J.S. Bach: Highlights of a Life – Weimar

  • Nov 23, 2010

Weimar (1708-1717)

"There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right key at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” — IN ANSWER to a compliment (quoted by J. F Köhler)

Bach in a Bind

After a one-year term as organist at St. Blasius Church in Mühlhausen, where he saw his first music published (God Is My King No. 71), Bach became chamber musician and court organist, or konzertmeister, to Duke Wilhelm Ernst at Weimar. Outranked only by the kapellmeister, Bach expected to be offered the position when the old kapellmeister died. When a lesser-qualified man was named to the post, Bach accepted an offer from Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. The Duke, however, was not pleased with his konzertmeister’s action, and placed Bach under arrest. The Court Secretary’s Report gives a terse explanation:
On November 6, the quondam concertmeister and organist Bach was confined to the County judge’s place of detention for too stubbornly forcing the issue of his dismissal and finally on December 2 was freed from arrest with notice of his unfavorable discharge.

The Player

Hard as it may be to believe today, Bach in his time was known more as a master organist than a master composer. When the famous French organist Louis Marchand visited Dresden, the konzertmeister there, J. B. Volumier, called upon Bach to engage in a musical contest. After Bach’s arrival in Dresden, Volumier arranged for Bach to hear, "from a place of concealment," the Frenchman play — whereupon Bach issued a respectful challenge. Marchand accepted, and a date was set. In the palace of a leading minister of state, before an audience "of persons of high ranks and of both sexes," Bach appeared at the appointed time. Marchand, however, was not to be found. When a message was sent to remind him to attend, the assembled nobility were astonished to learn that M. Marchand had left Dresden by a special coach that morning. One theory posits that Marchand, like Bach, had secretly heard his intended rival play — and acted accordingly. Next: Cöthen YouthWeimarCöthenLeipzigBeyond Read All