Lüneburg 1700-1702

Bach left for Lüneburg on 15 March 1700, together with his school friend Georg Erdmann. According to an old regulation, children of poor parents could attend the Latin school here and pay for their costs by singing in the choir of the Michaeliskirche and -schule (St. Michael's choir and church). St. Michel's church is what you see the exterior of here. An image of the interior is also available.

Bach (who had a much-praised soprano voice before his voice broke) and Erdmann were singers of the Mettenchor (matin choir) here and were paid some money according to the surviving payroll. Bach's choice for St. Michel's can, apart from financial necessity, be seen as a conscious step towards an advanced musical career. The school had an impressive musical tradition and had a famous music library, to which the great cantor Friedrich Emanuel Praetorius (1623-1695) had added many important music manuscripts and prints. Altogether, the library contained 1102 titles of about 175 composers at the death of Praetorius. Possibly, the foundation was laid here for Bach's legendary musical erudition and certainly for his profound familiarity with the 17th century German choir tradition.

St. Michael's also housed the "Ritterakademie", a college for young nobles, at which French music and manners were cultivated. There were regular concerts by the famous French band maintained by the duke of nearby Celle. Current Bach scholarship tends to stress the importance of French influences on Bach during this period.

At the end of this short period in Lüneburg, Bach appears to be be an organ virtuoso of some renown. Since it is impossible that his skills in this respect came out of the blue, he must, apart from his earlier training in the family, have had plenty of opportunity for keyboard playing in Lüneburg. Nothing is known about this, but it is not unlikely that he took lessons from the older Georg Böhm who came from the same Thuringian background as Bach. Böhm was organist at the Johanniskirche, the organ of which is shown on the picture here. This organ was, incidentally, in bad shape. Böhm also wrote French-inspired keyboard music. Böhm's influence is obvious in Bach's earliest organ works.

At least as important for the young Bach was the influence of Johan Adam Reinken, the 78 year old organist of the Katharinenkirche in Hamburg and perhaps the former teacher of Böhm (who certainly was in Hamburg for some years). Bach went to Hamburg several times in order to get familiar with Reinken's work. In the summer vacation of 1701, for instance, Johann Sebastian walked to Hamburg (48 km to the North) to hear Reinken and others in Hamburg. Reinken, of Dutch origin, was of the school of the great 17th-century Dutch composer and Amsterdam city organist Jan Pietersz. Sweelinck, who was a major influence on the northern German organ scene. Sweelinck, in turn, was much influenced by the virtuoso variation technique of the English virginalists (Bull, Byrd, Gibbons, and others). All in all, then, Bach not only underwent French influence in Lüneburg but via Reinken also considerable Dutch, and indirectly, English influence.

The end of Bach's Lüneburg period is somewhat obscure. He left around Easter 1702, presumably in connection with his application as organist in Sangerhausen. The 17 year old Johann Sebastian was unanimously chosen by the city administration, but the decision was overruled by the duke of Saxony-Weissenfels, who arranged the appointment of a candidate of his own.

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