Bach, Chopin and Poland - Leipzig online Bachfest 2021 - Bach's 'Messiah'

 Bach, Chopin and Poland

Bach's personal seal designed by him when appointed 
Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon Court Composer

Why is the Bach Leipzig Festival important for Poland and the music of Fryderyk Chopin? 

Bach was the composer Chopin admired above all others save Mozart. He practised Das wohltemperierte Klavier for two weeks before concerts of his own music rather than the pieces of his own composition he would actually play. The important polyphonic strands and counterpoint within his own music were all derived from his adoration of J.S.Bach. Bach was always chosen during his teaching as indispensable to deeper musical understanding and meaning.

It is also instructive to remember other aspects of Bach's life and professional career were closely associated with Poland at the time. He always wished to be associated with court circles despite the small extent of some of these princely states. 

Bach was appointed Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon Court Composer in 1736. The Elector Frederick Augustus II / Augustus III King of Poland was a great patron of the arts, a devout Catholic and music-lover. Bach dedicated the Kyrie and Gloria of the B minor Mass to him.

The actual document appointing Bach as 
Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon Court Composer in 1736 signed by King Augustus III and his Prime Minister Count Heinrich von Brühl. 
It was exhibited in 2019 in the fascinating temporary exhibition of documents, engravings, recordings and Bach autographs in the Bach Museum entitled  
'Bach, Court Compositeur'

Bach's 'Messiah'

Online Leipzig 11-20 June 2021

Michael Triegel, Kreuzigung, Abend - Crucifixion, evening - Detail (2001)

Although I have been watching the superb online transmissions of these cantatas and especially the Christmas Oratorio (wonderfully uplifting in sunny June), I feel to seriously review these first performances shortly after the pandemic lockdown has been partially lifted is in a way inappropriate and somewhat unfair. On this occasion there are so many variables. The festival this year is a unique musical experience. The fact it is occurring at all is nothing short of a miracle. 

They are all magnificent performances, some live and directly online from the overwhelming architectural interiors of the Thomaskirche and Nikolaikirche. The festival this year is a true 'Redemption' and expression of the indomitable human spirit in the face of the mystery of  unpremeditated disaster. The performances are a testament to the supreme musicianship of these artists. Simply to overcome the enforced lack of rehearsal time, so vital to achieve the supreme burnish and authenticity of the Leipzig conception and interpretation of Bach, deserves our unqualified admiration.

The Christmas Oratorio (Thomanerchor Leipzig, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Conductor: Thomaskantor Gotthold Schwarz) was such an expression of profoundly needed joy and consolation in the face of the present pandemic horrors of massive worldwide deaths and suffering.

Yet despite personal separation from their colleagues, all the musicians have retained a magnificent level of music ensemble art, cohesion and proficiency. Their performances are a deep moral statement of faith, hope in life and the soul of man, despite the grim reversals humanity is facing.

To mount the Bachfest online from Leipzig in any way this year is a supremely courageous team effort. It involved planning, re-planning, re-re planning and re-re-re-planning as if the staff were trapped in a hall of mirrors at a fun fair. 

But perseverance and an almost incomprehensible exercise of the human spirit won the day. The opening address by the Artistic Director Prof. Dr. Michael Maul was a model of musical and spiritual inspiration in addition to possessing deep compassionate emotion and literary excellence. I so missed coming to Leipzig this year for this uplifting musical experience, a therapeutic healing of the manifold reversals besieging our time.

The monumental St. Matthew Passion on the evening of June 14th was magnificently performed at the Gewandhaus by Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir, Conductor: Ton Koopman with Tilman Lichdi (Tenor – Evangelist), Andreas Wolf (Bass – Jesus), Ilse Eerens (Sopran), Maarten Engeltjes (Altus), Nils Giebelhausen (Tenor – Arien), Klaus Mertens (Bass – Arien) and the GewandhausKinderchor. 

This was a superbly paced performance that permitted the great human drama, theater and moral dilemma to unfold in a devotional as well as intensely theatrical  manner. The massive canvas was faultlessly unfolded. Sir John Eliot Gardiner describes this 'Great Passion' succinctly in his magnificent  Music in the Castle of Heaven : ' essentially human drama - one involving immense struggle and challenge, betrayal and forgiveness, love and sacrifice, compassion and pity...'

The music of mighty Bach is something humanity is in desperate need of at present. His music possesses a miraculously spiritual and  therapeutic nature of the rarest value. 

