A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Johann Sebastian Bach's Germany

Part 3 - Hamburg

18 April 2014

Bach and Hamburg

While Johann Sebastian Bach was a student in Lüneburg it is likely that he studied organ with Georg Böhm at the Johanniskirche (Church of St. John).  Bach also made trips by foot to Hamburg (about 50 km/32 mi from Lüneburg) to hear Johann Adam Reincken, considered at the time to be the greatest organist and keyboard composer in Northern Germany.


Towns and cities in which J.S. Bach had lived or had visited, 1685-1702


The Dutch-German Reincken (1643–1722) was organist at the Katharinenkirche (St. Katharine's Church) in Hamburg, and also a friend of the great organist Dieterich Buxtehude, who lived in Lübeck (about 65 km/42 mi from Hamburg).  It is possible that Bach met Buxtehude at Reincken’s house.  Both composers came to have a great influence on the young Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach was a enthusiastic student who made many sacrifices for his art.  His son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach related the following story:


Since he made several trips to hear this master, it happened one day, since he stayed longer in Hamburg than the state of his purse permitted, that on his way home to Lüneburg he had only a couple of schillings in his pocket. He had not got half way home yet when he developed a keen appetite, and accordingly went into an inn, where the savory odors from the kitchen only made the state in which he found himself ten times more painful. In the midst of his sad meditations on this subject, he heard the grinding noise of a window opening and saw a pair of herring heads thrown out onto the rubbish pile. Since he was a true Thuringian, the sight of these heads made his mouth begin to water, and he lost not a second in taking possession of them. And lo and behold! he had hardly started to tear them apart when he found a Danish ducat hidden in each head. This find enabled him not only to add a portion of roast meat to his meal but also at the first opportunity to make another pilgrimage, in greater comfort, to Mr. Reinecke [Reincken] in Hamburg.



There is an account concerning one later occasion in which Reincken and Bach met, around 1720.  Bach applied for a position in Hamburg when the St Jacobi organist died, but later, for some reason, withdrew his application.  While there, Bach improvised a fantasia on the Lutheran chorale “An Wasserflüssen Babylon [By the Rivers of Babylon],” and in so doing, paid homage to Reincken's fantasia on the same chorale tune.  The aged Reincken exclaimed: "I thought that this art was dead, but I see that it lives in you."  Bach also performed at that time the organ fugue BWV 542, the theme of which is based on a Dutch popular tune (“Ik ben gegroet van… [I am spoken of ]”), in obvious recognition of Reincken's Dutch origin.


The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg

The Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg [the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg] was, as it remains today, a central hub in Northern Europe and presented many opportunities for Bach.  Although Bach never lived there, his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach would later settle in Hamburg.

Hamburg’s fancy title, still used today, derives from its historic membership in the Hanseatic League, known as the Hanse or Hansa.  This trading alliance in northern Europe, lasting from the 13th to the 17th centuries, was a confederation of merchant guilds and their towns — including Malmö, London, Antwerp, Groningen, Riga, Gdansk-Danzig, Stockholm, and Hamburg — that traded along the coast of Northern Europe.  (The name of the airline Lufthansa preserves this concept.)  The word “free” in the city’s title refers to it being an imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire, which dissolved in 1806.  But, as we know, some names just tend to stick.

Today Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany with a population of1.8 million (the Metropolitan Region includes more than 5 million), and the second largest port in Europe.


The Hamburger Rathaus [town hall] is a Neo-Renaissance building finished in 1897. The tower is 112 meters (367 ft) high. Its façade depicts the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, since Hamburg was, as a Free Imperial City, under the sovereignty of the emperor.


A poem by Heinrich Heine graces one of the monuments on the Rathaus Markt:

Ich habe nie grossen

Werth gelegt auf

Dichter-Ruhm, und

ob man meine Lieder

preiset oder Tadelt,

es kümmert mich


aber ein Schwert

sollt ihr mir auf

den Sarg legen;

denn ich war ein

braver Soldat im


der Menschheit.


