Important Anniversaries of 2023 Part II: J.S. Bach

Specially written by Irene Gómez for Strings By Mail Articles.

2023 has offered the opportunity to realize some interesting and contrasting facts, such as the birth of Wes Montgomery, Bach’s moving to Leipzig, Liszt arriving to Paris and the passing of the great American pedagogue Julia Crane. During March, the month of his birth, let’s take a glance at some details of Bach’s life.

1723, the year Bach moved to Leipzig

Among anniversaries to remember in 2023 we can bring up the year of 1723, when the German master J.S. Bach moved from Köthen to Leipzig, the city where he would stay for the coming 27 years until his death in 1750. This fact has not been as simple as it sounds! Effectively prior to this, in Köthen, Bach was hired in 1717 as a kapellmaister by young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen (1694-1728). Due to the Anglican affiliation of the prince, Bach’s duties were mainly to create the music for different events without focusing on music for religious services. This gave him the opportunity to concentrate on the creation of instrumental music such as his violin partitas, his solo cello suites, the first part of his Well tempered clavier and the Brandenburg concertos. By 1721 things started to reverse when the prince married princess Frederica Henriette of Anhalt Bernburg, who sources say did not like music, making it difficult for Bach to continue working there. Some other presumable factors, such as the contribution Prince Leopold was making to the Prussian war, reduced his budget to engage musicians, making it difficult to keep the orchestra ongoing. This complicated situation may have motivated Bach to look for a better job. It is said that he looked for new places in Halle and Hamburg.

Bach | The Solo Lute Works

Bach | Solo Lute Works

During the same period, in June 1722, Johann Kuhnau, who had been the Thomas Cantor in Leipzig for 21 years passed away . The institution started looking for a new cantor and musical director and G.P. Telemann was believed to be the most probable successor. Under a twelve member Council composed of capel maisters, cantors and organists from the different cities around, the selection led to Bach as the new musician who would take this post at the famous Thomas Church. This happened after a long and complex process of withdrawals of new applicants and others that did not show up, most of whom did not want to fulfill the request of teaching Latin or other aspirants and decided to stay in their current towns. Such was the case with Telemann, who received a raise on his salary in Hamburg where he was musical director. By February of 1723 Bach auditioned with Cantatas 22 and 23 and he finally was selected after the very favorite candidate Christoph Graupner could not agree to engage because of his job as a kapell meister in Darmstad. By the end of May, after completing examinations such as tests in Latin of his theological competences among others, Bach moved to Leipzig along with his family composed of his new wife, the singer Maria Magdalena Wilcke, and his four children from his previous marriage with Maria Barbara, among them Wilhelm Friedmann and Carl Philipp Emmanuel.

Leipzig was a city recognized for its high level of education with one of the most important universities (founded in 1409) after Jena and Heidelberg. Compared to Köthen it had a huge population, and its life style contributed over time to be named years later by poet Goethe “The little Paris”. But perhaps most relevant to Bach is that the city was a bastion of the Protestant church, and Bach needed to focus mainly on composing and directing cantatas (in order to transmit the gospel according to the protestant liturgy to the congregation in the clearest possible manner) for each Sunday service, for Christmas and Holy week and for events of the nobility such as weddings, funerals, or royal visits. Despite this demanding activity in addition to his teaching and other duties, Bach also found it possible to create and conduct his own pieces with the Collegium Musicum, an orchestra which rehearsed and made concerts at the emblematic Café Zimmerman. In that place Bach performed for instance his famous Coffee Cantata BWV 211. Among his sacred cantatas perhaps the most related to violin and guitar players is his Cantata BWW 29, composed in 1731 for the inauguration of a new town council. The celebratory mood of this cantata is based on Psalm 79, “We thank you God, we thank you”, and was taken from the Partita BWV 1006 from his Köthen period!

Returning to 1723, the year when Bach moved to Leipzig, he must have certainly impressed his contemporaries when shortly before Christmas he performed the Magnificat BWV 243. This master piece of sacred music was followed by St John Passion BWV 245 (1724) and Saint Matthew Passion BWV 244 (1727).

When he passed away in July 1750, he enjoyed great respect. However he fell into oblivion. Even though his music was studied with fervor by Mozart or Beethoven, it was not until 1829 that Felix Mendelsohn caused a rediscovery of his music by performing the Saint John Passion. Since then his music has not stopped being played and studied at the level we know today.

General: The New Grove Dictionary of music and musicians. Second Edition. Oxford University Press 2001
Stapert, Calvin R. J. S. Bach, History makers, illustrated, Lion Book, Oxford, 2009
Williams, Peter, J.S. Bach, A Life in Music, Cambridge University, 2009
Wolff, Christoph. The Learned Musician, W.W. Norton Company, 2001

Irene Gomez - Some Important 2023 Anniversaries

Irene Gómez

Classical guitarist Irene Gómez regularly contributes to Strings By Mail through her teaching and performance videos as well as articles. She is a Strings By Mail Sponsored Artist, teaches guitar at the National University in Bogotá, Colombia, and performs worldwide. She recently released her fifth CD “Songs of My Life / Canciones de Mi Vida“.

Previous Irene Gomez anniversary articles:
2019 2016 2017 2018

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