Letter from Leipzig - by Brian O'Hagan
I've recently visited the newly opened Bach Museum in Leipzig next to the Thomaskirche in what was, in Bach's time, the home of the wealthy Bose family. Bose was godfather to several Bach children, and there are touching details of the friendship between the two families. I'm a Luddite when it comes to IT, but the 2m by 1m interactive table-top was great fun - I could have played for hours, and it would turn any child into a budding musicologist. Entry is free on the first Tuesday of the month. There is a shop and small cafe. Items on display include the console of the (Johann Scheibe 1743) organ from St John's in Leipzig. (The original bench has been whittled away, and the keys which Bach actually touched have been replaced or stolen). A chest (originally from Meissen Cathedral, but now with the Bach seal) is known to have belonged to the Bach family.
The account of the discovery of the aria ''Alles mit Gott und Nichts ohn' Ihn'' (BWV 1127) after the 2004 fire in the Anna Amelia Library (Weimar) is exciting and one can then listen to the performance by Carolyn Sampson with the Masaaka Suzuki Bach Society of Japan. I loved the film snippets, and the Court Musicians in the Doll's House of Princess Auguste-Dorothea of Schwarzburg-Arnstadt. (Oddly, I saw no mention of the beautiful little church of Dornheim, two miles east of Arnstadt, where Bach's marriage to Maria Barbara took place, and I find myself missing the wonderful second-hand music shop - now in a warehouse in Zschochersche Strasse).
An impressive statue of Mendelssohn went up two years ago in front of the Thomaskirche, and ''Motetten'' (choir concerts) by the Thomanerchor take place on Fridays (6pm) and Saturdays (3pm). The Mendelssohnhaus itself vaut le voyage - there are regular concerts, and I love the travelling case with the painting of The George Inn, Southwark. Did the multi-talented Felix execute this himself?
I won't talk about the Opera House, but the Gewandthaus has an impressive Schuke organ. The Nicolaikirche - the largest church in Leipzig - is important for organists, and the interior is beautiful. I've seen several Lehar operettas in the Muko (Musical Comedy Theatre). Leipzig town centre can provide surprises - a Cossack choir with contrabass balalaika - it needed a cello-style end-pin - or a brass ensemble playing The Internationale followed by Jesu meine Freude. The Meissen Porcelain shop has a CD of an organ with porcelain pipes - I resisted - but when I came across a bilingual Finnegans Wehg for under 8 Euros I snapped it up. Last year I heard a wonderful harp concert in the Oberlandes Gericht (Law Courts), and went to a great party at Syhre's (brass instrument makers - their products include Scandinavian Lurs in both left-hand and right-hand versions, and they provided trumpets for Ludwig Guttler.) One can have a reasonable meal in the Rathaus (Town Hall) but lovers of literature will gravitate to Auerbachs Keller, where Faust and the students first met Mephistopheles. For 15 Euros there is a 30 minute tour (starts 11 am) followed by the Plat du Jour and an outsize chocolate ''Mephisto Dollar'', or at 3pm you can have a Mephisto Kaffee-Klatsch (coffee and a portion of Mephisto Torte, with a Mephisto Dollar to go) for just 10 Euros.
Now that ''The V&A..Has lost its charm'' (ie its historic instrument collection), why not visit Leipzig's Grassi Museum - Orientalia, Ethnography and Musical Instruments! Free entry on the first Wednesday of the month, and a modestly-priced restaurant if you stay more than 4 hours (easily done!) There are keyboard instruments in abundance, nests of serpents, rarities like an arpeggione (less attractive than a baryton), an ivory oliphant, various glass brass instruments, assorted pieces of pipe work, a 9-foot high contrabass saxophone, a piano-roll mouth organ; AND a piano-roll accordeon. Then there is the dancing-master's pochette with integral fan(!), a combination clarinet-cum-walking-stick - (who needs such an instrument, unless perhaps The Shepherd on the Rock?) Alas, the Silbermann Cembalo d'Amore exists only as a diagram from the 1723 book - someone must have put a damper on the actual construction. I was enchanted by a kitsch ''Polyphon'' musical box, while tuning fanatics will drool over the many bakelite (?) keys of the Orthotonophonium (built by the Konigliche Sachsische Akademie fur Wissenschaft in 1914). Based on the physicist Arthur von Oettingen's division of the octave into 72 microtones, it produces pure thirds/fourths/fifths...Who could ask for anything more?
There is a second Orthotonophonium upstairs in the child-friendly Klanglabor (Sound Laboratory), but I wasn't allowed to play it. I became extremely irritated at one multi-media display which insisted on pronouncing timbre as ''timber''. (Am I a pedant, or just a Grumpy Old Man?). Harmony was restored however (and I was taken back like Marcel Proust to the Meccano of my childhood and the Galt's Early Learning Centre wooden structures of the early 60's) when I got to play the chamber organ with its clear plastic case - the Zymbelstern was magical, as was the Vogelstimme (water-cistern) and the ratchet-mechanism Kukkuk. You just can't follow that.
I got lost trying to find my way out, but my wanderings led me serendipitously past the Harp-Ship and the Crocodile-Zither in the Thailand Gallery.