Thomanerchor 800th Celebrations of 2012
In March 2012, one of the world’s most important musical institutions celebrated the 800th anniversary of its foundation – Leipzig’s Thomanerchor (St. Thomas Boys Choir). During this year the London Bach Society featured the choir, its history, how it operates, the important part the Thomanerchor will play at Leipzig and through its numerous national and international tours in future.
Here is a current news item published in The Washington Post
The Bach connection
Although the choir’s foundation took place several centuries beforehand the one composer with whom the choir is inextricably bound up is Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed the lion’s share of his church music during his tenure at Leipzig and directed the Thomanerchor from 1723-1750. Today Bach’s music remains central to the choir’s repertoire, complemented by works in a broader range of styles from pre-renaissance to the present day. This includes music composed by past Cantors, many of whom have brought great distinction to the position, for example Johann Herrmann Schein and Johann Kuhnau. Those following on from Bach have also made significant contributions to the survival and prosperity of the Lutheran tradition, some in post during the eras of Nazism and Communism that saw extreme politics influencing every facet of German life. Among these are Johann Adam Hiller and Moritz Hauptmann, and in the last century Karl Straube, Günter Ramin, Kurt Thomas and Erhard Mauersberger. Hauptmann served in the 19th century and was a founder-member with the composer Robert Schumann of the 1850 Bach Gesellschaft that was set up to publish a complete edition of Bach’s works. Erhard Mauersberger was Cantor at Leipzig while his brother Rudolf occupied the post of Kreuzkantor at Dresden, a unique situation and a significant one in Saxony’s musical life during the time of the German Democratic Republic.
Today’s Leipzig Cantor is Professor Georg Christoph Biller (pictured) who has occupied the post since 1992 and who is the 16th to be appointed after Bach. Professor Biller is also the first Cantor to be appointed after German unification. He is a former member of the choir and is making a significant contribution to the development of the choir’s and the city’s musical traditions. Professor Biller works closely with composers and actively promotes innovative educational and community work – Forum Thomanum – in preparation for the choir’s 800th anniversary and the era to come.
The Cantor at Leipzig today
Contrary to popular belief the Cantor is appointed by the city of Leipzig, not by the church, and that remains the procedure today. When Bach took up his duties in 1723 after a rigorous assessment of his suitability to the post, he was required to provide the music for the weekly services at the four main Leipzig churches, the two most important being the Thomaskirche and the Nikolaikirche. The present cantor does not have to compose a cantata each week nor oversee the music at churches other than at the Thomaskirche, but the punishing schedule the Thomanerchor is expected to carry out annually plus his other musical positions in the city, for example as one of the Artistic Directors of the Leipzig Bachfest, keeps the present holder very busy indeed.
In March 2011, the choir travelled to Hong Kong with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra to appear at the famous Hong Kong Festival. So the Cantor not only had to prepare the choir for the tour and direct the concerts, but also for the annual performances of the Bach Passions following after their return and for their appearances at the annual Leipzig Bachfest in June. In between are the weekly services containing a substantial Bach cantata and a motet or two to be rehearsed plus recitals and tours within Germany. It is a very demanding life.
800th Jubilee celebrated around Bach’s birthday
The 2012 official 800th Jubilee celebrations took place around Bach’s birthday (21 March) attended by the State President Joachim Gauck…and also by the present writer who was a guest of the Thomanerchor and the City of Leipzig – tremendous! Prior to that the Thomanerchor and Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra directed by Professor Biller undertook a triumphant tour to South Korea, Japan and finally to the UK (Manchester, Birmingham and London – Royal Academy of Music) receiving a five star review in the Guardian. 2012 GUARDIAN REVIEW
Sunday 11 March, Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, Marylebone Road London NW1 at 12 noon
The Thomanerchor received the RAM/Kohn Foundation Bach Prize from HRH The Duchess of Gloucester, President of the Royal Academy of Music, and gave a recital directed by Professor Biller with the students of the Royal Academy of Music.
Membership of the Thomanerchor
After audition and assessment the boys enter the choir from the age of 9 and for the next nine years will not only learn a vast amount of music but also how to balance rehearsals, concerts and tours with essential school work. They each attend the Thomasschule, also celebrating its 800th anniversary in 2012. When a Thomaner reaches the age of 18, he leaves the choir to move into the next stage of his life. Perhaps surprisingly most do not choose music for a career, but, after University and continuing study, opt for the Law, Languages or Medicine for example. However, singing always remains an important part of their lives and they often form groups to sing for fun or in local concerts. They are also certain to have forged lifelong friendships, something apparant at the special Reunion organised as part of the 800th anniversary. Here are some former members of the choir who have made their mark in music…
Carl Philipp Emanual Bach, Cantors Günter Ramin, Karl Richter and Erhard Mauersberger, the conductor Hanns-Martin Schneidt later a music director of the Regensberg Domspatzen, the tenor Christoph Genz and vocal group amarcord , and the German Pop Group Die Prinzen. One wonders who will emerge as the next superstars… ?
The Thomana 800 celebrations complete
After their departure from London last March, the Thomanerchor returned to Leipzig and to their duties in the City. The Passiontide performances were their usual sell-out, the Thomana 800th a special attraction this year. Weekly cantata services following were interspersed with detailed preparations for appearances at the Leipzig Bachfest (June), performances of specially commissioned pieces, the celebratory events for the Thomasschule (September) and Thomaskirche (October/November). As I write, preparations will be well underway for the traditional three performances of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Parts 1-3 and Part 6, given in the Thomaskirche on 14,15, and 16 December, the numerous carols services and recitals, and the special services held over Christmas and New Year. This they can do having enjoyed a momentous year of celebration, looking forward to a future for all good things… a year this generation of the choir will never forget. To Professor Biller, Dr. Stefan Altner and the Thomanerchor, congratulations dear friends! © 2012 Margaret Steinitz
BACH NOTES MARCH 2012 a special issue for the Thomana 800th