A tour through the permanent exhibition

The treasures at Leipzig's Bach Museum

By Leipzig Bach Archive

Bach-Archiv Leipzig

The Entrée

The marble bust in the museum’s foyer is of Johann Sebastian Bach as he looked at about the age of 60. It was created in 1897 by Carl Ludwig Seffner who, along with Max Klinger, was Leipzig’s leading sculptor of the time.
The bust was created as part of a monument project. A Bach monument in Leipzig was given fresh impetus when the probable site of Bach’s grave was rediscovered in St. John’s Cemetery in 1894. Carl Seffner was present when renowned anatomist Wilhelm His identified the bones. Seffner modelled Bach’s face from casts he had made of the skull and by comparing them to various picture portraits of Bach. He created a number of busts from this model, including the marble one you’re looking at here.

The Bach's - A Family of Musicians

Among the musical dynasties of the Baroque Period the Bachs assume an exceptional position. For more than 200 years members of this family shaped musical life in central Germany. 

The family tree in the museum is based on the short biographical notes on 53 male members of the family which Bach compiled in 1735 in his „Origin of the Musical Bach Family“. Bach was much concerned with preserving the family heritage and passing it on to future generations.

Favourite Instrument - The Organ

The centre of this exhibition room displays a console of an organ that Bach once played on. Bach appreciated no other musical instrument as much as the organ. Raised in a family of musicians, he was conversant with the organ since childhood. The listening stations next to it have the shape of sound tubes, which in their form and material remind us of organ pipes. 

Bach's Orchestra

Bach was an inspired conductor, exploiting every musical means at his command. Occasionally he even turned to an instrument himself and played the harpsichord, organ, violin or viola. 
The exhibition room presents a selection of baroque musical instruments. In order to help visitors experience the baroque sound world, they will find representations of musicians with a variety of instruments. An acoustic journey of discovery, as if you were moving among the players during performance.

Traces of Family Life

One can easily imagine that the Bach family home resembled a dovecote. Apart from the parents and numerous children it lodged a number of relatives and private pupils, and there were countless guests. Altogether there is only little secure knowledge about the family’s everyday life. Some family documents such as private letters, dedications, official documents or musical sources may be studied in this room.

A Piece of Furniture from Bach's Household

Material items from Bach’s possession are extremely rare. All the greater was the surprise when in the fall of 2009 for the first time a piece of furniture from Bach’s household was identified. This impressive iron chest was used for many years by the Meissen Cathedral Museum as a collecting box for donations, before the significance of the painted symbols on the inner lid was recognized. They represent in fact the famous crowned mirror-image monogram with the intertwined letters JSB.

Bach the Court Composer

In the 18th century cultural life lay chiefly in the hands of princely courts. This room is dedicated not only to Bach’s positions as court musician, but also addresses a number of the contacts he had with a variety of princely courts. Arranged by place the illuminated displays show Bach’s connections to minor residencies as well as to the major courts at Dresden or Potsdam, testifying to the great importance close contacts with courtly life had for him.

Bach in Leipzig

In the 18th century Leipzig was one of the major cultural, academic and economic centers of Europe. Representatives from all over the world attended the trade fairs, the university attracted numerous students, the cantorate of St. Thomas’ was one of the leading musical positions in Germany and the St. Thomas School was a favored training place for young musicians. When in May 1723 he became Thomascantor, this marked the beginning of a new chapter in the city’s music history.

Research Laboratory

This room, in which visitors may acquaint themselves with central topics of Bach research, reflects the fact that the museum is part of a musicological research institute. The Bach Archive, the Bach Museum is attached to, is dedicated to research on the lives and works of the famous family of musicians. In the immediate vicinity of the manuscripts in the treasure room, visitors will find information that can be drawn from original sources such as watermarks, handwritings, or knowledge of the church calendar.

Treasure Room

In its structure and content the heart of the museum reflects the main research fields of Bach Archive and the profile of its collections, providing further insights into the institute’s work. Here visitors will find valuable Bach autographs, sets of parts written under his supervision, rare first prints, and other precious items from our collection. Also presented are exhibits on Bach’s private and professional life, duplicates of books from his library, printed libretti of his cantatas and documents on members of his extended family.

The Leipzig Cantatas

The most valuable manuscript treasure consists of 44 original sets of parts of the so-called chorale cycle, which Bach composed in 1724/25. In his first years at Leipzig Bach performed a new sacred cantata nearly every week. As soon as he had completed the score, the performance materials for the choir and orchestra were written out by copyists, family members, and occasionally Bach himself. The sets of part never left Leipzig, for after Bach’s death his widow Anna Magdalena gave them to the St. Thomas School.

Tomb Findings

The little glass casket with relics from the presumed graves of Johann Sebastian Bach and his wife Anna Magdalena is an interesting witness of the high esteem Bach was held in around the year 1900. Like every citizen of Leipzig Bach and his wife have been buried in St. John’s Cemetery outside the town gates. In the 19th century knowledge of their burial place slowly passed into oblivion. 

Only in 1894, when there were plans to erect new buildings on the side of the old cemetery, a search was undertaken.
Bach has been buried in an oak coffin on the south side of the church. There was still an oral tradition which specified the exact location as „six steps in a straight line from the door“. In the area thus described remnants of several oak coffins were found. A number of further clues — among others the results of examinations by the professor of anatomy Wilhelm His — led to the supposition that this was indeed the composer’s grave and above it that of his wife.

The Garden

A small pleasure garden invites visitors to spend some time here to relax. It is reminiscent of the baroque garden the Bose family once had on this site. In Leipzig, a fast-growing city of trade, this kind of back garden was quite rare. Immediately behind the house the affluent merchant family had reserved an area of about 700 square yards to establish a pleasure garden with baroque decorative flowerbeds, fruit trees, and a summer house.

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