For the entire online programme for the Leipzig Bachfest Bach's 'Messiah' 2021:

Official Bach Festival Leipzig 2021 website:

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My reviews of some concerts in the last two Leipzig Bach Festivals before the pandemic struck  so mercilessly are available 

2018 Bachfest (Kantatenring)

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Statement regarding the 2021 Bachfest - Bach's 'Messiah'

Prof. Dr. Michael Maul                        Klaus Hartig
Artistic Director of the Bachfest        Managing Director of the Bach Archive

Dear Bach Friends

For months now, our team has laid, re-laid and re-re-laid plans for the 2021 Bachfest, full of energy and unshakable optimism, while at the same time keeping a fearful eye on how the coronavirus pandemic was developing, never losing hope of a timely »redemption«. No doubt you too were hoping that somehow, the Leipzig Bachfest would defy the virus.

However, we are now forced to admit that the decisions taken at the local and national levels to combat the pandemic and the strict rules and restrictions concerning international travel have led us to the painful realisation that holding concerts in the presence of an tourist audience at the dates of the Bachfest is not realistic. It is true that current incidence rate trends in Leipzig could soon allow concerts to be held in Leipzig. Nevertheless, it is not yet possible to set a date for the opening of hotels for tourist travel: under the Saxon Coronavirus Protection Ordinance his requires a lasting incidence rate of less than 50. Words cannot express how much we regret this turn of events. We had so much looked forward to finally being able to welcome you back to Leipzig. And without our national and international audiences and the revenue from ticket sales, we are also losing the economic basis for the entire festival as scheduled.

For the comfort of the whole world (BWV 3)

Nevertheless, we intend to keep our promise of »redemption«, in accordance with the Bachfest theme. And so we have decided the following: the 2021 Bachfest will take place from 11–21 June in greatly modified formand whatever the case, as a livestream. If, by the end of May, we see any possibility of admitting a small audience to concerts under specific conditions, we will launch advance ticket sales at short notice. However, the numerous uncertainties oblige us to rescind all previous ticket sales (see information below). The Bachfest programme will be scaled back from the originally scheduled 100-plus events to a total of twelve concerts (the pre-concert introductions and series of talks will round out the programme). These are specifically those concerts that largely reflect the festival theme of »Redemption«: the large-scale cycle »Bach’s Messiah«, featuring the performance of more than 30 cantatas, Bach’s three oratorios and the St. Matthew Passion, performed by world-famous interpreters, and a closing concert by the Thomanerchor.

The life and work of Jesus of Nazareth told in music will provide us all with the consolation that is so important in these difficult times and the hoped-for musical »redemption«, of this we are certain. We very much hope that as many people as possible will opt to purchase a ticket for the streaming of the Messiah cycle so as not to miss what will certainly be the greatest online Bach event of 2021.

The live concert experience is without any doubt hard to replace. But so much is also certain: not performing at all was simply not an option for us. Because we want »redemption«, and we want it for everyone! And that the feeling of redemption, proximity and belonging can also occur in a virtual space we all proved together last year with the »St John Passion à trois« on Good Friday and the »Bach Marathon«. With this modified Bachfest programme for 2021 and »Bach’s Messiah«, we want to build on this and also on the unforgettable »Ring of Cantatas« of the 2018 Bachfest.

If, by the summer, the situation should ease any further, we will in addition make good the free BachStage concerts on Market Square in early August in collaboration with the »Leipziger Marktmusik« festival.

Do not be offended, O soul! (BWV 186)

We are aware that our decision is putting Bachfest fans and all the artists whose scheduled concerts are now cancelled to a severe test. Many of you booked your tickets early and, like the numerous hired artists, were looking forward to the first Bachfest with the pandemic safely behind us. Rest assured that we did not take this decision lightly. We have been reviewing the different possible options for months and finally made the decision with the objective of finding the best compromise for everyone in a difficult situation. For us this also means striving to find a fair settlement for the contracts with all those artists who can no longer be included in the modified programme. It goes without saying that everyone who purchased tickets will get their money back on request. However, under the rescission options, you can also choose to donate all or part of the money to help preserve the festival. This donation will also ensure that we can provide adequate compensation for the artists who will now no longer be performing – many of them those independent, solo artists who are so hard-pressed at the moment yet play a crucial role in the preservation of Bach’s legacy – and at the same time, as a festival, continue to offer programmes of the highest quality and diversity.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the understanding and patience you have shown so far. A wholehearted thank you also to all the Bachfest partners, sponsors and employees for their great and unfailing support in these surreal times that make planning a festival no easy task.

The wonderful tenor aria from cantata BWV 108 confidently states: »So can I be confident that along with the redeemed I shall come to the desired haven«. Let us hope, then, that we will have the pleasure of welcoming you first of all to the livestream of »Bach’s Messiah« in June, and if possible a few of you in person, and then to the 2022 Bachfest in Leipzig, this time live. Stay healthy and, like us, seek optimism in Bach’s immortal music!


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