Johann Sebastian Bach spent two stints of his life in the city of Weimar, home to Saxony’s royalty. On the first occasion, the young musician was employed for around six months as a violinist and footman in the private chapel of Duke John Ernest III of Saxe-Weimar in 1703. Following his time in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen, the now 23-year-old returned to Weimar, where he spent almost another ten years working as a court organist.
Tourist Information Weimar
On 14 July 1708, he and his pregnant wife Maria Barbara arrived in Weimar and moved into Markt 16, right near his two workplaces. Located opposite the Rotes Schloss (“Red Palace”), the building would be Bach’s home and place of work for the next few years. It was here that his first six children were born, including his most famous sons: Wilhelm Friedemann (1710) and Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714). Bach’s students also took their lessons here, and raved about their teacher’s great work.
Bach’s time in Weimar was a very creative one. For starters, he had a well trained orchestra, resulting in over 30 cantatas, early versions of the Brandenburg Concertos, much of his organ work, including the Orgelbüchlein (“Little Organ Book”), and early versions of the partitas for solo violin and the English Suites. On 2 March 1714, Johann Sebastian Bach was appointed “Cammer-Musicus” and “Concertmeister”, becoming a well paid musician of the ducal court.
Johann Sebastian Bach submitted his resignation in autumn 1717 to take up the vacant and considerably better paid position of court music director under Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. He had already received an advance fee back in the August, meaning he technically held two jobs. This fact led Duke William Ernest to imprison him in the Landrichterstube (the district judge’s detention chamber or cell) at the city palace’s bastille for nearly four weeks from 6 November. During this time, Bach is said to have worked further on the Orgelbüchlein ("Little Organ Book") and the first part of Das Wohltemperierte Clavier (“The Well-tempered Clavier”). He was released on 2 December 1717 “on dishonourable discharge”, receiving no payment for the last quarter.
Thuringia 20 km
The bastille complex, consisting of the gatehouse, tower and court ladies’ chambers, is the only part of Weimar’s palace to have survived all the fires of the Middle Ages and modern era. Its Landrichterstube (“district judge’s detention chamber/cell”) was where Johann Sebastian Bach was imprisoned from 6 November to 2 December 1717, after pressuring the Weimar court to terminate his employment contract.
Former Bach house (memorial plaque at Hotel Elephant)
The three-storey home at Markt 16 is the place where Bach lived from 1708 to 1717. The building became part of the “Erbprinz” hotel in the 19th century. Unaware it had formerly been Bach’s home, famous composers such as Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner lodged here. An air raid on 9 February 1945 destroyed the entire building except for the Renaissance basement vault, and it was completely demolished in 1989/1990. Today, the car park of the neighbouring “Elephant” hotel stands on the site.
Not far from Bach’s home, on the front of the Rotes Schloss ("Red Palace"), the composer is commemorated with a bronze bust crafted by Leipzig sculptor Bruno Eyermann, erected for Bach’s 200th birthday. The bust first stood at the former palace chapel, and later in the State Art Collection. In the anniversary year 1985, the bust was placed at Platz der Demokratie, directly opposite Bach’s former home.
Platz der Demokratie
Church of St Peter and Paul (Herderkirche)
Four of Johann Sebastian Bach’s six Weimar-born children were baptised in the late-Gothic Church of St Peter and Paul. The original baptismal font and the winged altar, whose construction was commenced by Lucas Cranach the Elder and completed by Lucas Cranach the Younger, as the main example of 16th-century Saxon-Thuringian art, make the three-naved hall church an important historic monument. Luther used to preach at its pulpit.
St Jakob's Church
Johann Sebastian Bach’s friend and distant cousin, Johann Gottfried Walther (1684–1748), had been the Weimar city organist since 1707, and had thus also played in the picturesquely located St Jacob’s Church. His baroque double tombstone is situated at the southern end of the church. The new St Jacob’s Church was consecrated on 6 November 1713, and Bach, as a court musician, played music at the service for this event.
Am Jakobskirchhof 4
Weimars City Palace with the "Wege zur Himmelsburg" palace chapel
The former residential palace of the dukes of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach was for centuries the cultural heart of the city. It was Bach’s main place of work, with the extraordinary, skyward soaring “Weg zur Himmelsburg” (“Path to the heavenly citadel”) palace chapel, built during the Thirty Years’ War. The “Capelle” set up adjacent to the church’s actual interior was an architectural wonder. It was a further seven metres high, and had a gallery where the court orchestra would play. The unusual placement of both organs in the sacred space, and the musicians high above the churchgoers’ heads in the dome, made the music sound as if it was coming straight from heaven.