Leipzig: a Cosmopolitan Trade Centre

  • George B. Stauffer
Part of the Man & Music book series (MAMU)


Without question, our picture of music-making in Leipzig during the second half of the Baroque period is dominated by the figure of Johann Sebastian Bach. The portrait commonly painted by Bach scholars, however, is not entirely flattering: Bach’s heated disputes with the town council, his frequent and prolonged trips to Berlin and Dresden and his attempt to find employment elsewhere are raised as signs of Leipzig’s provincialism. Leipzig is often presented as the religiously conservative town that failed to provide Bach with an adequate outlet for his talent, much in the fashion of Salzburg with Mozart. While that picture furthers the nineteenth-century notion of Bach as a misunderstood artist, it does grave injustice to Leipzig. For by the time Bach arrived in 1723 Leipzig stood as an attractive, vital metropolis, a town that indeed made demands on its musicians but also offered them unusual financial security, greatly varied opportunities for composition, and admiring, knowledgeable auditors. Leipzig fostered such important figures as Johann Friedrich Fasch, Christoph Graupner, Melchior Hoffmann, Johann Georg Pisendel, Johann Adolph Scheibe, Nicolaus Adam Strungk and Georg Philipp Telemann. Moreover, it placed its illustrious Thomaskantors -Johann Kuhnau, Johann Schelle and Bach — before an international forum.


Seventeenth Century Market Place Town Hall Town Council Opera House 
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Bibliographical Note


  1. Of recent volumes, H. Fussier’s Leipzig (Leipzig, 1966) is the best general survey. W. Volk’s Leipzig (from the Historische Strassen und Plätze Heute series; Berlin, 2/1979) is strong on architectural history and contains an extensive bibliography.Google Scholar
  2. R. A. Gräbe’s Leipzig: ein Bildwerk zum 800jährigen Stadtjubiläum (Augsburg, 1965) is essentially a picture-album with a short but reliable introductory text. The ‘Leipzig’ entries by P. Young in Grove 6 and by R. Eller, G. Hempel and P. Rubhardt in MGG summarize the chief historical developments with regard to music. The ambitious three-volume bibliography compiled by H. Heilemann, Bibliographie zur Geschichte der Stadt Leipzig (Weimar, 1971–7), is, alas, heavily weighted toward Socialist concerns.Google Scholar
  3. Of pre-World War II material, L. WoerPs Illustrierter Führer durch Leipzig und Umgebung (Leipzig, 1914) is a wonderfully detailed guidebook; it is specially helpful to the modern visitor in search of historical Leipzig, since it presents descriptions and locations of sights now greatly altered, renamed or gone altogether. G. Wustmann’s publications Aus Leipzigs Vergangenheit (Leipzig, 1885–1909), Leipzig durch drei Jahrhunderte: ein Atlas zur Geschichte des Leipziger Stadtbildes (Leipzig, 1891) and Geschichte der Stadt Leipzig: Bilder und Studien (Leipzig, 1905) contain charming but nevertheless carefully researched essays on specialized topics (such as the search for Bach’s bones in the nineteenth century); they are seminal reading for anyone interested in Baroque Leipzig. Wustmann’s Quellen zur Geschichte Leipzigs (Leipzig, 1889–95) reproduces documents from the time, including the important chronicle kept by the Leipzig citizen Johann Salomon Riemer from 1714 to 1771.Google Scholar

Social, political and economic history

  1. Fine discussions of the social and political climate of eighteenth-century Germany can be found in W. H. Bruford’s classic Germany in the Eighteenth Century: the Social Background of the Literary Revival (Cambridge, 1935) and in G. Parry’s ‘Enlightened Government and its Critics in Eighteenth-Century Germany’, Historical Journal, vi (1963), 178–92. On Leipzig in particular, the standard economic history remains E. Kroker’s Handelsgeschichte der Stadt Leipzig: die Entwicklung des Leipziger Handels und der Leipziger Messen (Leipzig, 1925), which also contains detailed sketches of the town’s most important businessmen. L. Finscher’s ‘Central and Northern Germany at the Time of Johann Sebastian Bach: Political and Social Conditions’, Johann Sebastian Bach: Life, Times, Influence, ed. B. Schwendowius and W. Dömling (Eng. trans., Kassel, 1977), 9–22, compares Leipzig politics with those in Berlin and Dresden. Leipzig’s literary figures are described in G. Witkowski’s Geschichte des literarischen Lebens in Leipzig (Leipzig and Berlin, 1909). Detailed population figures are given in W. Volk’s Leipzig (mentioned above) and by Pevsner (see below).Google Scholar