-- Reisebilder, 1829

I have never placed a

great value on

poet-fame, and

if one praised or

criticized my songs,

it grieved me


But with a sword

should you lay

me in a coffin,

because I was a

worthy soldier in

the war of liberation

of mankind.


(my translation)



The Heine Denkmal in Hamburg


Of the five main Lutheran churches (Hauptkirchen) found in Hamburg during Bach’s time, three still exist.

 The Gothic Revival St.-Nikolai-Kirche [St. Nicholas Church] now lies in ruins, with its spire serving as a memorial.  Likewise, the Hauptkirche St. Petri [St. Peter's Church], begun in 1189, has been destroyed.  In about 1310, the cathedral was rebuilt in a Gothic style and finished around 1418.  It fell into decay, had been used by Napoleon’s soldiers as a horse stable, and eventually was destroyed by a fire in 1842.  The St. Peter's portal, however, was saved and was built into the Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte (called the Hamburg Museum since 2005).

 Hauptkirche St. Katharinen [St. Katherine's Church] is the second oldest building in the city.  It is located on an island within the original medieval city boundaries, opposite the historic harbor area on the Elbe river.


Detail of a painting of Hamburg by Leopoldus Primus, ca. 1700. St. Katherine's Church is visible in the background; Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte

 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}


Three historically significant organists served at St. Katherine's:  1) Philipp Nicolai (1556–1608) who composed two famous hymns: "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" and "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern", each of which inspired a Bach chorale cantata (BWV 1 and BWV 140 respectively), 2) Heinrich Scheidemann (ca. 1595–1663), an important forerunner of Dieterich Buxtehude, and as mentioned earlier, 3) Johann Adam Reincken.

 Reincken was originally Scheidemann's assistant, succeeding him when the older composer died in 1663.  In 1665 he married one of Scheidemann's daughters, and remained at St. Katharine's until his death in 1722.

 Hauptkirche St. Jacobi [St. James' Church] became a Lutheran church in 1529.  Its 1693 Arp Schnitger organ, the largest baroque organ in Northern Europe, has 60 registers and around 4,000 pipes.



CPE Bach

 The Hauptkirche Sankt Michaelis [St. Michael's Church] is the largest church in Hamburg.  The spire provides an excellent view over the city.  It was at this church that Johann Sebastian Bach’s fifth child and second surviving son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788), served as Kapellmeister. 



In the front of St. Michael's Church in Hamburg is a sculpture of the archangel Michael, spear in hand, vanquishing the devil.



After serving Frederick the Great of Prussia between 1738 and1768 [watch for the upcoming blog entry on Potsdam], in 1768 CPE Bach succeeded his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann as director of music at Hamburg.  At the same time he was given the honorary title of court composer for Frederick's sister, Princess Anna Amalia.  He would remain at this position until his death in 1788.


Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788) was Johann Sebastian Bach’s fifth child and second surviving son, and served as Kapellmeister of St. Michael's Church in Hamburg.

He was born 300 years ago this year, on 8 March 1714.

(photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}


The job required a constant production of music for Protestant church services at the Michaeliskirche (Church of St. Michael) and elsewhere in Hamburg.  As Kantor of the Lateinschule, CPE Bach had to provide music for about 200 performances each year at five churches.

He began producing a number of oratorios.  In fact, he wrote twenty-one settings of the Passion within twenty years, in addition to cantatas, litanies, motets, and other liturgical pieces.

 In 1744 he married Johanna Maria Dannemannand.  Only three of their children survived to adulthood.  The youngest, Johann Sebastian "the Younger" (1748–78) was a painter and died in his late twenties in Italy.  Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was buried in the crypt at the Michaeliskirche in Hamburg.

 This year will celebrate the 300th birthday of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. All six German Bach cities in which he lived — Hamburg, Potsdam, Berlin, Frankfurt an der Oder, Leipzig and Weimar — will host concerts and a variety of events in honor of this anniversary.

