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 5 - Arnstadt

2 May 2014

A street in Arnstadt



Bach’s Brief First Stay in Weimar

Johann Sebastian Bach first came to Weimar shortly after his studies in Lüneburg.  It was 1703 and he worked for Duke Johann Ernst (the non-reigning brother of Wilhelm Ernst, reigning Duke of Saxe-Weimar) both as a servant and as a violinist in the private orchestra.  He left this position after only six months to take the organist position in Arnstadt, about 35 k / 22 mi away from Weimar.  (Fascinatingly, Johann Sebastian Bach’s grandfather worked for the same duke in Weimar 70 years earlier!)  Bach would return to Weimar after working in Arnstadt for nearly five years and remain this time in Weimar for almost ten years.  We shall pick up our discussion of Bach’s experiences in Weimar in a subsequent part of this blog entry and continue for now with his residence in Arnstadt.



Towns and cities in which J.S. Bach had lived or had visited, 1685-1707



Arnstadt and the Bachkirche

Arnstadt is known as "Das Tor zum Thüringer Wald [the gateway of the Thüringian forest].”  Bach auditioned at Die Neue Kirche [the New Church] in July 1703 and began on 9 Aug 1703 what would be his first position as organist.  His duties were to accompany the services at the Neue Kirche and to maintain the new organ; he left the position on 14 Sep 1707.


The Arnstadt Bachkirche



Arnstadt was Bach’s first important employment as an organist.  He had worked previously as a “lackey” and a violinist in the private orchestra of Duke Johann Ernst in Weimar for six months, whereupon, in August 1703, he moved to Arnstadt to take his position as Organist in Die Neue Kirche.  This church is now known as the “Bachkirche” due to Bach’s great influence.  It was relatively new in Bach’s day (the previous church, built in 1477, burned down in 1581), but its name was changed in 1935 when the term “new” no longer seemed so appropriate.  Arnstadt as a city is much older.  It was founded in 704 A.D., making it one of the oldest towns in the Thüringerwald.  Several generations of the Bach family lived here — 25 are buried in the cemetery.


The organ of the Arnstadt Bachkirche

On one side of the Bachkirche is a plaque that reads, “Johann Sebastian Bach wirkte in seiner ersten Organistenstelle von 1703-1707 in diesem Gotteshaus [Johann Sebastian Bach worked in his first organist job from 1703-1707 in this church].”  The church is architecturally quite simple.  It has wooden barrel vaults and two-storey galleries on either side with a Wender organ in the back, which was reconstructed in 2000.  The original keyboard manuals are in the Bach Memorial of the
Haus zum Palmbaum (discussed below).  The interior of the church is covered in velvety Baroque white and gold, being somewhat incongruous with the humble wood structure.


A plaque reads “Johann Sebastian Bach worked in his first organist job from 1703-1707 in this church.”




From the Bachkirche one can walk onto the Markt [open-air market], where there are usually a few fruit-and-vegetable stalls.  At one stand I saw some cabbages and thought of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, in the quodlibet of which Bach wove in the tune of “Kraut und Rüben haben mich vertrieben [cabbage and turnips have driven me away].” 

On 4 August 1705 [one source says 4 Apr], Bach was involved in an altercation in this square.  Bach had been upset with a bad performance of one of the church musicians, a young man named Geyersbach.  At rehearsal, Bach called him a “Zippel Fagottist [nanny-goat bassoonist].” 

Kohl for sale in the Markt

Later, while Bach was walking with one of his cousins, Barbara, Geyersbach approached Bach and demanded an apology. When Bach would not back down the Zippel Fagottist attacked him with a walking stick, whereupon Bach drew his sword.  The ruling consistory of the church later heard about this incident.

Also on the Markt is the Bach Denkmal [Bach Monument], designed by Bernd Göbel from Halle in 1985 for the tri-centenary of Bach’s birth.  The sculpture depicts Bach as an 18 year-old youth sitting on a bench as if he were playing “air organ.”  I first spotted this monument just behind a Wurst stand, which makes an odd juxtaposition.



The Bach Denkmal of Arnstadt


I then strolled up Kirchegasse to have a look at the Oberkirche (named so because it is higher up the hill than the others), which was built around 1250 and is still standing among half-timbered houses.  I also saw some very ancient buildings and homes that would have been around in Bach’s time, being old even then.  One building said “1623.”


An Arnstadt building constructed in 1623



Another old building still had its sign, “Zur Goldenen Krone [at the golden crown].”  This was the home of Mayor Martin Feldhaus (a distant relative of Johann Sebastian Bach), and where Bach lived.  It is also where he met his wife-to-be, his cousin Maria Barbara.

Nearby is the “Haus zum Palmbaum [house at the palm tree],” a renaissance building built around 1590 that houses a museum of town history.  It also includes a very engaging Bach Memorial.  (The name of the building derives from a bas-relief palm tree carved above the portal.)  It is a beautiful green, almost chartreuse, building, covered with lots of ivy.




