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9. The Singer. Part IV

Johann Sebastian Bach’s demanding cantata for soprano solo and orchestra “O angenehme Melodei” (“O sweet and charming melody”, BWV 210.1) can serve as an example of “Anna Magdalena’s vocal abilities“ and could have been “an often-performed favourite” (Schulze 1990, page 34; see also “The Singer. Part III”) But who were the “Werthen Gönner” – the valued patrons, mentioned in one of the text versions?

Many people in Leipzig are eligible for this. Let's go a little further into this: At that time, music was not only for delighting the soul but also a status symbol. In the royal residence city of Dresden it was not only the Elector who had his own orchestra, but also nobles in his circle such as Heinrich von Brühl, Jacob Heinrich von Flemming or Christoph August von Wackerbarth (Kollmar 2006, pages 34 ff., 39 ff., Paczkowski 2016, pages 109 ff., Paczkowski 2019, pages 157 ff.). In many respects there were different structures there than in the prosperous trade-fair city of Leipzig, which also belonged to the Electorate of Saxony. The Leipzig upper class oriented themselves in many respects towards the residence city. Courtly titles were admired to such an extent that there was a specific section in the Leipzig address books for “Persons with Titles”. The need for esteem shows itself particularly in the many grand private buildings that arose in Leipzig in the first half of the 18th century. They gave their owners a stage on which they could present their achievements. (Pevsner 1990, pages 1 ff.) To take one example: the royal Polish Electoral Chancellor and Mining Minister Johann Christoph Richter (1689-1751) built a country mansion right in front of the city. The building was based on the Hubertusburg Palace, a hunting villa of the Elector of Saxony, who was also the King of Poland. This ensemble in Wermsdorf, situated between Leipzig and Dresden, included an opera house. (Hochmuth 2019, pages 163 ff.) Of course, Johann Christoph Richter’s country seat was not only designed for holding court, but also enabled “most comfortable living and representation” (Pevsner 1990, page 123) It had a “beautiful hall and a another large one in the wing”. (Leonhardi 2010, page 106) The ensemble also had a baroque garden. (Schulz 1884, page 456)

Johann Christoph Richter’s garden house in front of Leipzig’s Halle Gate,

after an engraving by Johann Martin Bernigeroth (edited by Steffen Junghans)


Johann Christoph Richter was businessman and council member. He is also known for his large natural history collection. Christiana Sybilla Richter, née Bose, Anna Magdalena Bach’s “Herzens Freundin” (“Dear Friend”, Hübner 2005, pages 75 ff.) was his sister-in-law.

That does not prove that a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach was performed here. But it would have been a very fitting setting, which is also the case for many other houses in the city. Unfortunately, this ensemble has not been preserved. This was the fate of many magnificent buildings erected in the first half of the 18th century in Leipzig. Only a few have survived. A small impression of this can still be gained from the Summer Hall in the Bose House (now houses the Bach Archive) or from the Palace Güldengossa near the city. (By the way: Family members of the owners of these houses were connected with the Bach family by god-parentage.)


There is no evidence that wealthy people in Leipzig maintained private orchestras, as was the case in Dresden. Instead, they were able to hire the town pipers (Stadtpfeifer). These were employed by the city and played stringed as well as wind instruments. But if it was possible to commission the Capellmeister and Saxon-Electoral and Royal Polish court composer Johann Sebastian Bach for the musical setting of receptions in a representative milieu, the better choice for exhibiting their grandeur would have been obvious.

We cannot assume that Johann Sebastian Bach declined payment or other rewards for these performances, even when there was a closer personal acquaintance with the host. Such services could only be gratuitous in exceptional cases. The livelihood of the Bach family household was earned with music, and this required scrupulousness. This is made clear by this example: when the relation Johann Elias Bach, who had worked with the family for many years, asked for a copy of the “Prussian Fugue”. The reply was that he could have what he wished on the reception of one Taler. (Dok I, pages 117 f.)


Leipzig was not only a trading city but also a university city. There was a large number of outstanding men at the university, founded in 1409, as well as at the Thomas and Nicholas schools, in whose honour music was appropriate. An example from Bach’s works is the cantata BWV 36 mention previously. (See “The Singer. Part III”) In one text version of this work (BWV 36.1) it says: “It is indeed you, O most deserving man, who in uninterrupted teaching with the highest honour can wear the silver adornment of age. Thanks, deference, and now all come together here”. With an altered text and the initial words: “Die Freude reget sich” (“Joy awakens”, (BWV 36.3) this cantata was performed in honour of a member of the academic Rivinius family. (Schulze 2007, pages 701 ff.) This is the same work that was performed with a different text for the birthday of the duchess of Anhalt-Köthen in 1725. (Grychtolik 2021, page VI) The initial line here is: “Steigt freudig in die Luft” (“Rise joyfully through the air”, BWV 36.2). Anna Magdalena Bach was one of the soloists, which we know from an invoice that still exists. There is no evidence that she did not also appear as a soprano at the honouring of academics.


But the opportunities for public performance in Leipzig are not yet exhausted, and there will be more on this in “The Singer. Part V”.



Translation: Alan Shepherd






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