Bachland-Tour
through Arnstadt

Bach and Arnstadt, that is a great passion. The young composer arrived in the town in the summer of 1703 at the age of 18 to start his first post as organist. He must have left behind a great impression when four weeks before he made his first visit to the town on the river Gera with a different purpose: to assess the organ in the new church which had been put up after a major fire in the town. He proved in his playing that he was a true genius and thus Johann Sebastian Bach remained connected with the town in many ways until 1707.

The Bach memorial in the market is a good starting point for a tour of Arnstadt, one of the oldest places in Thuringia. The bronze sculpture was unveiled in 1985 and reactions were divided. In modern parlance it was a cool and, above all, young Bach who idly lolled around on a bench. The artist Bernd Göbel’s sculpture, commissioned to mark the 300th anniversary of Bach’s birth, is certainly unconventional.

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The town‘s market square is a gem: one can look out on the historical facades of many of the surrounding houses and, of course, the church which has born the name of the great composer since 1935. The Johann Sebastian Bach Church, or in short form, the Bach Church, is impressive not least because of its special acoustic which derives from the wooden barrel vaulting. The two important organs in the Church, the 1703 Wender organ and the 1913 Steinmeyer organ, were restored and rebuilt between 1997 and 1999. Both instruments are milestones in the art of organ building in central Germany and can regularly be heard in services.

Arnstadt brings to life the tradition of its most famous guest with numerous activities and attractions. Alongside the traditional Arnstadt Bach Festival, there is regularly a small Bach Festival in the summer and before Christmas a “Bach Advent”. One should also not forget the popular regional concert series, the Thuringia Organ Summer.

The exhibition “Bach in Arnstadt” in the Castle Museum demonstrates the town’s deep and committed relationship with the history of the Bach family. Numerous members of this family of musicians were active for centuries as organists, city pipers and court musicians. Alongside some artefacts, the exhibition presents a great deal of information about music and the social history of Arnstadt.

Those not strolling in Bach’s footsteps through the narrow lanes should take a closer look at the town’s churches. It is not just the Bach Church which is a worthwhile objective. The Upper Church  and the Church of Our Lady are also important sacred buildings in the town.

And a perfect idea for an excursion lies just a few kilometres away from Arnstadt. In the charming village church of St Bartholomew Johann Sebastian Bach married his second cousin, Maria Barbara Bach, in October 1707. According to historical records the wedding party processed across the fields from Arnstadt to Dornheim. From this marriage came seven children, amongst them the most famous Bach sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel.

1707 was not only the year of this great celebration but also a year of departure. Johann Sebastian Bach left Arnstadt and became organist in the free imperial city of Mühlhausen. He had asked the town council to release him from his contract even before the wedding in Dornheim. However, Arnstadt remained faithful to the Bach family. His successor as organist in Arnstadt was Bach’s cousin, Johann Ernst.

Panorama Bachkirche © Roland Wehking

The beginnings of Bach’s composer career 1703 – 1707

Arnstadt, the oldest town in Thuringia, has very close ties with the Bach musicians family. In Arnstadt alone, 17 “Bachs” were born and eight were married. In the summer of 1703, a new organ was ready to be inaugurated in the Neukirche and the town invited the 18 year-old Johann Sebastian Bach to inspect the instrument.

This was his first commission of this kind and the choice of Bach as official expert shows the reputation he had already succeeded in building for himself. His examination of the organ was followed by its official inauguration, at which Bach played on the instrument. This audition must have been convincing, because he was immediately offered the post of organist without any other applicants being considered. He now had an organ at his own disposal for the very first time and this is probably where his career as composer began.

Bach’s marriage in Dornheim 1707

Thanks to a well-paid position in Mühlhausen and a sum of inheritance from his uncle Tobias Lämmerhirt, Johann Sebastian Bach was able to marry his second cousin Maria Barbara only a few months after beginning his tenure.

Maria Barbara was the daughter of organist Johann Michael Bach and lived with her aunt in Arnstadt after the death of her parents. Johann Sebastian returned briefly to Arnstadt in October and was married on 17th October 1707 in Dornheim’s Kirche St. Bartholomäus, where his friend Johann Lorenz Stauber was pastor.

Seven children issued from his marriage with Maria Barbara, who died quite young at the age of 36. Among them are the best-known of Bach’s sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel.

Panorama Traukirche Dornheim © Roland Wehking

Events in Arnstadt

15.09.
Arnstadt | Bachkirche | 16:00

Bachführung in Arnstadt

15.09.
Arnstadt | Bachkirche | 16:00

A Bachland Pilgrimage

Gaechinger Cantorey || Bach: St John Passion BWV 245
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