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City Embraces Bach’s Legacy

July 28, 2000

BERLIN (AP) _ Johann Sebastian Bach and his adopted city of Leipzig squabbled during his lifetime, and it took generations for his exquisite compositions to get the recognition they deserved.

Now, during events marking the anniversary of his death 250 years ago Friday, the city is seeking to reinvent itself as a place of pilgrimage for Bach lovers.

The yearlong celebration climaxes with a gala concert Friday night in St. Thomas Church, where Bach was cantor for the last 27 years of his life.

City officials _ whose forebears argued with Bach over such duties as having to teach Latin _ have even produced something of a belated gift to the composer: a new $1.25 million organ with 4,500 pipes made from pewter, lead and wood that was to debut at the concert.

``After more than 250 years, the moving power and the depth of expression of Bach’s music has lost nothing, rather gained,″ Bach historian Christoph Wolff of Harvard University said Friday at a ceremony in the church attended by 1,400 people.

Although Bach festivals have been held in Leipzig before, this year’s is only the second that the city has sponsored, and is just the beginning of what officials plan to make an annual tradition.

``We want to underscore for the rest of the world the meaning of Leipzig as Bach’s city,″ said Joachim Deggerich of the city’s cultural office.

Since the fall of communism in 1989, the eastern city of Leipzig has worried more about revamping its economy and regaining its position as a trading center than promoting culture. Now the two are seen as complementary.

``After 1989 there were plenty of problems with business,″ said Joerg Clemen of the Bach Archive. ``Now, residents realize they need Bach. Bach belongs to Leipzig and Leipzig belongs to Bach.″

For its part, the archive is working with IBM to make all of Bach’s original handwritten documents available on the Web. Many have fallen into decay because the greatness of Bach’s music wasn’t recognized until long after his death so they weren’t properly preserved.

Coinciding with the anniversary concert Friday of Bach’s ``Mass in B-Minor,″ the archive’s Web site will allow computer users to view the composer’s actual score for the first time.

That concert is part of a 24-hour event, parts of which were to be aired in 40 countries with an expected 100 million viewers. Classical giants such as John Eliot Gardiner and Ton Koopman were participating with six orchestras, seven ensembles, three choirs and 40 soloists. One-third of the music will be staged at other points around the world, including a Tokyo performance of the ``Johannes Passion.″

Other modern touches include an open-air presentation titled ``Swinging Bach″ featuring Bobby McFerrin.

Born into a family of musicians on March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, Bach gained acclaim as an accomplished organist in cities around present-day Germany.

His complex compositions in counterpoint, weaving multiple melodies together to form a united whole, are considered the standard of the form and have yet to be surpassed in their elegance.

Bach began his official duties as cantor in Leipzig on May 30, 1723. He died in 1750, at age 65, after a failed eye operation.


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