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5. Were there servants in the Bach family household? Part II

The 1723 regulations of the St. Thomas school state that the principal and the cantor were provided with apartments in the school “designed to that in each one the household can be run separately and that they can accommodate their wife, children and servants”. (Ordnungen der Thomasschule 1987, pages 23 f.) It says “servants”, so it does not mean just one person but several. Therefore, it not only went with the status of the cantor of the Thomas school to have servants, but some also lived in.

Unfortunately, no document is known which describes exactly how many employees worked in the Bach household. But a journey of several weeks made by Anna Magdalena and Johann Sebastian Bach to Kassel in September/October 1732 provides a clue. When the parents left, the children were the following ages:

Catharina Dorothea 23 years

Wilhelm Friedemann 21 years

Carl Philipp Emanuel 18 years

Johann Gottfried Bernhard 17 years

Gottfried Heinrich 8 years

Elisabeth Juliana Friderica 6 years

Regina Johanna 3 years

Johann Christoph Friedrich 2 months

In the article "How many children did Anna Magdalena Bach have to care for? Part I" I already mentioned that Johann Christoph Friedrich could not have survived without a wet nurse. And there were other small children to be looked after, as well as the cleaning of the apartment. Above all, regular meals had to be cooked, and the necessary shopping done. Even to make a cup of tea or coffee there had to be a burning fire which had to be watched. We must also ask where the private students who lodged with the family were fed during this time. (Spree 2021, pages 91 f.)

An impression of the work in the kitchen is given by an image from a cookery book from this period.

Frontispiece in the Leipzig cookery book (Leipziger Kochbuch) by Susanna Eger, Leipzig 1745.

(Source: Library of the Leipzig City Historical Museum

[Bibliothek Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig, Literatur 00016377])

Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach would not have been available to look after their younger siblings or for other housework. In the autumn of 1732, both were studying at the University of Leipzig and taking on such chores was hardly compatible with the dignity of a student. The son of a master blacksmith gives an impression of this; he started studying in Jena in 1739: “I remember that once, as I was walking across the market, I saw a large round cheese in the shape of our sheep’s cheese. On arriving home, I immediately sent my maid to buy it”. (Müller 2007, page 65) This student regarded it as incompatible with his status to buy the cheese himself. It cannot be assumed that the two elder Bach sons were any different. The seventeen-year-old Gottfried Bernhard will probably have followed their example.

If we assume that Catharina Dorothea did all the chores herself, we would be accusing the parents of treating her like a maid. (By the way, the Bach couple had a servant available during their stay in Kassel. [Dok II, page 228])

Taking all this into account, it is entirely possible that a maid (and perhaps also a young maid), a cook and a nanny were employed in the Leipzig household of the Bach family during the absence of the parents. Additionally, a wet nurse and a privat teacher were present. Apart from the last two, a maid may have lived in as well.

If the parents were able to travel for several weeks, it must be assumed that a long-term trusting relationship with their employees existed, and that they could be sure that the established routines would be upheld. This in turn leads us to conclude that the number of service staff was no lower in times when Anna Magdalena and Johann Sebastian Bach were at home.

Journeys over several days are known for 1724, 1725 and 1729 because Anna Magdalena was paid as a musician, and for 1739 from a short note in a letter. (Dok II, pages 144, 153, 190 f., 373) Her 1732 stay in Kassel is only known because the writer of the bill added the words “et uxori” (and wife) after Capellmeister Bach. (Dok II, page 228) We do not know how many other sources are lost which would evidence their journeys during this time. There is thus no evidence that she only seldom accompanied her husband, but rather it is proven that she was able to leave Leipzig for long periods because she knew that her children and the household were in good hands.

The idea of service staff in the household of Anna Magdalena and Johann Sebastian Bach may be new and might need getting used to. It was not the job of the Frau Capellmeisterin, the Cappelmeister’s wife, to cook meals in the kitchen, to clean the apartment or do the washing. She had to know how to do such work in order to head the servants. But as the “mother of the house” she presided with her husband over a household in which the income was earned with music. To this belonged, apart from children, the staff and private students who lived there. Anna Magdalena had to organise and monitor the necessary routines. In a lexicon from the time there is an entry for the word “house mother”: “is the assistant of the house father, consequently the other main person of a household, without whom the same cannot easily be kept in good order. From the point of view of the marital community she is to be regarded as wife and mother, but from the point of view of the hierarchy and housekeeping she is to be respected as the lady of the house.” (Zedler 1735, volume 12, column 907)

It would also not have been sensible for Anna Magdalena Bach to take on chores that servants could perform, purely for economical reasons. She had abilities with which she could earn a higher income than a maid received for her work. (Spree 2019, pages 40, 187, 206 f.) There will be more on this in the next article.

Translation: Alan Shepherd



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