Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Or should that read Bach's Leipzig?

Leipzig's initial charms may be more elusive than Dresden's, but its musical roots are as deep and its history needs no more (though there is much much more) than its most famous resident cantor - J S Bach, born in Eisenach to the West, into a family of unparalleled musical pedigree, who would for 27 years shape the city's musical history and compose the majority of his works.

We arrived in Leipzig plop in the middle of a 19 day Bach Festival. That we found accommodation anywhere, let alone perfectly placed, was just another miracle. That we survived the autobahn in our little blue Peugeot, survivors of some thrill-seeking in the fast lane, was the first. Leipzig and Dresden are a mere one hours drive away (closer than Parramatta and Sydney you could say) and a good deal safer to commute. These Germans know about cars and roads. And about Bach, and Strauss.

Needless to say, the place is crawling with Bach groupies (and take that as JS, though JC is getting some gigs as well). On day one of our stay, in the street near the hotel, I'd bumped into an old friend, a colleague's widow (he died in his pool) - and would do it again two days later in the Bach Museum. Better buy a lottery ticket Mum would have said.

So Bach we went to, and both times it was organ recitals in Leipzig's most revered 'recital halls' - Thomaskirche and Nikolaikirche. It was Thomas Church where Bach was cantor, directing choir rehearsals, giving keyboard lessons, accompanist at wedding and funerals, engager of musicians, preparer of librettos, and composer of the order of one Cantata a week. Oh, and supervising the boarding school one week a month, running a small business selling sheet music and books, hiring out and maintaining instruments. And fathering quite his fair share of offspring (20 from 2 wives, though survival rates were poor).

Thomaskirche ~

Just being there was enough, but hearing what he wrote as he heard, from up high in the second gallery was pretty moving. We were literally swallowed up by a Bach Cantata, a Max Reger improvisation, a Lizt variation on a theme, a David Timm (the organist) improvisation, and as if someone knew the missing link, we did get Siegfried;s Funeral March after all. Hearing that on this organ in this church needs no further words. If I'm seeming a bit vague, it is because we had no programme notes - they had run out by the time we arrived, not that the church was full. Interestingly, because they had no more programmes, admission was now free.

It seems a feature of the Germans (unlike the southerners who they are in the process of bailing out) that they are refreshingly honest and the default position in the event of any discrepancy about costs or quotes is that they always take the rap. For instance, once we were late into Munich by train from Budapest (the train from Budapest always runs late) and missed the night train to Paris (which usually waits but this time it was just too much). Now none of this had anything to do with the Germans, who graciously accommodated and fed us overnight. And while I don't make a habit of challenging prices, there have been a few instances this trip where their generosity of spirit and fact have been repeatedly evident.

Nikolaikirche ~

The similarities are self evident.

The organist here was Nikolaikantor Jurgen Wolf but the show stealer for me was Tamamo Saito, the gorgeous little Japanese violinist in the white organza dress who played a dazzling Lizt Fantasia from the body of the church near the main altar.

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