Posts Tagged ‘Arnstadt’

Horatio Clare: Something of his Art

December 26, 2018

5142oySDKtL._AC_US218_This is a lovely little book, and beautifully produced, too.

Years ago, I learned that the young Johann Sebastian Bach had taken leave of absence from his post as organist in Arnstadt to go to Lübeck in northern Germany to see the famous organist and composer Buxtehude, who worked at the Marienkirche in that city. Bach stayed way for longer than he had permission to do, and must have learned much from the old composer; I’m useless in terms of understanding music, but those who know recognise his influence on my hero’s work.

What astonished me then, and still does, was that Bach made the 230 mile journey on foot, in both directions. In a sense that’s obvious, as he was not wealthy enough to travel by horse, but it shows the devotion to his art, and the determination to pursue it to the limits.

A couple of years ago the writer of the book, accompanied by a BBC sound recordist and a producer, covered some sections of the walk, capturing the sounds and atmosphere for a series of broadcasts (which I have yet to listen to). To me, it seems weird that they only did selected bits of the journey, but if they had done it all, it would still have been edited for broadcasting, I suppose. And yet the book captured the essence of the journey: some of the key places, the terrain, landscape, sounds that Bach would have encountered, along with reflections on the man and the stage in his life when he made the journey, at the age of twenty or so; a relaxing and thoughtful hundred pages or so.

My personal love of Bach’s music took me to Arnstadt and other places five years or so ago, and then last year I also managed to spend a few days in Lübeck, so I can connect both ends of the journey at least; were I younger I might consider the entire walk.

My travels: L is for Lübeck

September 22, 2017

I’ve wanted to go to this northern German city for a long time, mainly to see the Marienkirche, because that’s where Dietrich Buxtehude was organist in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries; my hero, the young J S Bach, walked the two hundred miles from Arnstadt in Thuringia to hear the celebrated organist and learn from him. Having absented himself from his post for several months, Bach then walked back to work… apparently he could have stayed, and inherited the post of organist, at the traditional price of marrying the incumbent’s daughter (!), but Bach didn’t fancy Miss Buxtehude who, shall we say kindly was no beauty and quite a bit older than him.

The Marienkirche is truly stunning. First of all, it’s vast – the largest brick Gothic church in the world, a helpful verger told me (but wrong, as I surmised, the title going to St Mary’s in Gdansk, which I also know, and thought was bigger) – and it’s beautiful inside and out. It took me many years of church-visiting to realise that in Western Europe, churches and cathedrals are stone because there is stone, whereas there isn’t further east, so when in mediaeval times the citizens became jealous of what the French and English were building, they persuaded the architects to come and help them create similar wonders in red brick. There is a Backsteingothik route all the way across northern and eastern Europe, ranging from tiny village churches to huge basilicas and cathedrals, and the more I’ve seen, the more astonished I’ve been.

The RAF fire-bombed Lübeck in 1942, and the Marienkirche burned. The bells fell from their tower and remain smashed where they fell as a memorial to the wanton destruction; a small plaque notes that the smaller one had rung for over 430 years, the larger for some 270. The church maintains links with Coventry Cathedral. But, as the verger explained, the dust and grime was burned off the walls which had been whitewashed at the time of the Reformation, revealing wonderful mediaeval painting and decoration.

More about the Reformation became clearer to me in this quincentennial year as I explored this and other of Lübeck’s churches: the altar is relatively unimportant, and the glorious centrepieces of the churches are the pulpits and the choir-lofts, because for the reformers, the sermons expounding the word of God and the hymns singing his praises were at the heart of everything. The choir-loft and organ in the Aegidienkirche (St Giles’), the smallest of Lübeck’s churches, left me speechless; the marvellous altar-pieces and gilded carvings there and in other churches made me realise just how much art we must have lost here in England in that orgy of state-sponsored vandalism that was the Reformation here…

There’s much else that is wonderful about this city, small enough to be walked around, surrounded by water, its two mediaeval gates, its astonishing town-hall, the numerous tiny alleys with courtyards and streets of houses almost hidden from view… and it’s also the home of marzipan. Which was duly sampled and enjoyed.

My travels: A for Arnstadt

January 4, 2017

Realising that I spend quite a lot of space in this blog writing about other people’s travels, it occurred to me to write about some of my own. I shall be interested in my readers’ responses.

I stayed in Arnstadt for a few days back in 2014 when I finally got around – thirty years after I’d promised myself the trip – to doing my tour of the places in the life of my favourite composer, J S Bach. Arnstadt, in Thuringia, was where as a young man he got his first post as organist.

Thuringia was a revelation: it was like going back in a time machine. So many of the towns were full of centuries-old houses, the ‘fachwerkhaus’ style, which we call wattle-and-daub, and of which some examples remain in older towns and cities in England such as York or Shrewsbury. But in this part of what used to be the DDR, they are everywhere.

You could see that Arnstadt and other places like it hadn’t caught up with the West, even more than twenty years after the re-unification of Germany: there were crumbling buildings, pavements and infrastructure everywhere, alongside new-build and modernisation. Roads could be dreadful, and often long stretches were completely closed in both directions for renovation. It felt poor compared with what I was used to in western Germany. Bargain-basement supermarkets abounded: my favourite, with its non-PC reference to Scottish parsimoniousness, was called ‘McPfennig’. People were friendly and helpful; it was a lot more ‘white’ than other regions of Germany, and there was quite a lot of right-wing political activity in evidence.

The flat I rented was in a building that had been a monastery in pre-Reformation times; a plaque noted that Martin Luther had stayed twice in the monastery (one of the town’s churches proudly marked the spot where he had preached from when he was in the town) and the coloured glass in the main house door included the date 1685 – the year my hero Bach was born… You could walk around the remains of the town walls, visit the church where he was organist, and a museum dedicated to him in the castle. There was a rather raunchy-looking statue of him as a young man in the town square. And you could walk the two miles to the small village of Dornheim to visit the church where he married his first wife Maria Barbara (except it was closed while I was there).

It was a hectic holiday as I strove to take in as many sites as I could in ten days, but as I drove around I noticed how beautiful the Thuringian countryside was, too, and realised that if it weren’t so far from England, I could have a really good walking holiday there too…

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