September 7, 2017
If you've never been to Lepizig, you are missing one of the little gems of Europe. There's casual dining in the plaza, bookstores and museums, live music around every corner and historic buildings. Here are a few more details about this shining town.
Leipzig, the city of music, where Bach, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Schumann, and many other musical greats lived and worked, is tuning up for a magnificent year with two major anniversaries for the Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Leipzig Opera as well as the arrival of Latvian Andris Nelsons who will take up the baton at the Gewandhaus next year.
This thriving city in the eastern state of Saxony is alive with the sounds of classical music as it tunes up for the coming anniversaries in the year ahead. Leipzig will be celebrating the 275th anniversary of the Leipzig Gewandhaus, which also coincides with the arrival of the Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons, and the 325th anniversary of the Leipzig Opera. In addition to these milestones, Leipzig's Music Trail is a cornucopia of music with 23 stops from the Bach Museum to the Mendelssohn House where a new permanent exhibition on the talented Fanny Mendelssohn will open in November. And, for those who can organize a trip in September, the Schumann Festival will be a listener's delight!
Since the early 1600s Leipzig has been a place of musical talent. Behind the scenes, active supporters and appreciators of music were crucial multipliers and sponsors providing musicians with resources and a place to perform. The Leipzig Opera's prestigious history was started in 1683 making it the third oldest opera house in all of Europe. After being destroyed in WWII, the opera house was reopened in the GDR time and is a beautiful example of East German 1950s architecture. Next year, the opera will celebrate its 325th birthday. The season highlight will be cyclical performances of the Ring des Nibelungen under the musical direction of General Musical Director and General Director Ulf Schirmer, whose conducting skills are in demand worldwide, as well as a staging of Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner's great-great-granddaughter Katharina Wagner.
In 1743, Leipzig's Gewandhaus Orchestra was founded by sixteen merchants who valued music and culture as part of their society and they set the stage for Leipzig to become a musical center. In 2018, the Gewandhaus Orchestra will celebrate its 275th anniversary with the arrival of Andris Nelsons as its new principal conductor, a highly anticipated event, and one of the most prestigious musical posts once dominated by Leipzig's own Kurt Masur. The wonderful symbiosis between the Gewandhaus and the Opera is that since the early 1700s, the Leipzig Gewandhaus has been the symphony for the Leipzig Opera. So, not only do they face each other every day across the Augustusplatz, which is very convenient for visitors, but there is also a long history and musical connection.
In addition to these special anniversaries, visitors can discover the evergreen richness of the Leipzig music scene along the Leipzig Music Trail. Over 500 composers have lived and worked in Leipzig over the centuries, including some of the greatest names in the history of music: Johann Sebastian Bach (who was Cantor of the St. Thomas Church), Georg Philipp Telemann, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (Gewandhaus Kapellmeister), and Clara and Robert Schumann - not to mention Richard Wagner, Edvard Grieg, Albert Lortzing, Gustav Mahler and Hanns Eisler.
This concentration of famous composers and their homes and workplaces and the special musical museums makes Leipzig unique in the global musical community. And the music trail offers great insights into an intrinsic part of Leipzig's history and personality. Throughout the old town, the logo of the music trail is carved into the cobblestones in a bright metal, ribbon-y swoosh. The trail has 23 stops, including the Gewandhaus Concert Hall, the Grassi Museum of Musical Instruments, the Mendelssohn House, the Bach Archive, and St. Thomas Church, where the 800-year old St. Thomas Boys' Choir still sings to this day. Visitors can get an audio guide from the Museum of Fine Arts during the museum's opening hours and walk the three mile trail listening to music and reading the information at each stop.
One stop on the trail is the home of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy who not only was a famous composer and musician but also a beautiful painter. On 4 November this year, Mendelssohn's day of death, the Mendelssohn House will be opening an entire floor devoted to Felix's lesser known but extremely competent composer/musician sister, Fanny. Many sources refer to Fanny as equal to her brother in composition and playing (piano). Although Fanny did compose her entire life and all together created 460 pieces, she did not pursue music professionally as this was not encouraged in women at that time.
Still Fanny continually composed pieces privately and some were published under her brother's name. Another publishing exception was Fanny's piece, "Das Jahr," a 12 part piano work, called "the year," based on the months of the year and each piece was accompanied by a poem and an illustration by her artist husband, Wilhelm Hensel. She began to publish this work against the wishes of her family before she suffered her untimely death. Her brother continued to publish some of her works before his own early death. "Das Jahr" will be a focus of the permanent exhibition at the Mendelssohn House. Visitors can expect a musical journey through time.
Another colorful twosome were Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck who are said to be Leipzig's most famous lovers from the 19th century. He, the upstart composer, and she, the virtuoso pianist, and a sensation of the time. The Schumann House in Inselstraße is where he composed "Spring Symphony" and the first movement of the piano concert in A minor. The Schumann House in Leipzig is also closely linked with Robert Schumann's Lieder, or songs. Today the Schumann House presents an exhibition on the life and work of the musician couple. In addition, concerts and readings take place regularly. From September 9 to 17, the Schumann Festival Week will present a number of Schumann's works along with other composers. For people who enjoy art and culture and especially classical music, Leipzig in 2018 will be an extraordinary trip with special concerts and performances but the city also offers a rich offering of musical history year round.