The fairs and the book trade

  1. For the fairs, too, E. Kroker’s Handelsgeschichte der Stadt Leipzig (see above) is the most important source of information. P. Voss’s The Growth of the Leipzig Fair (Leipzig, 1933) is one of the few accounts in English. H. Kirsch’s Die Leipziger Messe (Leipzig, 1957) is Marxist-orientated, as is 800 Jahre Leipziger Messe (Leipzig, 1965).Google Scholar
  2. The fair catalogues are reproduced in Codex nundinarius Germaniae literatae (Halle, 1850–77). The music collections advertised in the catalogues are discussed and listed in A. Göhler, ‘Die Messkatalog im Dienste der musikalischen Geschichtsforschung’, SIMG, iii (1901–2), 294–376, and Verzeichnis der in den Frankfurter und Leipziger Messkatalog der Jahre 1564–1759 angezeigten Musikalien (Leipzig, 1902). K. J. Snyder’s Dieterich Buxtehude: Organist in Lübeck (New York, 1987), 307–11, gives an admirably clear summary of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century music-printing practices.Google Scholar
  3. J. H. Zedier and his Universal-Lexicon are discussed in G. Quedenbaum, Der Verleger und Buchhändler Johann Heinrich Zedier, 1706–1751 (Hildesheim and New York, 1977).Google Scholar
  4. H. von Hase’s ‘Breitkopfsche Textdrucke zu Leipziger Musikaufführungen zu Bachs Zeit’, BJb, x (1913), 69–127, discusses the texts Bernhard Christoph Breitkopf printed for Bach, Gerlach and others, whereas R. Elvers, ed., Breitkopf und Härtet 1719–1968: ein historischer Überblick zum Jubiläum (Wiesbaden, 1968) concentrates on the later development of Leipzig’s most famous music-publishing house.Google Scholar

Architecture and landscaped gardens

  1. The central study of Leipzig architecture is N. Pevsner’s Leipziger Barock: die Baukunst der Barockzeit in Leipzig (Dresden, 1928), which includes floor plans and photographs of a number of Baroque buildings that fell victim to World War II. H. Fussier, ed., Leipziger Bautradition (Leipzig, 1955) contains fine essays on Leipzig’s various building periods, including H. Bethe’s excellent ‘Leipzigs Barockbauten’ (pp. 125–50), which draws heavily on Pevsner but corrects various points. W. Volk’s Leipzig (see above), also based on Pevsner, presents a clear summary of Leipzig’s architectural styles. H. Fussier and H. Wichmann’s Das alte Rathaus zu Leipzig (Berlin, 1958) gives a wonderfully thorough description of thé genesis of the town hall, with 119 photographs of every nook and cranny. N. Powell’s From Baroque to Rococo: an Introduction to Austrian and German Architecture from 1580 to 1790 (London, 1959) is good on general trends but unfortunately says little about civic building.Google Scholar
  2. The definitive study of landscaped gardens in Saxony is still H. Koch’s Sächsische Gartenkunst (Berlin, 1910); chapter 4 (pp.37–183) treats Baroque gardens in great detail, including the most important sites in Dresden and Leipzig.Google Scholar

