ILC Letter To The Congregation - September 30th, 2021

Love Intentionally

Love Inclusively

Love Universally

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Love Everyone, always

Love Better!

Johann Sebastian Bach was a musical genius. But he could be difficult to work with. Some say he was even “incorrigible” and here is why.

In August, 1730, relations between Bach and his municipal employers in Leipzig reached breaking point. The council minutes merely report: ‘he had not conducted himself as he should.’ But behind that opaque generalization lay a long list of criticisms and alleged misdemeanors, different in detail but not in substance to those that had blighted relations between the young Bach and the Arnstadt Consistory 25 years earlier* and were now sticking in the Leipzig councillors’ collective craw.

Bach had recently dismissed a choirboy and sent him back to the country without apprising the governing Burgomaster of this fact. Then he himself had gone away without leave - ‘for which he must be reproached and admonished’, they noted - just as he had done twenty-five years earlier on his seminal four-month visit to Buxtehude in Lübeck. Not only was the cantor ‘doing nothing’ in the fulfillment of his teaching duties, nor giving obligatory singing lessons, but then, most vexatiously, ‘he is not even willing to explain himself,’ Burgomaster Steger declared. This was now the third time in his life that Bach flatly refused to work, the first time being in Arnstadt, the second in 1717 in Weimar after he had been passed over as Capellmeister. Meanwhile other complaints we mounting up: ‘a change would be necessary, for matters were bound to come to a head sooner or later, and he would have to acquiesce in the making of other arrangements.’ Even Burgomaster Gottfried Lange, Bach’s most vocal and longest-standing protector, had to admit, ‘everything was true that had been mentioned against the Cantor.’ So the council resolved to hit him where it was guaranteed to hurt: by cutting back is incidental income. They were exasperated by his non-compliance and taciturnity. In brief, they concluded, ‘The Cantor was incorrigible.’

*Arnstadt, Thuringia in 1705 where Bach, age 20, had been recently appointed organist in the new church in Arnstadt: Geyersbach, a bassoonist in the orchestra, alleged that Arnstadt organist Bach, unprovoked, drew his rapier on him first and gone after him with it: Geyersbach has holes in is vest to prove it. Five days later Bach is told he must produce a witness. Meanwhile he is admonished for calling Geyersbach a Zippel Fagottist. (Rapscallion of a bassoonist)

Article contributed by Dr. John Naples, ILC Organist

Source: Entire passage from Chapter 6, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Eliot Gardiner.


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