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Opening of the Bachhaus on 27 May 1907: The Neue Bachgesellschaft e. V., an international society of Bach lovers based in Leipzig, established the first Bach museum in the town of Bachʼs birth. Joseph Joachim, Georg Bornemann and Georg Schumann stand at the door; the choir of the Church of St Thomas in Leipzig sings at the front, whilst the smartly dressed citizens wait to be admitted.
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Today, the Bachhaus is one of the most frequently visited music museums in Germany, with more than 250 original exhibits on the subject of Bachʼs life and music in an area covering 600 m2.
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In front of the Museum stands the Bach monument by the Stuttgart sculptor Adolf von Donndorf, unveiled in 1884. Joseph Joachim, Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Franz Liszt contributed towards the monument – and even Britainʼs Queen Victoria was among the donors.
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Access to the Bachhaus is via the foyer of the new museum building, which was opened in 2007. The architect Berthold Penkhues – a student of Frank O. Gehry – won the first prize in an architectural competition with the design in 2003.
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In the foyer, the portrait of Bach by the Berlin painter Johannes Heisig deserves particular attention. (“Dir, dir Jehova will ich singen”, 2004).
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The transition to the old part of the Bachhaus is marked by the original entrance door to Bachʼs apartment in the St Thomasʼs School in Leipzig. Bach, his family, pupils and guests walked through this door for 27 years.
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The entrance area of the old Bachhaus is overlooked by a golden statue of Bach: This is the preliminary study created in 1903 by the sculptor Carl Ludwig Seffner for the Leipzig Bach monument, which was erected outside the Church of St Thomas in Leipzig in 1908. Bach stands a little more freely here, and the neck ruff and the organ behind him are missing.
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The glass harmonica opposite this, dating from around 1775, was allegedly owned by the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher.
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The “trumpet-violin” is a real curiosity: This violin with built-in natural trumpet was built in around 1717. During his years in Cöthen, Bach had the opportunity to get to know instruments of this type, since there was “a pair of violins within which are trumpets” there.
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At Rittergasse 11, opposite the Bachhaus garden, there is a half-timbered house in which Bachʼs father Ambrosius lived from 1671 to 1674 after he had been appointed Director of Music in Eisenach and so moved with his family from Erfurt to Eisenach.
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There is a short concert in the instrument hall once an hour.
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This organ comes from Kleinschwabhausen near Weimar. The instrument was built in around 1650 and is thus the oldest Thuringian “positive organ” (a small, portable organ). It is possible that Bach had already played it when he was the court organist at Weimar from 1708 to 1717 – this is confirmed by his successor. Even then, the organist needed a “calcant” or organ treader to operate the bellows.
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The upper floor of the Bachhaus is reached via the garden and the special exhibition rooms. Here, Bachʼs musical career is explained. This pedestal tray with coins is a reminder of how much Bach earned in Cöthen. The largest of the coins is a thaler from the Electorate of Saxony dated 1715. Its front depicts the Polish King and Elector of Saxony, August the Strong, before whom Bach played many times.
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One of the Museum's most puzzling exhibits is the “Bach Goblet”, a drinking vessel owned by Johann Sebastian Bach. The letters and notes that make up the inscription play with the name “Bach” and the figures “14” and “41”, the so-called “Bach numbers”.
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A contemporary surgical book is a reminder of Bachʼs eye operation in March 1750 by the English surgeon John Taylor.
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The adjoining “Town Musiciansʼ Room” shows typical instruments played by the Eisenach musicians led by Bachʼs father Ambrosius, including a violin dating from 1575.
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Bach sang from the Eisenach Hymnal from 1673 when he went to school in Eisenach. Some of Bachʼs school materials are exhibited nearby.
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A semi-circular city panorama shows Eisenach as Bach would have seen it as a child. It incorporates display cases with archaeological findings and historical household goods – pieces of pottery, shoe leather and scraps of fabric, a candle holder, a drinking mug and a cowbell from 1688, all found in the Bachhaus garden.
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Bach once gave his second wife Anna Magdalena a songbird as a gift – this Thuringian birdcage from the 18th century reminds us of this.
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The furnishings in the residential rooms date from the period around 1700. The curtains and bed-coverings in the bedroom are in blue print, which was dyed with woad in the 17th century.
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The “Componir-Stube” (Composing Room) in the Bachhaus is furnished as one can imagine Bachʼs workroom to have been in St Thomasʼs School in Leipzig, which was demolished in 1902.
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The books exhibited here are a reconstruction of Bachʼs “theological library”, which is known precisely from the inventory of his estate. This records 52 titles in 81 volumes, including this “Guide to the Holy Scriptures” by Heinrich Bünting dating from 1591.
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The kitchen is the oldest room in the historical Bachhaus, built in 1456. From here, visitors pass via a corridor and staircase to the modern part of the Museum.
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In the new part of the Museum, three themes are grouped around the “Walkable Composition” in the centre.
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Visitors can immerse themselves completely in Bachʼs music in the suspended “bubble chairs” created by the Finnish designer Eero Aarnio.
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Under the title “How We See Bach”, the Bach iconography is explained. The exhibition ranges from contemporary, sometimes dubious portraits …
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… through the earliest Bach copperplate engravings from the 18th century …
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… to the story of the excavation of Bachʼs remains and the reconstruction of what Bach looked like using his skull – this was the first three-dimensional facial reconstruction in the history of medicine.
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On the opposite side, we have “What We Know About Bach” – Bach research. At a research table, visitors can compare and read manuscripts or look at websites …
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… or follow the journey of a Bach autograph to its printing and appearance in the New Bach Edition. The exhibit is the continuo part of the cantata “Alles nur nach Gottes Willen” (BWV 72). The shared manuscript was produced in 1726 by Johann Sebastian Bach, his second wife Anna Magdalena Bach and Bachʼs pupil and nephew Johann Heinrich Bach.
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The section on “How We Play Bach” is all about performance practice. It tells the story from the rediscovery of Bachʼs music in the19th century and revival of the St Matthew Passion under Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy in the Sing-Akademie in Berlin …
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… to the renewed focus on historical playing styles and the instruments of the Baroque era through the concept of “historical performance” in the 20th century.
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Visitors can compare very different recordings of one and the same Bach cantata, “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” (BWV 61), on a mixer unit.
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The central point of the new building is the “Walkable Composition”. On its outer side, Bachʼs techniques and the most important groups of works are presented using illustrative compositions in 14 audio samples.
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Inside, visitors are transported through spatial illusions into the heart of four Bach performances: an organ recital in Mühlhausen and Dörna …
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… the recording of a rehearsal of the St Thomasʼs Choir under its Cantor Georg Christoph Biller in the Old Town Hall in Leipzig …
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… a danced version of the “Art of Fugue” performed by pretty ugly tanz köln, …
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… and a performance of the St Matthew Passion by the Echo Klassik prize-winner Christoph Spering.
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Bach comics and a large organ puzzle are available in a childrenʼs corner. The puzzle shows the organ in Arnstadt built by Johann Friedrich Wender, where Bach obtained his first appointment as an organist when he was 18 years old.
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After a tour of the Museum, visitors can relax in the Museumʼs own “Café Kantate”, or make themselves at home in the Bachhaus garden – like these students from the “Johann Sebastian Bach” music school in Eisenach.