Of all Thuringia’s “Bach cities”, Arnstadt plays a special role. No other city has so many preserved original performance settings relating to the Bach family of musicians, whose members worked as city pipers, bandsmen, organists, composers and court musicians long before Johann Sebastian Bach. And in no other Bach city was Johann Sebastian Bach more rebellious than here.
By the time he began his first appointment as organist in Arnstadt, he had spent years as an apprentice with his brother in Ohrdruf, a two-year stint in Lüneburg, and an initial brief period of employment as a court musician in Weimar. On 13 July 1703, he examined the organ at the Neue Kirche (today the Bachkirche Church), and played it so impressively that he had secured his certificate of appointment as organist just a few weeks later.
Arnstadt was not only where the young Bach fell in love with the lady who would become his wife, Maria Barbara; it was also where he engaged in a few other escapades. For instance, he is said to have played music with a “foreign damsel” in the matroneum. Apart from the fact that a girl was involved, the Arnstadt Council was particularly shocked at the fact that Bach enjoyed making music with others, yet saw his musical work with his choir students as an onerous duty. This resulted in further conflict for which he had to answer before the consistory. After being called a “Zippelfagottist” (an insulting slur with no direct translation) by Bach, choir student Geyersbach decided to respond with his fist, waylaying Bach and causing the famous fight scene that has been noted in the consistory’s reports.
Bach took four weeks’ holiday for a study trip in Lübeck, but he ended up staying almost four months. While he had arranged a replacement during his absence, Bach’s organ playing was not the same after his return. It was due in no small part to these many disputes with the city that Bach later seized the opportunity to apply for the position of successor to renowned organist Georg Friedrich Ahle in Mühlhausen.
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Bach monument Arnstadt
Arnstadt was given its own Bach monument on the occasion of Bach’s 300th birthday. Instead of the distinguished St Thomas’ Church cantor with the curly wig, Bach was depicted as a young man sitting casually on a milestone. Sculptor Bernd Göbel wanted his bronze monument to show the young Bach the way he looked at the age of 18 when he first came to Arnstadt.
Bach Church Arnstadt
The original St Boniface Church was destroyed by a city fire in 1581, and the “New Church” was erected as a baroque hall on its foundation walls in 1683. It was named after Johann Sebastian Bach to commemorate the composer’s 250th birthday. Johann Friedrich Wender from Mühlhausen built an organ for the church between 1699 and 1703. The 18-year-old Johann Sebastian approved of the instrument and worked here as an organist until 1707.
An der Neuen Kirche
Arnstadt Palace Museum
A visit to the Palace Museum is like travelling back to the baroque period. The museum is primarily known for the unique “Mon plaisir” doll collection, the impressive porcelain cabinet, and the world’s only “Schmelzzimmer” (“gilded audience room”), which is currently undergoing restoration. The Museum’s Bach exhibition features a very special object: the original double organ console, on which Johann Sebastian Bach played in the New Church as organist.
From the mid-16th century, the moated Renaissance Neideck Castle became the residence of the counts of Schwarzburg-Arnstadt. A model in the parklands demonstrates how magnificent the castle may have looked in the 17th century. Today only the 65-m-tall tower remains, providing a wonderful panoramic view of Arnstadt and the nearby surrounds - something even the elder Caspar Bach, who lived in the tower with his family as tower keeper from 1620 to 1633, adored.
Bach House Arnstadt
The unimposing building at Kohlgasse 7 was owned by the Bach family for more than 40 years. It is the only preserved home where Johann Sebastian Bach went in and out. He may even have spent some time living there. Saved from demolition thanks to a group of dedicated citizens, it is today open to the public.
The workplace of Heinrich Bach, a great-uncle of Johann Sebastian, is considered Thuringia’s most prominent late-Romanesque, early-Gothic church building along with Naumburg Cathedral. Bach’s cousin Johann Ernst also took over the position of organist in 1728. Noteworthy attractions include the burial chapel of the counts of Schwarzburg-Arnstadt, with the 1590 epitaph for Günther XLI of Schwarzburg and his wife Katharina of Nassau-Dillenburg.
An der Brunnenkunst 2
In Bach’s day, the Oberkirche was the city and royal church of the counts of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, and thus the church of Arnstadt superintendent Johann Gottfried Olearius, Johann Sebastian Bach’s supervisor. Various members of the Bach family itself also worked as organists at the Oberkirche.