinct. He was also free to travel, for example to Dresden and Hamburg, where his performances on the organ and harpsichord impressed everyone.

Bach would have found the restrictions and workload in Leipzig onerous and irksome, and the threatened salary reduction the last straw. A bronze statue outside St Thomas' church shows him with pockets turned out: empty. The demands of a growing family--twenty children, albeit eleven died in infancy--doubtless contributed to his impecunity. The building (also housing the school) next to St Thomas' church, where the family lived, was demolished in 1902 but, just across the road, stands the house of their friends the Bose family; this now contains the Bach Research Institute, Archive and Museum. Here musical instruments, original manuscripts and memorabilia give a fascinating insight into the life of the Kantor and his family, and weekly concerts are held in the Sommersaal where the Bach family performed.

Perhaps the deciding factor behind a seemingly unhappy move was religious: Bach, a devout Lutheran, had little opportunity to write church music at the Calvinist Kothen court.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Eastern Germany's Three Great Cultural Cities


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?