 There have been many other composers born or have lived in Hamburg, most notably Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847 — discussed under “Leipzig” in this entry), and Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), who will be discussed below.

 Hamburg is also famous for many musical institutions , including the Hamburg State Opera, Philharmoniker Hamburg, the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the Hamburger Symphoniker.  Currently the main concert venue is the Laeiszhalle, Musikhalle Hamburg, but this will be replaced by the new Elbphilharmonie (Elbe Philharmonic Hall) by 2015.


The Elbphilharmonie, to be completed in 2015

(photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) {{PD}}


The Elbphilharmonie ("Elphi") will be part of the HafenCity, Europe's largest inner-city development, housing 10,000 inhabitants and 15,000 workers, and includes designs by Rem Koolhaas, Renzo Piano, and the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron.  Teachers as famous György Ligeti and Alfred Schnittke have taught at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg.



The Brahms Museum

 The opening hours of the “Johannes-Brahms-Gesellschaft Internationale Vereinigung E.V. [the Brahms Museum]” are considerably fewer than the letters of its name:  Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 to 1.  I did not want to miss my chance to see it.

 I walked the few short blocks from The Hauptkirche Sankt Michaelis to the Brahms museum at 39 Peterstrasse and was greeted at the door by a kind, gray-haired lady with an artsy mien.  She reminded me of various art or music teachers that I studied under years ago:  fussy, persnickety, but sold out to art and as a student I had to learn how to get on the good side of them.  It is a small museum on two floors of a town house (really, just two rooms) — Brahms’s original birth house was destroyed in WWII.


The “Johannes-Brahms-Gesellschaft Internationale Vereinigung E.V. [the Brahms Museum]” in Hamburg

There are various photos, drawings, documents, first-edition scores, concert programs, the famous bust of Brahms in his grossbärtig [big bearded] glory, and his Totenmaske (a plaster casting of his face when he died on 3 April 1897).  The docent was eager to share with me (in English and German) many interesting details at the museum.  I shared with her a story I had read once about Brahms’ housekeeping habits, and how a friend of his came to visit and saw half-eaten food all over, cigar butts, and a general mess throughout the apartment.  As Brahms was not home, he wrote “Schwein” in the dust on the piano lid.  She laughed delightedly.


A bust of Johannes-Brahms


Before leaving I bought a couple of postcards, one with the famous caricature of Brahms at the keyboard, cigar protruding from his big beard (“Brahms am Flügel” by Willy von Beckerath, 1911; by the way, Flügel, German for wing, indicates the shape of what we call a grand piano), the other with a drawing of Brahms at the age of 20 (pre-beard, with long, flowing hair, by J.B. Laurens, 1853), and a canvas bag that says “Johannes Brahms Museum Hamburg” with a cartoon silhouette of Brahms, in black, cigar in mouth, and, in red, a little hedgehog at his feet.  This would symbolize his favorite haunt, “Zum Igel [At the Hedgehog].”


St. Pauli-Landungsbrücken

 I next wandered over to the St. Pauli-Landungsbrücken (the long wharf along the harbor) for the for a chance to see the city from the water.  I was directed to the “M.S. Harmonie” and as I approached the ship the whistles were blowing and the engines revving with the water roiling astern. A Segler (sailor) was raising the several gang planks, and I ran, reaching him as he was raising one of the last ones, showing him my ticket and saying, “Bitte, Kann ich . . . ?” to which he replied sternly, “Nein.”  The gang plank was still lowered; I easily could have stepped aboard, but his demeanor was cold and harsh.  I really didn’t want to wait around the harbor for another hour and to take the bus somewhere else and back again would waste time.  At first, Mir den Wind aus den Segeln nehmen. (The wind was taken out of my sails — literally.) 

 Just then, two women came up, said something the guy in German, he smiled and opened the chain, and allowed the women to board.  Boldly, I walked onboard after the two women, handing the Segler my ticket.

