Thursday 25 January 2024

Leipzig 300: Dunedin Consort celebrates Bach's appointment at St Thomas' Church with his music alongside that of his rivals

Dunedin Consort - Leipzig 300

When Bach took up his appointment at St Thomas' Church, Leipzig in 1723 one of his main duties was to write music for the Sunday services. He was in fact third choice for the post, but would dutifully (and perhaps gladly) labour for years, producing a weekly cantata as well as larger scale works such as Passions. Bach's previous appointment, as kapellmeister in Köthen, had not needed any sung church music as his employer, Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen had been a Calvinist. With the pressure of a weekly cantata and more, Bach's imagination seemed to take off. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that his cycles of cantatas for Leipzig helped change the course of Western classical music.

When the post at St Thomas' Church was being filled, both Telemann and Graupner were successful in the applications. Each composer came to Leipzig for an audition, performing two new cantatas at a service. Only one cantata by Telemann survives, and a disc from Ælbgut and Capella Jenensis on Accentus presents a fascinating survey of all the surviving cantatas [see my review]. But Leipzig town council hit a very modern problem, Telemann's existing employer increased his salary and Telemann stayed put, whilst Graupner's employer wouldn't release him. So it was down to number three on their list, Bach.

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort are celebrating (slightly late) the 300th anniversary of Bach's appointment with a concert which combines music by Telemann and Graupner along with cantatas from Bach's first cantata cycle for Leipzig. The programme includes Telemann’s Concerto for viola performed by Dunedin Consort’s principal viola John Crockatt, and  Bach’s Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt written for four violas!  

Joining the ensemble are soloists Julia Doyle (soprano), Helen Charlston (mezzo- soprano), Nicholas Mulroy (tenor), and Matthew Brook (baritone) with concerts at Perth Concert Hall on Wednesday 7 February, The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh on Thursday 8 February, and Wigmore Hall, London on Friday 9 February.

Full details from the Dunedin Consort's website.

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