31 January 2015

Leipzig - music centre of the world?

Joe and I were staying in Berlin itself for a week, but that only left seven extra days for Dresden, Meissen, Leipzig and Dessau. The addit­ion­al tours, therefore, had to be professionally organised and detailed.

Discover Leipzig noted  that 500 composers have lived and worked in that city over the centuries, including: Johann Sebastian Bach (Cantor of St Thomas Church), Georg Philipp Telemann, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (Kapell­meister at the Gewandhaus), Clara and Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, Edvard Grieg and Gustav Mahler. Others, like Joseph Joachim and Hanns Eisler, did their studies there. Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel was a pianist and composer of 460 pieces of music. Felix’s sister and musical advisor, Fanny lived in Leipzig and later Berlin.

Schumann House Museum. Leipzig

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was our chief attraction. He was active in Leipzig’s musical life for most of his later adulthood. He was responsible for the services and special ceremonies at the ch­ur­ches of St Nicholas and St Thomas. People familiar with Bach music will recognise his creativity in Leipzig - annual cycles of choral cantatas, the St John and St Matthew Passions, the Christmas Oratorio, the Art of the Fugue and his Mass in B Minor.

But not just church music. As the city's Musical Director he had to organise secular events as well. And academically he was just as committed. He directed the Collegicum Musicum, an association of professional performers and students. So you would expect this city to pay attention to its musical hero. The Bach-Archiv was founded after WW2 by Werner Neumann. It served as a central archive for historic documents connected to the composer and a central research centre for the entire Bach family. After unific­ation the archive became part of the Konferenz Nationaler Kulture­inrichtungen, a merger of nationally sig­nif­icant cultural organisations. Next door is the Bach Museum, located in Bach’s own home. Both the archive and the museum join in a research complex with the magnif­icent adjoining building, owned back then by the goldsmith Georg Heinrich Bose.

The young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) studied at the University of Leipzig from 1765-68. I would not normally include him in a musical tour except that his poems were later set to music by some very imp­ort­ant composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner and Mahler. So it may be important to visit the Goethe memorial in the centre of Leipzig’s Naschmarkt. Fans may also like to buy a disc that celebrates the large and important role that Goethe's work played in Franz Schubert's short life (1797–1828). Although it contains only a portion of the Schubert/Goethe song output, The Goethe Schubertiad starts with material written in Leipzig.

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-47) was another brilliant German musician who made his way to Leipzig. As the Gewandhaus Kapell­meister, Mendelssohn was the man who reformed the musical life of the city and instigated the Bach renaissance in Germany.

Mendelssohn House, Leipzig

But his creativity had to be speedy; he died too young. He premièred his Symphony in C Minor at the Gewandhaus in 1827. During his years in Leipzig he worked closely with Ferdinand David to turn the orchestra into one of the best in Europe. In 1843 he founded the oldest music school in Germany, the Leipzig Conservatory, thereby creating top quality tertiary education for young musicians.

Since 1997 Leipzig has the only Mendelssohn Museum anywhere, located in the family’s flat. It has been carefully restored to what it looked like when the composer lived there so that modern visitors can see his letters, sheet music, furniture, study complete with books, his own paintings and his music salon.

Robert Schumann (1810-56) in Saxony and came to Leip­zig in May 1828 to study law. The young man soon discovered that a] he wanted to play and compose Romantic music for the rest of his life and b] he wanted to marry his piano teacher’s daughter. Friedrich Wieck’s daughter Clara (1819-96) was herself a child prodigy on the piano. She was born in Leipzig and gave her first performance at the Gewandhaus, a concert hall origin­ally built in 1781 and now the home of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. In the many concert tours that started in 1831 and cont­inued, Clara played works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann. By 16 her reputation as a pian­ist was assured.

Robert Schumann wasn’t necessarily polite. By April 1834, he start­ed A New Journal for Music where the articles were very critical. The young man loathed the popular taste for inferior composers. But it was not Schumann’s fault that Franz Brendel later became the Journ­al’s new editor (in 1844). Brendel allowed a viciously anti-Semitic piece by Wagner to be published, insulting the late Felix Mendelssohn, founder of the Leipzig Conservatory,

After Robert’s marriage to Clara Wieck in 1840 at the church in Schöne­­feld, the young couple moved into their home. Apparently there was no other building in Leipzig from which so much great music emanated and to which so many notable artists were drawn. Marriage must have suit­ed Schumann well; during that first year, he created 150 piano lieder. The late classical style Schumann House has an interesting exhibition on the life and work of the famous musical couple. A permanent exhibition in the living quarters on the first floor is well worth seeing, as is he study. Fans will already know that regular concerts and readings are held in the carefully restored music salon.

Bach's tomb
St Thomas Church, Leipzig

There is also a connection to Jewish religious music in Leipzig, surprising because the community was not huge. European synagogues generally did not use instruments in ser­vices, as recently as the early C19th. So it must have shocked the locals when a modern organ was first used to accompany worship in a Berlin synagogue (opened 1815) and in Leipzig’s new Reform Synagogue (opened 1820). Orthodox communities did not like choir and organs in any synagogues, and fought them tooth and nail. But after two rabbin­ical conferences and the 1869 Synod of Leipzig, most of the new synag­ogues in Central European count­ries int­roduced organs. And some employed semi-professional choirs! The synagogue composers visited Leipzig from various German-speaking cities, especially the incomparable Louis Lewandowski from Berlin, Salomon Sulzer from Vienna and Kurt Weill from Dessau.

Leipzig's mag­nif­icent Moorish Revival Synagogue was destroyed on Kristallnacht (November 1938) by the Nazis, but music tourists can still visit the Brody Synagogue in Keilstrasse. Or download the original music sung by the old Leipzig Synagogue Choir.


Joe said...

Wagner might have been an unpleasant snot but he was actually Leipzig born and educated. So it is well worth visiting his new museum, the municipal theatre where he first learned music and his favourite coffee shop.

Hels said...


100% correct. And another thing. The 1983 bronze monument of Richard Wagner is perfectly placed near the Leipzig Opera House. This replica replaces the one which sculptor Max Klinger had produced for the unfinished Wagner monument a century ago.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, It's remarkable how one city could host such an incredible amount of musical talent, especially since this was spread out over generations. You have talked many times about fostering an atmosphere for artists, musicians, writers, etc., and it is evident that doing so is well worth while.

I recall seeing an old movie about the home life of the Schumann, but it was so schmaltzed up that it didn't reveal anything about the inspiration of genius in Leipzig.

Hels said...


Two things are remarkable about Leipzig attracting musical talent. Firstly the population of the city was still small by 1800 (32,000). Even by the time the Conservatory of Music was founded in 1843, perhaps only 120,000 lived there.
Secondly musical and cultural patronage was not imperial, as it was in Vienna and other cities.