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Why Bach is still a German star composer 270 years after his death Culture | Art, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | Instant News

Since the death of Johann Sebastian Bach on July 28, 1750 in Leipzig, his work has been extensively researched and documented. While Bach’s professional career is well documented, interestingly, relatively little is known about his personality or even what he looks like.

The baroque composer was born in Eisenach in 1685. He was a concert leader in Weimar, a Kappelmeister(orchestra director) in Köthen, and in Leipzig he made a living for the rest of his life asThomas Cantor, minister of the Church of St. Thomas.

Is Bach’s body on earth really located under the altar room in the Church of St. Thomas is not certain at all

Every year, thousands of Bach fans visit these places where Bach lives and works to feel his life. In his hometown, Eisenach, visitors respectfully touched the baptismal pool in St. Church. George. In the Church of St. Thomas in Leipzig, they stood godly before Bach’s grave.

“Whether Bach really lies beneath a tomb with the writing of Johann Sebastian Bach in St. Thomas Church remains a mystery of the century,” Jörg Hansen, Bachhaus’s director at Eisenach said in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

Transport Bach to today

The first museum dedicated to Bach was founded in Eisenach in 1907. In addition to his personal library and Bach’s largest collection of representations, the museum also holds various historical instruments since the days of composers, which musicians often play for the public.

An old building next to a new one with Bach's outdoor pictures and a sign with Bach House Eisenach (picture-alliance / dpa)

Bach’s house in Eisenach – expanded with a modern twist

Director Jörg Hansen considers it important to convey how complicated Bach is polyphonic composition structured and why he is considered a master fugue:

“People should see the influence Bach has, especially in keyboard music,” he said, this “is probably the main reason why we still listen to Bach today.”

Musicians who play old baroque instruments in the museum try to re-create their original sounds. “For me, the practice of modern historical performance is an attempt to free myself from Bach’s monument which is burdened as a national composer,” Hansen said. He added that the practice of historical performance was “a defense against that ideological authority.”

Wear the base by the biographer

After the death of Johann Sebastian Bach in 1750, his vocal works were largely forgotten. That is, until the composer was rediscovered in the early 19th century and formed into a national hero.

Humans give speeches at church podiums, surrounded by listeners (Bachfest Leipzig / J. Schlueter)

Michael Maul at the opening of Bachfest 2019

Johann Nikolaus Forkel wrote the first Bach biography in 1802. According to Michael Maul, director of the Leipzig Bach Festival, the biographer “painted a picture of virtuoso keyboard that became a genius through German virtues such as seriousness and perseverance.”

Composer Felix Mendelssohn rediscovered Bach’s sacred music in 1829, including his cantata, oratorio, and passion. When Mendelssohn did a shortened version ofSt. Matthew’s Passion, it provided a boost for Bach’s revival.

Bach as a product of German cultural history

In 1872, Philipp Spitta wrote one of Bach’s most extensive biographies to date, published one year after the founding of the German Reich. Spitta also emphasized the patriotic element and considered Bach as a product of German cultural history. Despite this, he approached the subject with much research. “Although he has several sources, he has basically created pioneering works that are truly for musical biographies,” Maul said.

Statue of Bach at Eisenach |  (DW)

A statue of Bach at Eisenach

Albert Schweitzer, the famous physician, philosopher, theologian and musicologist, wrote Bach’s monograph in 1902. In it, he outlined the theological messages in Bach’s music and gave advice to translators about how the message from the text must be interpreted in music and songs.

In the 1930s, the Nazis continued to glorify Bach as a national composer. “Bach is considered the archetype of the German Aryan composer,” explained Bachhaus director Jörg Hansen. Oratorio Text that does not match the image is only rewritten or replaced.

“In Hitler’s parade and songbook Youth, the appropriate song is rewritten to be the melody of Bach’s songAngry keyboard, said Hansen.

New objectivity around Bach

In his biography in 2002, music expert Christoph Wolff held to the facts. From 1950 to 2007, the Bach Institute in Göttingen and Bach Archive Leipzig compiled a new complete edition of Bach’s work, using many original sources. Documentary material fills three volumes, which Wolff can take.

Woman staring at a mannequin with a wig, with Bach's famous portrait in the background (picture-alliance / dpa / G. Breloer)

In 2008, new research methods allowed Caroline Wilkinson to reconstruct what Johann Sebastian Bach looked like. In the background is the only verified portrait made of Bach in his lifetime

However, even he could not fill in the blanks when it came to Bach’s personality. Although obituaries state that he “pleases everyone” and receives many visitors, historical records also show that Bach was often at odds with his employer and was considered stubborn.

“With Wolff, you get the image of someone who has a career in the midst of very difficult conditions,” saidBachfestdirector Michael Maul. “He is described as a human being with all his strengths and weaknesses.”

Maul himself has worked for four years on a book showing 150 Bach life stations in the accompanying pictures and text. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, its publication must be postponed.

For Maul, Bach is also a tragic figure. “It hurts when I see how, if Bach wants to achieve good working conditions, he behaves like a bull in a Chinese shop,” Maul said. “It is far more touching or astonishing that he composed such masterpieces, sometimes in undesirable circumstances.”

Boys in sailor attire holding scores and singing (picture-alliance / dpa / P. Gercke)

St. Bachfest, choir place The famous Thomas Boy always sings, having more than 73,000 visitors in 2019

Why Bach still tickling to this day

It seems that Johann Sebastian Bach’s music hasn’t lost its allure after years. The Bach Leipzig Archives have identified more than 300 Bach choirs and communities throughout the world. Bach’s music inspires people from all geographical, religious and cultural boundaries.

Michael Maul was fascinated by the eternal melody of a baroque composer : “They are very strong in substance, so much so that many famous jazz and rock musicians will also say that the most important composer in music historyis Bach. “

This was confirmed to him personally by a famous pop musician: “Sting told me that every day when he woke up, he took his guitar and played the cello suite by Bach, to bring himself down to earth.”

Jörg Hansen (Robert Wachholz)

Jörg Hansen was fascinated by Bach

Jörg Hansen from the Bach Museum in Eisenach appreciates the composer’s creativity, intelligence, and humor. Sometimes the music might not be as serious as imagined. One example is at the end of Bach’s famous “Goldberg Variations” for piano. “Some people write that this is like passionate music, very sad and touching.” But in the last canon, Bach used a popular tone from Thuringia. “Everything’s fun. That’s what’s very interesting about Bach.”


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