Bach at Advent

Bach at Advent 

In the Lutheran church, the periods of Advent and Lent were traditionally without music in  the services, the Sundays given to meditation and reflection in anticipation of Christ’s birth. Therefore Bach provided few cantatas at these times.  For him, the Advent “respite” enabled him to prepare adequately for the hectic Christmas and New Year season ahead when his creative powers were given full expression, congregations greeted with some of the most life-enhancing and uplifting music on Christmas morning and onwards into the New Year – the pure joy of Bach.

However we do have four cantatas that were composed for Advent.

  • Cantata BWV 61 “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” was provided for Advent Sunday 2 December 1714 at Weimar and repeated at Leipzig in 1723
  • Cantata BWV 62 “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” was provided for Advent Sunday 3 December 1723 at Leipzig
  • Cantata BWV 36 ” Schwingt freudig euch empor” is mostly derived from other secular works with the earliest (BWV 36c) dating from c.1725. Search our database for Secular Cantatas. BWV 36 was performed at Leipzig on 2 December 1731
  • Cantata BWV 132 “Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn” is for the 4th Sunday in Advent and dates from Bach’s tenure at Weimar. It is of particular interest this year, with any performances scheduled marking the work’s 300th anniversary – it was first performed on 22 December 1715. Scored for oboe, violins I and II, viola and basso continuo this cantata is for SATB soloists, has no chorus or chorale and the text is by Salomo Franck.
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News Update

News Update - updated on 23 November 2015Scroll down
The Festival is now over for another year. Thank you all so much for supporting us and we look forward to seeing you again next year.  We are now preparing for the London Bach Society’s 70th Anniversary, which will be celebrated in the Autumn 2016.  Keep in touch. All news and announcements will be posted here….why not become a Bach Friend and help us to make things happen? Scroll down to download a brochure.

Update: For those who missed the series the Festival Programme Book can be downloaded from the 2015 Bachfest page. Use the navigation to the right….

LBS 5th BACH SINGERS PRIZE 2015: The winner is mezzo soprano Anna Harvey.

ANNA HARVEY b&w by Clare Park©

About Anna

Born in Sheffield, Anna Harvey held a choral scholarship at Jesus College Cambridge and then went on to study singing with Elizabeth Ritchie at the Royal Academy of Music, graduating from the Opera Course in July 2015 and gaining the Alumni Development Award. While at the RAM, she was RAM/Kohn Foundation Bach Scholar and has recently made her debut at New York’s Lincoln Center with Japanese Bach conductor and scholar, Masaaki Suzuki.  Anna wins the German-British Forum/LBS Bach Friends Prize of £2,000.   There will be an interview with Anna published in the next edition of the LBS Journal “Bach Notes” (March 2016). Copies will be available to download from this website.

The remaining finalists were also awarded a Prize of £500 each donated by LBS Bach Friends. They are: -

  • Hiroshi Amako  tenor
  • Rosie Lomas soprano
  • Louise Wayman soprano

25th BACHFEST PROGRAMME  (31 October – 13 November 2015)

Click on the link to download your copy.   2015 BACHFEST PROGRAMME

Click on the link to download the latest edition of our Journal 2015 BACH NOTES AUTUMN EDITION

Click on the link to download a copy about becoming a Bach Friend BACH FRIEND More information can be found on the Bach Friends page use navigation to access

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A New Master of the Queen’s Music

Judith Weir is appointed Master of the Queen’s Music

Judith Weir, the new Master of the Queen's Music

Judith Weir, the new Master of the Queen’s Music

The appointment of the composer Judith Weir CBE as Master of the Queen’s Music in succession to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies is announced today. She is the first female to hold this historic position. Many congratulations and good wishes. For more information visit

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Trusteeship of the London Bach Society

Trusteeship of the London Bach Society
Current as at 13 October 2015

One of the objectives of the London Bach Society’s Strategic Plan for the development of the Society in the run-up to the 70th anniversary in November 2016 is the appointment of four new Trustees to complement the team, bringing the total serving to nine.

Full details are published in a pdf that can be downloaded from the “About Us” pages.  Scroll down to  Governance & Contact  (See Navigation). 

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Paul Steinitz Memorial

Paul Steinitz Memorial

We have received enquiries as to whether there is a public memorial to our founder, the Bach scholar and conductor Dr Paul Steinitz (1909-1988). 

