Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bach in Weimar:
the Bach-Haus petition

by Robert L. Marshall

The best source for information about the proposal to create a Bach memorial on the site of his original home can be found at:
It shows various options, possibilities, and plans, as well as what is known about the history of the site.

What the petition tries to do is put some pressure on the government to put pressure on the owners of the lot, an international hotel holding company which has been completely unresponsive to the various proposals. They do own the ground—the property—but have no immediate plans for building there—anything at all. That's why it remains a parking lot. 

Bach in Weimar [?]
attr. J. E. Rentsch, the elder (d. 1723)
There seems to be, as well, passive resistance—perhaps even more than that—on the part of various Weimar cultural organizations. Since the days of the German Democratic Republic, the city's cultural identity has been mostly associated with Goethe and Schiller. The decision, in old East Germany, appears to have been to divide cultural heritage by municipality: Leipzig would be the Bach city; in Eisenach, Luther would share the stage with Bach; Weimar would be for the literary classics—Goethe, Schiller, Herder, and with nods to the Bauhaus school (1919–25) and to Liszt, who lived there from 1848 to 1861.

The plans as to exactly what to do on the proposed Bach-Haus site—the vacant lot—are still up in the air: nobody wants to spend money for architects, detailed planning, and fundraising unless and until there is more legal clarity. The general goal is to have a memorial to Bach there where he lived for nine years and where his oldest children were born. These include both Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel, arguably the most important Weimar-born composer.

Weimar in the 18th century.
That memorial at the precise place where Bach's house stood would, at the very least, sensitively fill a really ugly hole in a continuous street front. Knowledge of the Bach-Haus seems inadequate to create a real replica. But the exterior could certainly be quite true to the original. The interior would be a museum of sorts, and there are also suggestions that it include a venue for music-making and interactive musical activities.

Robert L. Marshall is Louis, Frances, and Jeffrey Sachar Professor of Music, emeritus, at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He is author of the award-winning The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach: The Sources, the Style, the Significance (Schirmer Books, 1989) and, most recently, editor with Robert Curry and David Gable of Variations on the Canon: Essays on Music from Bach to Boulez in Honor of Charles Rosen on His Eightieth Birthday (University of Rochester Press, 2008).

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