Leipzig Celebrates Eight Centuries of "Thomana"
Enlarge image Members of the St. Thomas Boys Choir give a Christmas concert (© picture alliance / dpa) Music-lovers have long flocked to Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church, renowned throughout the world as the place where Johann Sebastian Bach was at his most prolific. As cantor of the church’s school, the schola thomana, from 1723 until his death in 1750, Bach produced an immense quantity and variety of compositions for organ, piano, and voice, recognized as among the greatest in the history of music.
Even today, Bach’s 27-year Kantorat remains the church’s most famous epoch. That Bach was drawn there in the first place, however, attests to the excellent reputation of the church, school, and associated boys choir—a trinity known as Thomana—developed in the preceding centuries. As a leading city of the Reformation (Luther debated Catholic theologian Johannes Eck here in 1519), Leipzig became known far and wide as a center of music and culture, attracting top composers and organists such as Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672), considered by many to be the greatest German composer before Bach.
Eight Centuries of Thomana in Leipzig
In 2012, Leipzig is marking the 800th anniversary of the founding of Thomana with a comprehensive program of events illuminating the institution’s illustrious past, but also celebrating its role in the present-day life of the city, and its future prospects. Enlarge image German Federal President Joachim Gauck with members of St. Thomas Boys Choir, Leipzig (© picture alliance / dpa) The St. Thomas Boys Choir is among the oldest in the world. The director of the Bach Archive in Leipzig, Christoph Wolff, recently described the "Thomaner"--the nearly 100 boys who sing in the choir and attend its prestigious namesake school--as the most precious treasure at the heart of the city of Leipzig. Among the festivities scheduled during the celebratory week devoted to the choir in late March was the dedication of a new campus for the choir boys, the "forum thomanum," including a kindergarten, an elementary school, and a high school with dormitory, all scheduled for completion in 2013.
The school was founded on March 20, 1212, at the initiative of Dietrich I, Margrave of Meissen, according to the charter document which can still be seen in the Saxon city’s history museum, the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum of Leipzig. The church itself, having been built in the 12th century as a market church, was in 1213 presented to the Augustinian monastery, which was also founded by the margrave. In subsequent decades the church was modified befitting its new function as a monastery church devoted to choral music.
The Universal Language of Music
The continuous existence of the church, school, and choir over 800 years of tumultuous history may appear miraculous, however Christian Wolff, pastor of the St. Thomas Church, has an explanation:
Enlarge image The St. Thomas Choir in Leipzig in 1969 (© picture alliance / ZB) “Whoever asks himself how it can be that these three institutions endured the Reformation period, with its change in faith; the upheaval of the Thirty Years’ War; the Third Reich; and the dictatorship and paternalism of the German Democratic Republic, and after eight centuries remain connected to one another, can only find one answer. It is the thing which preserves the continuum to the present day: faith in the Judeo-Christian tradition and related values, which remain accessible through music. It is the universal language of music, which speaks of the God who holds and carries all life—without impinging on the freedom of human beings.”
The 800 Years of Thomana celebrations, which began with a special “Reformation Motet” on Oct. 31, 2011, is being marked by three festival weeks or Festwochen, one each for the choir, church, and school. The Festwoche devoted to the choir, which took place from March 19-25, featured a series of concerts and motets, a ceremony attended by Federal President Joachim Gauck, and a public festival in the new city hall with 2,400 attendees, as well as performances by famous Thomaner alumni. The school’s Festwoche is planned for late September, while the Festwoche of the church itself takes place from Reformation Day (Oct. 31) to Nov. 4. It is also part of the “Luther Decade,” in 2012 devoted to the theme “Reformation and Music.”
Exhibitions, Film, and Music
These three festivals represent but a fraction of the “Thomana” events organized throughout 2012. They include: Enlarge image Federal President Joachim Gauck, his partner Daniela Schadt, and Leipzig's Lord Mayor Burkhard Jung with "Thomaner" on March 20, 2012 in front of the Bach Monument prior to the ceremony "800 Years Thomana" at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. (© picture alliance / dpa)
- Several exhibits on various aspects of the choir, school and church, highlighting their connection with the city of Leipzig (in the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum), the life of the Thomaner in the time of Bach (in the Bach Museum), and the libraries of the Thomana (in the university library)
- A lecture series on the history of the church, extending from March through December
- The 2012 Bachfest Leipzig, devoted to the works of various cantors of the St. Thomas church
- The new film “Die Thomaner,” depicting the life of these young globe-trotting stars
- Six “Festmusiken”: choral music composed especially for the Thomaner choir by five contemporary composers, in addition to Bach himself
The breadth and depth of Thomana-related programming on its 800th anniversary demonstrates its significance to the identity of Leipzigers today. It bodes well for the continued flourishing of Thomana in centuries ahead.