Paul’s memorial is in the Cloister of London’s oldest church, the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew-the-Great, West Smithfield, London EC 1. Dr Steinitz was Director of Music at this historic church from 1949-1961 and many of the London Bach Society’s pioneering Bach concerts were presented there during his lifetime, including annual performances of Bach’s Matthäus-Passion.

The Memorial was unveiled by the Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor of London on 18 April 1991 at a concert of Bach Cantatas for the 1st and 2nd Sundays after Easter.

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Celebrating CPE Bach’s 300th on J S Bach’s Birthday

CPE 1545901_510229322424163_376855935_n


The latest edition of our journal Bach Notes is now published, in full colour!  Download a copy from the Bach Notes page

Celebrating Bach’s Birthday and CPE Bach’s 300th                                                 Friday 21 March 2014, 7.30pm,  St. John’s Smith Square.

Mahan Esfahani joins Jane Gordon (dir) and Steinitz Bach Players in a programme of solos and concertos

Mahan Esfahani plays Js and CPE Bach

Mahan Esfahani plays solos and concertos JS and CPE Bach

Jane Gordon guest leading Steinitz Bach Players

Jane Gordon guest directing Steinitz Bach Players

About Mahan’s recent recording of the Six Württemberg Sonatas by CPE Bach released by Hyperion, the author and music critic Jessica Duchen wrote…

“Mahan Esfahani here plays six fine early sonatas, delivered with glitter and glamour on the harpsichord.  His intelligence, flair and freshness make the music leap off the page into powerful life.  There’s a conviction here that demands recognition of the rebel Bach’s still underrated genius.”

Come and hear one of these magnificent Sonatas played by Mahan at the concert. CDs on sale too….how can you miss it!

Tickets: £28.00, £22.00, £18.00, £12. Booking open.Telephone 020 7222 1061 or online

For full programme  navigate to  Bachfest 2014 plus 

Special Note: LBSMembers/ Bach Friends can book their tickets direct with LBS  – Call 01883 717372 – and are invited for drinks.

  • To become an LBS  Bach Friend navigate to the Bach Friends page

Special: In 2014 St John’s Smith Square will mark the 300th anniversary of the laying of its first corner stone.

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LBS Bach Singers Prize…and the winner is

LBS 4th Bach Singers Prize

The winner of the LBS 4th Bach Singers Prize is Nick Pritchard tenor

More about the winner and other finalists will be posted on a special this space!

Fabulous evening….

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New Bach Manuscript found

Latest news from Bach-Archiv Leipzig

Bach-Archiv researcher  Dr. Peter Wollny has discovered a previously unknown manuscript by Johann Sebastian Bach in the Schütz House at Weissenfels. It is a copy of a Mass by the Italian composer Francesco Gasparini (1661-1727). This discovery offers significant insight into Bach’s involvement with older styles and helps us to understand the stylistic shift in his work during the last decade of his life, created around 1740.


Credit: Francesco Gasparini (1661-1727), Missa canonica, Part for oboe 1 / violin 1 in the hand of J. S. Bach / former church library Weißenfels, on deposit in the Heinrich-Schütz-Haus (Bach-Archiv Leipzig)

To follow the work of the Bach-Archiv at Leipzig visit The text on the website is also available in English and Japanese, as well as German.


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The early St.Matthew in retrospect

The famous Tryptich on the Altar at the Thomaskirche is loaned by Leipzig University. It was originally at the Paulinerkirche, now demolished.

The famous Tryptich on the Altar at the Thomaskirche is loaned by Leipzig University. It was originally at the Paulinerkirche, now demolished.

A brief reflection on 12-15 March, Rehearsals and Performance

It was the UK ‘live’ première of this early version, something we were able to establish finally just before the performance, and what a week it turned out to be! A wonderful opportunity to think afresh about a work we think we know well. So first of all our thanks to everyone who supported us: Arts Council ‘Grants for the Arts’, our donors, the John S Cohen Charitable Trust, a Community Award from Deutsche Bank AG and our audience who attended and participated. The performance was part of a project ‘About the St. Matthew Passion’ and there are further events to come later in the year including the first performance of a New Work inspired by Bach’s St. Matthew.

The early St. Matthew

We had acquired the music weeks beforehand and our guest director Anthony Robson spent many an hour sifting through the orchestral parts, checking where the differences between this version and the more familiar 1736 score were, questioning some of the notes and ornaments and noting what details would need special attention in rehearsals. The basic structure of the piece is the same. However, not only were some whole movements different  (or variants as we called them), but we had to be alert to notational dfferences within each movement too. This is unlike what we find between the two earlier versions of the St. John Passion (1724 and 1725)  where Bach confined his revisions to the removal of whole movements and replaced them with  others, either specially composed or from an earlier cantata (e.g. the use of material from cantata BWV 23 Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn” of 1723 to close the 1725 version.)

