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.
After the first of the daily lectures visit the Bach Archive and Museum. Lunchtime concert at the Nikolaikirche, 12.00 noon with Collegium 1704, Václav Luks (conductor): J. C. Bach, Wie bist du denn o Gott, Ach, dass ich Wassers gnug hätte, Es ist nun aus mit meinem Leben; J. Bach, Unser Leben ist ein Schatten; N. Bruhns, Ich liege und schlafe; J. S. Bach, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106 (Actus tragicus). There follows lunch and some free time before the first of two evening concerts: St Thomas Church (Thomaskirche), 8.00pm with Wiener Kammerchor, Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset (conductor): J. S. Bach, Magnificat, BWV 243; C. P. E. Bach, Magnificat, Wq 215. Walk between venues. St Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche), 10.30pm, with Amandine Beyer (violin): J.S. Bach, Partita in D minor, BWV 1004, Sonata in C, BWV 1005, Partita in E, BWV 1006.
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. Free afternoon. First of two evening concerts: Nikolaikirche, 8.00pm with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir, Ton Koopman (conductor), Hana Blažíková (soprano), Maarten Engeltjes (countertenor), Tilman Lichdi (tenor), Klaus Mertens (bass): H. Schütz, Es steh Gott auf, SWV 35; J. M. Bach, Die Furcht des Herren; J. C. Bach, Es erhub sich ein Streit Meine Freundin, du bist schön, D. Buxtehude: Nichts soll uns scheiden von der Liebe Gottes BuxWV 77; J. S. Bach: Gott ist mein König, BWV 71. Coach between venues. Bundesverwaltungsgericht, 10.30pm, with Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord): Pachelbel: Ciaccona in D; L. Marchand: Suite in D minor; W. Byrd, Ut re mi fa sol la in G; H. Frederichs: Capriccio sopra la Bassa Fiammenga, F4.05; J. S. Bach: Fantasy and Fugue in A minor, BWV 904, Toccata in D minor, BWV 913, Toccata in D, BWV 912.
Optional morning visit to the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, a vast monument and museum to honour those who fell in the devastating Battle of the Nations (1813), fought near Leipzig. Afternoon concert at the Thomaskirche, 3.00pm, with the Bach Choir of Bethlehem (USA), Members of the Bach Festival Orchestra of Bethlehem, Mendelssohn Kammerorchester Leipzig: J.S. Bach, Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, BWV 99; Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben, BWV 8; Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir, BWV 130. Dinner before an evening concert in the Thomaskirche, 8.00pm, with the Choir & Orchestra of the J.S Bach Stiftung St Gallen, Daniel Johannsen (tenor – Evangelist), Peter Harvey, (bass – Christ), Julia Doyle (soprano), Alex Potter (countertenor), Matthias Helm (bass – Pilate): J.S. Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245.
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. Some free time before dinner and the evening concert at the Thomaskirche, 8.00pm with Gaechinger Cantorey, Hans-Christoph Rademann (conductor), Patrick Grahl (tenor – Evangelist), Peter Harvey, (bass – Christ), Dorothee Mields (soprano), Benno Schachtner (altus), Krešimir Stražanac (bass): J.S. Bach, St Matthew Passion, BWV 244.
Transfer to Berlin for the flight back to London Heathrow, arriving c. 3.30pm.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £2,970 or £2,820 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,290 or £3,140 without flights.
Flights (economy class) with British Airways (Airbus A320); travel by private coach for transfers and one excursion; accommodation as described below; 1 lunch and 4 dinners with wine; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Top category tickets for 8 performances are included (confirmed in early autumn 2019).
Hotel Fürstenhof, Leipzig: 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 medieval 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 (except the Federal Court building where a coach is provided). Group size: between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.
'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.'
'Excellent does not convey what a fantastic immersive experience this was.'
'Absolute perfection! This was the experience of a lifetime.'