Music and musicians

  1. A. Schering’s Musikgeschichte Leipzigs, ii: Von 1650 bis 1723 (Leipzig, 1926) and Muskigeschichte Leipzigs, iii: Das Zeitalter Johann Sebastian Bachs und Johann Adam Hillers (Leipzig, 1941) remain the best general studies of music-making in Leipzig during the second half of the Baroque period, covering sacred and secular practices. On many points they are greatly in need of revision, however.Google Scholar
  2. On sacred music-making, A. Schering’s Johann Sebastian Bachs Leipziger Kirchenmusik (Leipzig, 1936) sets the standard, though it, too, requires revision in the light of recent findings. The interplay of music and liturgy is discussed in G. Stiller’s Johann Sebastian Bach und das Leipziger gottesdienstliche Leben seiner Zeit (Berlin and Kassel, 1970), reissued in translation as Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig (St Louis, 1984). W. Horn’s Die Dresdner Hofkirchenmusik 1720–1745 (Kassel, 1987) contains a detailed description (pp. 13–31) of the political intrigue surrounding the ‘Dresden situation’ and its effect on Lutheran practices in Saxony. B. Knick, ed., St. Thomas zu Leipzig, Schule und Chor (Wiesbaden, 1963) tells the story of the Thomaskirche and Thomasschule through pictures and selected documents. F. Ostarhild’s St. Nikolai zu Leipzig-(Leipzig, 1964) gives a comparable account for the Nikolaikirche.Google Scholar
  3. On secular music-making, G. F. Schmidt’s ‘Die älteste deutsche Oper in Leipzig am Ende des 17. und Anfang des 18. Jahrhunderts’, Festschrift zum 50. Geburtstag Adolf Sandberger (Munich, 1918), 209–57, surveys the Leipzig opera from 1693 to 1720 and presents an annotated list of the surviving textbooks. F. Reuter’s ‘Die Entwicklung der Leipziger, insbesondere italienischen Oper bis zum siebenjährigen Kriege’, ZMw, v (1922–3), 1–16, focusses on the visiting Italian troupes that performed after 1722. E. Preussner’s Die bürgerliche Musikkultur (Kassel, 2/1950) presents a fine general survey of music in middle-class German culture, while A. Schering’s ‘Die Leipziger Ratsmusik von 1650–1775’, AMw, iii (1921), 17–53, examines the music provided for the Leipzig town council. The most important account of the ‘Telemann’ collegium musicum under Bach’s direction is W. Neumann’s ‘Das Bachische Collegium Musicum’, BJb, xlvi (1960), 5–27, which sets forth many new documents and corrects Schering in many regards. Unfortunately, an up-to-date, full-length study of Leipzig collegium practices has yet to be written. Two stimulating discussions of Bach’s involvement with secular music-making in the 1730s and 1740s are R. L. Marshall’s ‘Bach the Progressive: Observations on his Later Works’, MQ lxii (1976), 313–57 (repr. in R. L. Marshall, The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach, New York, 1989, pp.23–58),Google Scholar
  4. G. Wolff, ‘Bach’s Leipzig Chamber Music’, EM, xiii (1985), 165–75.Google Scholar
  5. Helpful summaries of the lives and works of Schelle, Kuhnau, Bach, Pezel, Reiche and other Leipzig musicians can be found in Grove 6 and MGG. Kuhnau’s Der musicalische Quack-Salber has been reissued in modern reprint (Berlin, 1900) and still makes for lively reading. The Grove 6 ‘Bach’ entry has been reprinted as an independent paperback volume, The New Grove Bach Family, by C. Wolffand others (London, 1983); it includes a succinct survey of Bach’s life and achievements, as well as a complete work-list and bibliography.Google Scholar
  6. As might be expected, the literature on Bach is quite extensive. C. Wolffs Bach Bibliographie (Kassel, 1985) presents 413 pages of items, and that does not include the deluge of material from 1985, the Bach tercentennial year. In terms of biography, P. Spitta’s Johann Sebastian Bach (Leipzig, 1873–80; Eng. trans., 1884–99), though greatly outdated in many ways and incorrect on matters of chronology, nevertheless remains a monumental achievement. Its broad description of the music culture of central Germany in Bach’s time is specially admirable. M. Boyd’s Bach (London, 1983) is a useful summary and incorporates the findings of recent research. The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century documents pertaining to Bach’s life are presented in their entirety, in the original languages, in the Bach-Dokumente, ed. W. Neumann and H.-J. Schulze (Leipzig and Kassel, 1963–79). The Bach Reader, ed. H. T. David and A. Mendel (New York, rev. 2/1966), presents a fascinating selection of the more important documents, in English translation. Finally, Johann Sebastian Bach: Life, Time, Influence, ed. B. Schwendowius and W. Dömling (Eng. trans., Kassel, 1977), contains highly readable essays on Bach and on the art, music and politics of his time.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Granada Group and Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • George B. Stauffer

There are no affiliations available

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