Eight singers were hand-picked for the project; a combination of the experienced consort singer and soloist. A separate Evangelist and Christus was cast (see note below). The vocal scores were sent out in January to each singer, including Evangelist & Christus. In addition to the choral parts  and solos, the members of the consort assumed the character parts as well, forming  two choirs of four voices each.

A separate Evangelist and Christus

In Bach’s day, these central characters were sung by the tenor and bass in Choir I from the musicians’ gallery above, out of sight, and to the backs of the congregation seated below in the main body of the church. So it would not matter so much from where these roles were sung (from Choir I or as a separate soloist).  Nowadays, we perform to the audience seated in front of us. Therefore there  is more direct contact and an inherent need for people listening to focus more clearly on the central roles: the Evangelist as he relates the narrative and on Christ, the centre of the Passion. Would JSB have minded?  Hopefully not.

Charles Daniels replaced an indisposed James Gilchrist as the Evangelist and Peter Harvey sang the part  of Christ.

With the musicians having studied and prepared their obbligatos afresh in advance, there was a distinct air of expectation and anticipation right from the first rehearsal in Studio 2 at The Warehouse. This atmosphere  lasted all week. It was a sort of grandiose “spot the difference” experience that raised many a smile -  and many a query too. For example, addressing the latter meant avoiding the temptation to impose ornaments contained in the more familiar 1736 score on this early version  so that we would keep faith with what was in the parts before us,  accepting that what we played were Bach’s ‘first’ thoughts and, as time would eventually reveal, that the St. Matthew was actually still  ‘work in progress’.  Therefore some familiar ornaments were missing most notably  in the alto aria (No 39) “Erbarme dich…”.  During some arias or recitatives, the validity or accuracy of various notes was questioned. Were they Joh. Christoph Farlau’s mis-copyings?  The note(s)  don’t fit the harmony! How should we resolve this?   We also included the recorders in the tenor recitative with chorale (No 19) in Part 1 that featured later in the 1736 version. They have been otherwise omitted, with the parts given to the flutes (flauti), but we put this down to Farlau thinking contemporarily in the 1750s when making his copy – recorders had gone out of fashion by then, so he simply left them out. At least that is our assessment.

We were offered a very good slot on BBC Radio 3′s In Tune, so having discussed  what we wanted to do with Producer David Papp, all was agreed and off we went to Broadcasting House.  Now,  ‘live’ broadcasts are a challenge, but also the zenith of the art; Presenter Sean Rafferty created an easy atmosphere so as pros we just got on with the job!  Simon Wall (tenor), with our magnificent continuo team of Andrew Skidmore and Alastair Ross, performed the aria in Part 2  “Geduld, geduld…” in which Bach’s first ‘thoughts’ differ significantly in this version from those we are used to hearing. He and Alastair also performed the simple  chorale that closes Part 1 “Jesum laβ ich nicht von mir..”, another substantial difference (Simon singing the melody of this four-part hymn). There was no chorale fantasia ‘O Mensch bewein deine Sünde gross…” to close the first half, the movement we missed most of all.   Anthony Robson and I were interviewed setting our project in the context of the London Bach Society’s exploratory performances over 60 years. Then it was back to rehearsals…. and finally to a performance at St. John’s Smith Square that really took off.

We were thrilled that the large audience sang their chorales so readily (an LBS tradition started in 1952); that the attention was rapt for Dai Miller’s magnificent playing on his lute of what is more commonly known as the ‘gamba’ solo; that the absent ornaments and dubious notation were spotted; that the bass soloist began Part 2 instead of the alto; that the violin solos allocated to each Orchestra were reversed and so on…..

NB: All potential future performers:   No attempt was even contemplated to amend the 1736 score and parts we already owned to fit the early version. Any  performance of it should be approached as a ‘clean sheet’  from the beginning, a new start.

Promoting ‘early’ versions of familiar and beloved  masterpieces like Bach’s  St. Matthew Passion are a risk. People like what they know and know what they like!  But this was a risk well worth taking. We now know a lot more about the genesis of the St. Matthew….and so do you!

My thanks to everyone concerned.

