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The Leipzig Bach Festival

  • Fourteen concerts featuring mainly the music of J.S. Bach, his sons and contemporaries.
  • Venues include the great church where Bach was Cantor, St Thomas, and other historic buildings in Leipzig.
  • Guided walks to explore the architecture and museums of this historic and lively city.
Leipzig Thomaskirche Choir And Orchestra In The Organ Gallery Linocut C.1930.
Leipzig Thomaskirche choir and orchestra in the organ gallery linocut c.1930.
Over eighty members of the Bach family are listed in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. For two centuries the Bachs, Johann Sebastian among them, plied their trade in the employ of courts, churches and free cities in Thuringia, Sachsen-Anhalt and Saxony. Though geographically in the heart of Germany, these places were not among the major political or cultural centres of Europe. And their location on the other side of the Iron Curtain in the later twentieth century enveloped them further in obscurity.

There was no star system in the Bachs’ time; genius was an alien concept. The tradition the family worked in was one of sheer dogged professionalism, with ability generally recognised and rewarded. Actually, Johann Sebastian was the third choice of the city fathers for the post of Cantor at St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig. And, astonishingly, until 1999 Leipzig had never mounted a fully-fledged annual festival devoted to their most famous employee. Happily, the event has quickly established itself as one of the major items in the calendar of European festivals, and tickets are becoming hard to get.

The eight evening concerts we have selected are performed in the voluminous parish church of St Thomas which was Bach’s principal auditorium during the twenty-seven years, 1723–50, when he was effectively the city’s Director of Music, in the impressive Gewandhaus Opera House and in the Altes Rathaus. Smaller morning and afternoon concerts are in other historic venues. There is also a musically embellished church service on Sunday morning.

The musical history of Leipzig encompasses not only J.S. Bach and his sons but also Telemann, Robert and Clara Schumann, Mendelssohn, Wagner and Mahler. Morning walks and visits investigate this heritage, and also take in the art and architecture of the city. Plenty of time is left for individual exploration or simply resting between concerts.

Leipzig is now, again, a handsome and lively city, following an almost miraculous transformation during the 1990s and beyond. Cleaning, restoration and rebuilding went hand in hand with the emergence of cafés, smart shops and good restaurants. There are excellent museums, including the Fine Arts Museum in spectacular new premises, the radically refurbished Museum of Musical Instruments and the recently re-opened Bach Museum.
We had very good seats for all the concerts – such a treat to have the tickets organised in advance for us, especially in a city foreign to us where we don’t speak the language.
This is a marvellous music festival; superb performances of some of Bach’s greatest works in the original old Leipzig churches.
The social contact with the others in the group added a huge amount to my enjoyment. The mix of people from different countries was an added bonus.

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