Haus zum Palmbaum

I was able to get some information from a woman who worked there, but when it became too difficult in German, she ran and fetched another woman who speaks some English, and who was especially friendly and helpful.  The museum offered lots of biographical information — in German, of course — about Bach and his extended family in Arnstadt, but what I appreciated most was the authenticity and variety of artifacts.  There were original portraits of Johann Sebastian’s ancestors and a blow-up of the family tree that Bach had made,

There were also consistory minutes regarding the rebuke he received for having asked for four week’s leave-of-absence and staying away for four months!  During this period Bach had walked more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) through the Lüneburger Heide, or heath, to Lübeck to hear Buxtehude perform (and possibly perform with him) in the latter’s Abendmusiken (Music Evenings).  He left in November 1705 and did not return until January 1706.  Bach just couldn’t leave a good thing, but the church consistory was not very understanding about it.

The Haus zum Palmbaum has a carved palm tree over the portal.

They also got angry at Bach (as the minutes on display also show) for allowing a “stranger maiden” to make music at the church.  (It was not customary at this time to allow women to sing in church).  Some people think this may have been Maria Barbara, Bach’s future wife.  Another, possibly related, theory has it that, as Buxtehude had an unmarried daughter, Bach went to Lübeck not only for reasons musical, but to check her out as a future reference. 

The convention at the time was that when a new cantor takes a position, if the former cantor had an unmarried daughter, she came with the package.  Two years earlier, both Handel and Mattheson seemed to come to Lübeck for the same reason.  When Buxtehude died, his daughter was still unmarried.

The Haus zum Palmbaum contains the original restored keyboard manuals of the Wender organ from the Bachkirche  — the organ screen and seven registers have survived to the present day.  The museum also has the oldest extant Bach manuscript:  the organ prelude “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgen Stern.” 

The Haus zum Palmbaum contains the original restored keyboard manuals of the Wender organ from the Bachkirche  — the organ screen and seven registers have survived to the present day.  The museum also has the oldest extant Bach manuscript:  the organ prelude “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgen Stern.”

Some of the early works that Bach composed while at Arnstadt include:  BWV 549 Prelude and Fugue ("Arnstadt") in D minor for organ (1703–07), BWV 965  Sonata in A minor (1705?; arrangement of the Sonata No.1 from Hortus Musicus by Johann Adam Reincken), BWV 966 Sonata in C major (1705?; arrangement of the Sonata No. 3 from Hortus Musicus by Johann Adam Reincken), BWV 1090–1120 Chorale Preludes for organ (the 31 "Neumeister Chorales"; 1703–07?; including BWV 1105 Jesu, meine Freude), BWV 1122–1126 Chorale Preludes for organ (1703–07?), BWV 992 Capriccio sopra la lontananza del suo fratello dilettissimo (1704; 'Capriccio on the Absence of his Most Beloved Brother', performed when Bach’s brother Johann Jacob left to become an oboist in the army of Charles XII in Sweden), and Capriccio in honorem Joh. Christoph Bachii, Ohrdruf (c. 1704; composed in honor of Bach’s brother).

Also at the Haus zum Palmbaum there is a music cabinet and many other exhibits.  Reading and concerts are also held here.


Keyboard manuals of the Wender organ from the Bachkirche



Near the museum is Kohlgasse (there’s another cabbage reference again) where at No. 7 Johann Sebastian stayed with his Uncle Johann Christoph and cousin Johann Ernst, who replaced Johann Sebastian when he eventually left his position at Die Neue Kirche.



Schoss Neideck


Schoss Neideck tower


Near the edge of Arnstadt are the fascinating ruins of Schoss Neideck.

The old city walls are crumbling and little of the castle remains — pieces of wall here and there, with the general outline of the original building visible — but the Turm [tower] is in perfect shape.  I entered the tower and began to climb.

From the top I could see all of Arnstadt, including the Bachkirche, which I had just visited.  Back on the ground, I looked at the various scale-sized models of Arnstadt’s historical buildings in the Stadtmodell [city model]. These are contained within the ruins of the Schloss, including one of the castle itself before it disintegrated.



overview of Arnstadt from tower




Schoss Neideck ruins


Hungry, I retrieved from my memory bank the location of a Chinese restaurant across the street from the Bachkirche:  “China Restaurant Hong Kong Garden,” an der Neuen Kirche 6-8.  Standard Chinese fare, but at least they offered Gemüse (vegetables), and the entertainment feature of hearing an Asian speak German.

My fortune cookie adage got me thinking about the music of J.S. Bach:


Die Mode ändert sich, aber Stil ist unvergänglich.

Fashions change, but style is eternal.


How true.





 — To be continued



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.

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