Over 80 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 20th 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.
Many of the concerts we have selected are performed in the voluminous parish church of St Thomas which was Bach’s principal auditorium during the 27 years, 1723–50, when he was effectively the city’s Director of Music, in the impressive Gewandhaus Opera House and in the Nikolaikirche, which has a splendid Neo-Classical interior.
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, of course, the Bach Museum.
London to Leipzig. Fly at c. 10.45am from London Heathrow to Berlin (British Airways). Drive to Leipzig (c. 3 hours), arriving at the hotel in time for dinner.
The first of two walking tours to see the main monuments of Leipzig. A large market place lies at the heart of this ancient trading city, with the Renaissance arcaded Old Town Hall along one side. Around is a network of alleys, courtyards and arcades, and the former stock exchange. The walk finishes at the Bach Archive, which has a good public display. Free afternoon. Early evening concert at the Thomaskirche with the Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig, Gotthold Schwarz (conductor), Ullrich Böhme (organ), Gerline Dämann (soprano), Stefan Kahle (alto), Gun-Wook Lee (bass); J. S. Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D-minor (BWV 565); J. H. Schein, Herr Gott, dich loben wir (Te Deum Laudamus); Bach, Mass in F (BWV 233), F. Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich (MWV A 11); motets from J. H. Schein’s Israelsbrünnlein and Schütz’s Geistliche Chormusik, followed by an evening concert at the Nikolaikirche with the Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, and Sir John Eliot Gardiner (conductor); J. S. Bach, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BWV 61); Schwingt freudig euch empor (BWV 36); Wachet! betet! betet! Wachet! (BWV 70); Unser Mund sei voll Lachens (BWV 110).
A second walk concentrating on Leipzig’s musical heritage includes the Grassi Museum of Musical Instruments, one of the most important of its kind in the world, the little museum in the house where Mendelssohn lived and died, the Gewandhaus (concert hall), opera house and the Wagner memorial. Lunchtime concert at the Thomaskirche with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir, Ton Koopman (conductor), Maarten Engeltjes (countertenor), Tilman Lichdi (tenor), Klaus Mertens (bass); J. S. Bach, Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen (BWV 65); Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen (BWV 81); ich habe genug (BWV 82); Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen (BWV 123). Lunch is followed by an early evening concert at the Thomaskirche with the Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki (conductor), Hannah Morrison (soprano), Robin Blaze (alto), Makoto Sakurada (tenor), Dominik Wörner (bass): J. S. Bach, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (BWV 1); Himmelskönig, sei willkommen (BWV 182); Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret (BWV 31); Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden (BWV 6). Evening concert at the Nikolaikirche with the Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, Sir John Eliot Gardiner (conductor): J. S. Bach, Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (BWV 12), Ihr werdet weinen und heulen (BWV 103), O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe (BWV 34), O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort (BWV 20).
The morning is free for independent exploration. The Fine Arts Museum is recommended. Afternoon concert at the Nikolaikirche with the Gaechinger Cantorey, Hans-Christoph Rademann (conductor), Dorothee Mields (soprano), Wiebke Lehmkuhl (alto), Patrick Grahl (tenor), Tobias Berndt (bass): J.S. Bach, Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, BWV 21; Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen (BWV 56); Herr, gehe nicht ins Gericht (BWV 105). Early evening concert at the Thomaskirche with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, Ton Koopman (conductor), Martha Bosch (soprano), Maarten Engeltjes (Countertenor), Tilman Lichdi (tenor), Klaus Mertens (bass), J.S. Bach, Komm, du süße Todesstunde (BWV 161), Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben (BWV 8) Christus, der ist mein Leben (BWV 95) Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende (BWV 27). We finish with an evening concert in the Salles de Pologne with Andreas Staier (harpsichord) and Alexander Melnikov (piano): J.S Bach, Preludes and fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Parts 1 and 2; Shostakovich, Preludes and fugue from Op. 87.
Transfer to Berlin for the flight back to London Heathrow, arriving c. 3.30pm.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £2,425 or £2,305 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,685 or £2,565 without flights.
Flights (economy class) with British Airways (Airbus A320); travel by private coach for transfers and one excursion; accommodation as described below; 2 lunches and 2 dinners with wine; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Tickets to 8 performances are included (6 performances in top category, and 2 performances in second category).
Hotel Fürstenhof: the finest hotel in the city, yet not large and with the feel of a discreet private club. A converted 19th-century building, it is furnished throughout with antique furniture. Situated just outside the line of the mediaeval walls. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
There is quite a lot of walking involved, some of it on cobbled streets. The venues are between 15–20 minutes on foot from the hotel and participants are expected to walk to and from the concerts. Group size: between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'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.'
'There are no words left to convey the degree of pleasure and inspiration received from the music.'