Arnstadt Bach Family

Home of the Old-Bachian Archive

With the baroque Bachkirche, the enchanting Oberkirche, the Neideck tower, the Bach House and the late Romanesque, early Gothic Liebfrauenkirche, there is no other city that can boast so many original sites of the Bach family of musicians. So, it is hardly surprising that this is where Johann Sebastian Bach took on his first position as an organist. After all, long before his day, his musical ancestors had founded the good reputation of the “Bachs” here in town by serving as organists, composers, watchmen and court musicians.

From his home in the tower, the watchman Caspar Bach sounded fire-alarms and warned inhabitants of other dangers during the Thirty Years’ War. Also, as a court musician, he played the dulcian, the predecessor of the modern bassoon, in the court orchestra of Count von Schwarzburg-Arnstadt under Christoph Kemsee. In 1633, he received citizen’s rights and purchased a home on Jakobsgasse 15, which has been preserved. He was then able to give up his strenuous career as a watchman, but continued to play at various occasions in and around Arnstadt.


It was not possible to perform sophisticated sacred music at the Neue Kirche (New Church, later “Bachkirche” or Bach Church) until 1703, when the Wender organ was consecrated, and Johann Sebastian Bach appeared upon the scene. Until that time, primarily the Oberkirche and the Liebfrauenkirche had dominated sacred music life in Arnstadt. For 51 years, Bach’s great-uncle Heinrich Bach had been employed as the organist at both churches. He and his two composer sons Johann Christoph (later organist in Eisenach) and Johann Michael (later organist in Gehren) are considered the founders of the Arnstadt Bach family. Only a few of Heinrich Bach’s compositions have survived, including the cantata “Ich danke dir, Gott”. It begins with chromatic passages that are unusually innovative for the time.

A few years ago, it was discovered that the “Altbachische Archiv” (Old-Bachian Archive), a music collection comprising magnificent works by Bach’s ancestors, actually originated in Arnstadt. Along with various manuscripts by members of the Bach family, there are also copies done by Ernst Dietrich Heindorff. He worked as the cantor of the Oberkirche and probably performed cantatas and motets written by the Bach family.

The words of Count Schwarzburg-Arnstadt show how much the musical Bach family was appreciated. When his court musician Johann Christoph Bach (the twin brother of Bach’s father) died, he lamented: “Is there no Bach left to apply for this position? He should and must have another Bach.” The house where Johann Christoph Bach’s family lived can be seen at Kohlgasse 7.