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Reflections on a visit to Arnstadt

On page four, Martin Seymour describes the recent tour of the All Saints Church choir to Germany. I had the good fortune to be its organist. All of us, I am sure, will remember the range of music we sang, the varied and interesting churches and other places we visited, the company and camaraderie, the youth hostel lunches. I had the additional interest of playing several very interesting and very different organs. But I’d like to write a little about my recollections of Arnstadt.Arnstadt is a small town about 20km south of Erfurt, where we were based. Both are in the central-eastern state of Thüringen, where the Bach family originated. The composer Johann

Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was but the brightest in a bright constellation of musical Bachs from the 1550s to about 1800. Several Bachs had been town and church musicians in Arnstadt, including JSB himself.

We do not know where JSB lived, but his family owned at least two houses there. One of these, the Goldener Sonne, was a venue for regular gatherings of the Bach clan – and also for lunch for the ASM choirmen. The town square was the scene of a brawl in August 1705 between JSB and one Geyersbach, a student and ‘nanny-goat bassoonist’, according to JSB. Rapiers were drawn, but bloodshed avoided. Details are in the church records.

More sombrely, I saw my first Stolpersteine in that square: small brass pavement plaques naming Jews and other victims of persecution, recording their removal from adjacent houses.

We sang at the New Church, now called the Bachkirche. JSB arrived as organist on the installation of a new organ in 1703. Technical details of that organ still exist, as do several hundreds of the original pipes. A reconstruction of the organ was completed in 1999, demonstrated enthusiastically to us by JSB’s successor Jörg Reddin. We stood in the same place as JSB to hear the same sounds three hundred years on. The church also has a 1913 organ, also restored in 1999, which we used for the concert. Jörg Reddin commented on how well it sounded in twentieth-century English and Welsh church music. I like this idea of having two organs in a church!

These are among experiences I shall not forget easily, and I am grateful to Martin and All Saints Church for giving them to me.

Rhidian Jones

For this and many more stories about what is going on within our church, download your latest copy of The Bridge – the magazine of All Saints Marlow.