He used 55 voices, ages 12 to 20, about one-third of the total available to him. He worked obsessively, typically producing one cantata – composition for chorus and orchestra – per week.
What he began composing on a Sunday was finished two days later, then taught and rehearsed for the next Sunday’s performance. It was an exhausting and demonic process, but by the time Johann Sebastian Bach died in 1750, he had created more than 1,100 pieces of music.
Leipzig calls itself the City of Music largely because of this passionate composer, who spent his last 27 years here. The Bach Museum archives his prolific and miraculous marriage of many sounds, a legacy of timeless and beautiful works of art.
Some of those compositions, in Bach’s neat handwriting, are shown through glass and gentle lighting in the museum’s room of treasures. In a listening studio, any known work that Bach composed can be summoned and heard. Elsewhere are sounds bytes matched with musical instruments from the Baroque era.
The museum is near St. Thomas Church, where Bach worked, and the boys’ choir celebrates its 800th anniversary in 2012. They perform three times a week, and music lovers still leave flowers at the composer’s gravesite, which is inside the sanctuary. A Bach statue stands in the church courtyard, and the annual Bach Leipzig Festival occurs in mid June.
Also open for tours is the Felix Mendelssohn House; the composer and orchestra director gets credit for initiating a Bach Renaissance in 1829. Without it, some say Bach’s music would have been forgotten.
“He reawakened the music of Bach during a time when few even knew where Bach’s grave was,” explained tour Anna-Sylvia Goldammer.
Mendelssohn established the city’s oldest music conservatory, whose students included Edvard Grieg. Open for tours is the long-ago home of musician couple Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck. Leipzig natives include composer Richard Wagner, who reportedly disassociated himself from the city because he didn’t like Mendelssohn.
All this explains why classical music concerts and operas are abundant in Leipzig. At the University of Leipzig is the Grassi Museum of Musical Instruments, whose 5,000 artifacts include the world’s oldest clavichord and fortepiano.
For more about travel in Leipzig: www.leipzig.de.
About 70 miles southeast of Leipzig is Dresden, on the Elbe River, where a bicycling path follows the riverbank. The city was destroyed during World War II bombing but today thrives as a hub for art and culture.
If your budget allows, book at night at the Bulow Palais, a Relais and Chateaux hotel (rates begin around $185 per night). Or book a meal at the hotel’s Michelin-rated Carrousel restaurant, where chef Dirk Schroer is in charge; he and staff also offer cooking classes.
The traditional Dresden Stollen is a popular souvenir all year, not just near Christmas, although it’s the star at the annual Dresden Festival in early December (when a stollen of three or four tons is baked and paraded). The holiday bread has been made here since the Middle Ages; look for the seal of authenticity before buying.
What else? Radeberger is the beer of choice in this city. Its pilsner has been brewed in a Dresden suburb since 1872. Tours available.
For more about travel in Dresden: www.dresden.de.
Trains smoothly link many cities in Germany. The hauptbahnof (main train station) typically is within a walk of the center of activity.
For more about travel in Germany: www.cometogermany.com, 212-661-7200.