Arnstadt

START OF THE COMPOSER'S CAREER (1703–1707)

Arnstadt enjoys a special status among the Bach sites in Thuringia. There is no other place with as many original venues that tell about the lives of this family of musicians—sometimes long before Johann Sebastian Bach. He began his career as a professional organist in the New Church in 1703. In Arnstadt the young man not only fell in love with his first wife, he also had a few escapades. For example, he extended a four-week study trip to Lübeck to more than three months on his own initiative. His organ playing also met with criticism: the parish took exception to the frequent changes in key and the dissonant accompanying chords. In addition, he was accused of having led an “unknown maiden” onto the gallery. Even stories of scuffles with his pupil Geyersbach have been handed down.

A city tour in 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.

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.

Anstatt Innenstadt, sitzende Männerstatue
Anstatt Innenstadt, Sicht auf Kirchturm

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.

Der Beginn der Komponistenlaufbahn 1703 – 1707

Arnstadt, Thüringens ältester Ort, ist sehr eng mit der Musikerfamilie Bach verbunden. Allein in Arnstadt wurden 17 „Bache“ geboren und acht getraut. Im Sommer 1703 wurde die neue Orgel der Neukirche vollendet. Die Stadt lud den damals 18-jährigen Johann Sebastian Bach zur Abnahme der Orgel ein.

Es war sein erster derartiger Auftrag, und seine Wahl als Sachverständiger zeugt von seinem bereits erworbenen großen Ruf. Auf die Prüfung folgte die öffentliche Einweihung, zu der Bach die Orgel spielte. Sein Probespiel muss überzeugt haben, denn man bot ihm die Organistenstelle an, ohne dass weitere Bewerber eingeladen wurden. Zum ersten Mal hatte er jetzt eine Orgel zu seiner freien Verfügung. Hier begann er wahrscheinlich seine Laufbahn als Komponist.

Bachs Hochzeit in Dornheim 1707

Dank der gut dotierten Stelle in Mühlhausen und dem Erbe seines Onkels Tobias Lämmerhirt konnte Johann Sebastian Bach bereits wenige Monate nach Dienstantritt seine Cousine 2. Grades Maria Barbara heiraten.

Die Tochter des Organisten Johann Michael Bach lebte nach dem Tod ihrer Eltern bei ihrer Tante in Arnstadt, und so kehrte Johann Sebastian im Oktober kurz dorthin zurück und heiratete am 17. Oktober 1707 in der Dornheimer Bartholomäuskirche, in der sein Freund Johann Lorenz Stauber Pfarrer war. Aus der Ehe mit Maria Barbara, die nur 36 Jahre alt wurde, entstammen sieben Kinder, darunter die bekanntesten Bachsöhne Wilhelm Friedemann und Carl Philipp Emanuel.

Events

a

Thu. 09.03.

Arnstadt - Milchhof | 20:00 Uhr

Alexander von Heißen

Bach on the Rhodes

Read more
a

Tue. 21.03.

Arnstadt - Bachkirche | 19:30 Uhr

V1 | Weimar Baroque

Reassurance: A prologue to the festival on Bach’s birthday

Read more
a

Sun. 02.04.

Arnstadt - Bachkirche | 18:00 Uhr

V8 | Concerto Copenhagen

Read more
a

Sun. 09.04.

Arnstadt - Bachkirche | 17:00 Uhr

V19 | B'Rock Vocal Consort

Ensemble in Residence I

Read more
Anstatt Innenstadt, sitzende Männerstatue
a

Sun. 16.04.

Arnstadt - Bachkirche | 10:00 Uhr

V30 | Bachchor Arnstadt

Sing-along cantata church service

Read more
[Translate to English:]
a

Sun. 23.04.

Arnstadt - Bachkirche | 19:30 Uhr

V50 | The King's Singers

Legacies

Read more

Keep informed

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Experience concerts at home - authentic and digital

Discover BACH FROM HOME / AT HOME

Ten places, three festivals, hundreds of artists – and a streaming platform! Together with our partners from Leipzig and Koethen, we invite you to experience our concerts also online. Bach’s music performed at the historic places of his live, available for you at home.