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TRAVEL AND ADVENTURE- Music Lovers Will Love Leipzig PDF Print E-mail
Written by Robert Selwitz Creative Syndicate   
Thursday, 12 July 2012 04:16

Leipzig is one of Germany's lesser-known pleasures. Slightly more than an hour's train ride southeast of Berlin, it offers both stimulating music and disturbing memories of tyranny not so far in the past.

J.S. Bach lived and worked here during the last 27 years of his life (1685 to1750). During the 19th century the city was the birthplace of Richard Wagner. Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann also lived and composed here.

But the alpha-omega aspect of a Leipzig visit is quite clear in the mind-numbingly well-preserved headquarters of the Stasi, East Germany's secret police during decades of post-World War II Russian rule. The Stasi museum and St. Thomas Church where Bach performed and wrote an amazing amount of music are less than a 10-minute walk apart.

In 1727, Bach — then kapellmeister at Kothen, Germany — was somewhat reluctantly chosen to head St. Thomas Church's musical efforts. This happened after contemporary composer George Phillip Telemann turned down the job and another musician, Christoph Graupner was not released from his court position at Darmstadt.

Bach may well have been the ultimate multitasker. His missions included providing copious cantatas — often one a week plus passions, motets and other choral music for services at St Thomas, St. Nicholas, St. Paul and St. Peter churches. Bach wrote most of his work for the famous St. Thomas Boys Choir, which, this year, celebrates its 800th birthday. Many concerts and special events honoring this anniversary are happening throughout 2012.

The best idea is to visit the church, originally constructed around 1160, when music is being performed. The late Gothic church hall and a Romanesque altar sanctuary remain, but with the exception of the steeple completed in 1702, St. Thomas today reflects late 15th century renovations. Just outside in the church courtyard is Bach's grave.

Bach and his enormous family (he fathered 20 children) lived and worked either in the church or in church-supplied quarters, none of which now exist. But directly across the street is the Bach Museum, formerly the home of a friend where Bach spent considerable time. Today the beautifully designed museum contains many original manuscripts and documents. Also here is the console of a an organ inspected and approved by Bach in 1743, a casket holding relics from Bach's tomb and a cash box the Bach family once owned.

Music lovers can also visit the 19th-century museums and/or home sites of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Robert Schumann. At the Mendelssohn home, quite close to the Gewandhaus concert hall, visitors will be fascinated by the apartment where he and his family lived from 1845 until his death. The furnishings are in late Biedermeier style. There are also letters, sheets of his music and several of his watercolor paintings. Nearby is the Schumann house where Robert and Clara Schumann lived during the first four years they were married.

Another intriguing museum is the DeGrassi Museum of Musical Instruments, which houses one of the world's largest collections. These include extraordinary organs, harpsichords, klaviers, and the predecessors of modern horns, woodwinds and string instruments. Other displays include an original saxophone created by the instrument's namesake Adolph Sax and a bassoon in the shape of a serpent's head. Steps away are an extensive Museum of Applied Arts and a Museum of Ethnography.

A visit to the legendary Gewandhaus is also a must. Today's modern concert hall, built in 1981, the third to bear the name, is a most comfortable venue with surround seating and excellent acoustics that put listeners surprisingly close to the performers.

Gewandhaus, which roughly translates as "cloth-maker's house," exemplifies Leipzig's legacy as one of medieval Europe's most prosperous free cities. Like Hamburg, another prominent German free city, merchant profits powered the municipality, not the largesse of dukes or kings. Members of the guild contributed funds to start their own orchestra, and the first concerts in 1741 were staged in one of the cloth-making merchant's attics.

Leipzig's first Gewandhaus concert hall debuted in 1781. It was replaced by an 1884 structure that stood until it was destroyed by World War II bombing. Wherever they played, the Gewandhaus orchestra — one of Europe's oldest continually operating ensembles — never left is origins behind.

Geography was one key reason why Leipzig became a capital of capitalism. Main roads carrying early traders from Norway to Italy and those traveling between Russia and the Spanish pilgrimage site of San Juan de Campostela almost always passed through Leipzig. The resulting volume of horse-drawn delivery wagons led to a unique feature of Leipzig architecture. Buildings were constructed with street-level circular roadways that allowed wagons to enter, be unloaded and easily exit

Long after animal drayage ended, many of these roadways morphed into what now number 26 passages. Many are home to restaurants, cafes and shops, and they are a great respite from outside weather, particularly when winter winds blow. One that is a definite must is the Madler Passage, which is also home to the Aurealian Keller. This highly atmospheric, nearly 500-year-old restaurant serves superb food and was also the setting for a scene in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Faust."

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 July 2012 04:20