Margaret Steinitz Artistic Director, LBS

Consort of Voices

Grace Davidson, Alexandra Gibson, Jeremy Budd, Ben Davies;  Julie Cooper, Ruth Massey, Simon Wall, Eamonn Dougan

Steinitz Bach Players

Continuo: Andrew Skidmore, Andrew Durban, Alastair Ross

Orchestra I: Catherine Martin, Oliver Webber, Jan Schlapp, David Miller, Rachel Beckett, Christine Garratt (Flutes), James Eastaway, Catherine Latham (Oboes)

Orchestra II: Alison Bury, Jean Paterson, Annette Isserlis, Helen Verney Georgia Browne, Eva Caballero (Flutes), Cherry Forbes, Ruth Theobald (Oboes)

Orchestra & Concerts Manager: Philippa Brownsword








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800 Years Thomana – a choir celebrates

A Festival Year

To celebrate the 800th anniversary of the founding of a choir, a school and a church by city charter in 1212, the first phase of a year-long celebration took place in Leipzig from 19-25 March. This first phase celebrated the foundation and history of the Thomanerchor, now a world-renowned boys choir made famous by a certain Cantor who directed them and composed most of his church music for them – Johann Sebastian Bach, who served from 1723-1750, Soli Deo Gloria. The second celebratory events will be for the Thomasschule in September and the third for the Thomaskirche from 31 October (Reformationsfest) – 4 November (Mendelssohn Todestag). Interspersed is a range of events that includes the annual Leipzig Bachfest (7-17 June).  All this has been five years in the planning and preparation, with various books published, a stunning exhibition curated and  music, music, music that is central to this city’s being.  It is also a marvellous excuse for the Leipzigers to celebrate their greatest assets and ambassadors….and they did in large numbers last week.

The formal State and Civic celebration took place on Tuesday 20 March in the Thomaskirche in the presence of the new President of the Federal Republic of Germany Dr. Joachim Gauck, the Mayor of Leipzig Dr. Burkhard Jung and representatives from across the spectrum of German political and cultural life. I was delighted to be given an invitation and represented the London Bach Society, whose historic first appearance in Bach’s church took place in 1964, and repeated later in 1983 with Steinitz Bach Players as part of Martin Luther Year. LBS hosted the first ever visit to the UK by the Thomanerchor in 1994.

Bach’s music interspersed the various speeches made for this formally informal occasion, with these preceded by the majestic Prelude and Fugue in C major BWV 545 played by Thomasorganist Ulrich Böhme. Bedecked with a  special 800 Thomana scarf, we listened to the motet Singet dem Herrn, the chorale from Cantata BWV 140 and Dona Nobis Pacem from the Mass in B minor, complemented by erudite presentations from Professor Christoph Wolff (Bach-Archiv) and Pfarrer Christian Wolff (Thomaskirche) as well as the Leipzig Mayor and the Minister President of the Free State of Saxony. The church was packed and the atmosphere electric.  Following the formalities, hundreds of us walked in procession through the city streets to the site of the new campus Forum Thomanum about a mile away, in warm spring sunshine and where it was Open House.

The following day brought celebrations for hundreds of former Thomaner who gathered in the New Town Hall to be entertained by vocal ensemble amarcord, Die Prinzen, and of course the present Thomanerchor….but for me there was one very important task to perform on this, Bach’s 327th Birthday, and that was to light a candle in the Thomaskirche on behalf of the London Bach Society.

Later in the week, two Motettes (Services) enabled the Thomaner to invite other distinguished choirs to share their celebrations. This included the Choir of King’s College Cambridge whose solo Motette last Friday enabled the congregation to hear some gems from the treasury of English church music by William Byrd, Thomas Tallis and Henry Purcell, William Walton and Benjamin Britten. A first hearing of such pieces for the majority, the singing was of the highest order and the Motette very warmly received. It also heightened the anticipation for the four-choir Motette to follow on Saturdaywith Regensburg Domspatzen, Dresden Kreuzchor, Leipzig Thomanerchor and Choir of King’s College Cambridge coming together each to share some of their musical heritage. The repertory was drawn from across the spectrum of styles and periods, with the choirs each contributing a segment of specially selected works, from Victoria and Orlando di Lasso to former Thomaskantors Joh. Herrmann Schein and Joh. Sebastian Bach, from Duruflé and Petr Eben to Brahms and Frank Martin. King’s chose three contrasting works from the modern English church music repertory: Judith Weir’s Illuminare Jerusalem, Nicholas Maw’s One Foot in Eden and Giles Swayne’s setting of Magnificat. A packed Thomaskirche was held spellbound by the young people’s voices raised in song.  A wonderful and inspirational week.  Margaret Steinitz

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