 Onboard ship, I stopped the women and ask them (they spoke a little English — I probably could not have nuanced the question in German) — what did they say to gain the privilege of boarding when I had been refused?  Mind you, these were not young girls — one seemed old enough to be the worker’s mother.  They said they simply told him that they had a plane to catch, and that this was their last chance to take the tour.  Of course.  How could a German argue with such pragmatism?  Perhaps there was also a tinge of the German reverence for Mutterliebe, the mother who cares for “Die Drei K” –Küche, Kinder, und Kirche.  I had offered him neither logic nor femininity.  Regardless, I gained access to the Freihafen (free port) because of these two strategically-placed women.

 Once inside the ship (today being a gray day, it was too cold and windy to stay on deck for long), I had a 360 degree view of the harbor through continuous windows.  The harbor, a 78-square kilometer area where the Alster meets the Elbe, is the largest in Germany and the second-largest in Europe.  There are berths for more than 500 ships, which reach the Elbe through the North Sea.


Hamburg Freihafen



There was a profusion of enormous container ships, barges, tugboats, piers, cranes, and the occasional pleasure-craft, severely out-numbered and out-sized by the ships.  I wondered what this harbor looked like in the 12th century, when it began operating?  In fact, I had a lot of time to wonder about things, as the guide (the same guy who told me I couldn’t board — how many other duties does he perform?) spoke in German through a noisy P.A. system, as if the challenge wasn’t hard enough.  I often did, however, get the gist of what he was saying, when I wasn’t stepping out onto the deck to take photos.  The Hamburg skyline was punctuated by several spires, two of which I had already seen up close — the Michaeliskirche and the Petrikirche.  On disembarking, I smiled at the Segler and offered,  “Vielen Dank.”  His face lit up and he smiled at me. 




I then wandered over to the Speicherstadt (warehouse district) on the harbor.  Nineteenth century Gothic revival brick buildings, with turrets and gables, line several canals.  These warehouses are used to store many of the products that pass through the harbor — foods, spices, Persian rugs, electronics, etc.  After some searching, I found Spicy’s Gewürzmuseum, on Am Sandtorkai.

The museum, which claims to be “Das Einzige Gewürzmuseum der Welt” (the only spice museum in the world) occupies the third floor of a non-descript warehouse.  Upon paying my admission price, I was given a “ticket” in the form of a packet of spices.  The space was crammed with more than 800 exhibits on the processing and uses of spices in the last five centuries.  Around 50 raw spices in bags and bins were available for smelling or tasting.  The room was filled with quite a heady fragrance.  I particularly enjoyed the various exhibits on the Dutch East Indies.  While at the museum, I picked up a couple of free postcards, one about the museum, and other featuring a scale of chili peppers:  8 to 10, for example, Thai (8), or Habanero, (10) being rated “Gnadenlos Scharf [merciless hot].”


The Alster

Last, I walked over to the city center to the Binnenalster ("Inner Alster") and Außenalster ("Outer Alster"), both formed by damming the River Alster to create lakes.  From there I could see the boat landing on the Binnenalster.

 I boarded what I guess was the last cruise of the day for the Alster Rundfahrten.  It was so overcast at this point that it almost looked like twilight, giving the city skyline a silhouette effect that reflected in the ripples of the water.  In the middle of the inner lake, which is surrounded by the urban landscape, is a fountain that shoots a column of water maybe 100 feet in the air.  It reminded me of the fountain in Lac Léman (Lake Geneva).  The many spires of the city provided a harmonic background for the sailboats on the lake.

While the inner lake sits in a completely urban environment, the outer lake is surrounded by wooded parks and residential neighborhoods.  On the path around the outer lake I could see people jogging as well as traveling by “Rollschuh” (“roll-shoe,” i.e., rollerskate) and “Fahrrad” (“go-wheel,” i.e., bicycle).  What used to be a river, through earthen dams, has been turned into a wonderful playground for a large city.  It is a very peaceful setting.


The Alster at sunset





The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (Germany)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

Other Threads in This Blog: