Bachfest in Leipzig. Photo: H. Doug Matsuoka
Bachfest in Leipzig. Photo: H. Doug Matsuoka

Bachfest Leipzig walking tour

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So here I am back in Leipzig for the annual Bachfest. It’s my own personal Burning Man, but it strikes me that many don’t necessarily know about the Bachfest. The annual festival celebrates the music of legendary composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who worked and is buried in the city’s St. Thomas Church.

I’ve been wanting to make a “walking tour” video of the Bachfest venues after watching several such that just wander around Leipzig aimlessly.

I mean, you’re here for the music, right? If not for the Bachfest, for the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra or one of the other three symphony orchestras in the city, right? This is a real music city. This is the Nashville for (German) classical music. Says me, anyway.

So I did make a walking tour video, and put a 1 minute, 39 second intro at the top to let viewers know why we’re walking. Here it is:

The most interesting thing at Bachfest so far was the performance of his “Apokalypse” at the Leipzig Opera. Actually, “Apokalypse” isn’t really something Bach composed although he composed all the music used in it. He never composed an opera.

So someone took Bach’s music from his cantatas and changed the lyrics and made it into a modern opera about the Münster Rebellion of 1534. The Munster Rebellion was an attempt by radical Anabaptists to establish a communal sectarian government in the German city of Münster. Yeah, and like all good things, things went bad: The rebellion was besieged for a year until people were starving, then troops entered and tortured the leaders to death and hung them in cages from the church spire. The bodies were taken out but the cages are still there.

I must pronounce this operatic “experiment” a fascinating success.

Both German and English superscripts help the English-only operagoers like me. The musical materials’ transition from church cantatas to secular stage was very effective even if the actual tone of the opera was more cynical than Bach’s cantatas.

The modern staging and music (by the Netherlands Bach Society, aka De Nederlandse Bachvereniging) were absolutely superb. It makes me mourn the fact that Bach didn’t get a chance to sit down and actually intentionally compose an opera.

By H. Doug Matsuoka

H. Doug Matsuoka is a writer and reporter from Honolulu, Hawaii. His motto is, “Wander, wonder…” Or maybe that’s “Wonder, wander…”

Bachfest in Leipzig. Photo: H. Doug Matsuoka
Bachfest in Leipzig. Photo: H. Doug Matsuoka

Editor’s note: The 2024 Bachfest Leipzig takes place from Fri Jun 7 to Sun Jun 16. The original version of this article appeared on 9 June 2024 on H. Doug Matsuoka’s personal blog and is reproduced and added to here with his permission.

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