Preserving the Bach Wedding Church

Interview with Rosemarie Frey, the woman who instigated the preservation of The Bach Wedding Church in Dornheim, Germany, site of our September 6, 2014 Bach und Soehne organ and multi-media concert performance.

Jeannine: JS Bach’s Wedding Church is now a well-known memorial to Bach, with thousands of visitors from all over the world.  However, I understand in 1996, with the church in such a desolate state that demolition was being considered; a group of villagers rescued the building and provided for its restoration.

Rosemarie Frey: Immediately after the World War II, the structural state of the church was so bad that the valuable ancient artifacts were removed and stored. For the 300th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday in 1985, a renovation of the Church was carried out, but shortly afterward the building was officially declared unsafe. The building continued to deteriorate but since the church congregation was not able to afford the rehabilitation, demolition of the Wedding Church of Johann Sebastian Bach was proposed. At that time, some residents of the village decided to take this task into own hands and founded a group to maintain the wedding Church of J. S. Bach in Dornheim. They had financial support from the Foundation for the Protection of Monuments in Thuringia, the Office for Protection of Monuments, and  the Protestant churches of Thuringia.

J: First, please give us a brief history of the Bartholomäuskirche.

Rosemarie: The construction of our Church is dated by archaeologists to the first half of the 12th century. Between 1474-1479, extensions to the east and south were added bringing the building to the current size.  In 1631 the tower was built.  It was rebuilt in 1641 in its present form after a fire triggered by a lightning strike destroyed it.  In 1723 the galleries were installed in the Church, and a year later the Church got the Baroque pulpit and altar. In 1817 the bells were taken down due to structural problems.  A new bell tower was erected in the location of the old sacristy.  40 years later the northern wall of the church had to be renewed.

J: Why is the church now more commonly known as the JS Bach Wedding Church?

Rosemarie: In June 1707, Johann Sebastian Bach became the organist at the Church of St. Blasius in the free Imperial City of Mühlhausen, 80 kilometers from Dornheim.  However, he decided on October 17, 1707 to marry his second Maria Barbara Bach, in our church. Bach was married by the former pastor of Dornheim, Johann Lorenz Stauber, one of his best friends. This historically documented wedding is a Godsend for us, because now many young people, not only from Germany, have the desire to marry in Bach’s Wedding Church.

J: How did the citizens of Dornheim save the church from the wrecking ball?

Rosemarie: The Foundation for the Protection of Monuments in Thuringia provided the money for the new roof. Additionally, much needed money was generated through concerts, initially on the construction site, other events, Church tours, publications and collections.  However, the energetic assistance in construction by many Dornheimer citizens contributed to the rescue of the Church. A real community spirit evolved which inspired other municipalities in the area to also do something to preserve their churches.

J: What parts of the church remain from Bach’s time?

Rosemarie: The structure of the building is essentially unchanged since Bach’s time.  However, the stairway to the galleries was not created until 1723. Bach was married in front of the carved wooden Gothic alter (c. 1430). The Baroque pulpit and altar were added in 1724, as I already mentioned.  In Bach’s day, there was also the small wooden altar (ca.1480) and the large crucifix, which was created at the same time.

J: Please describe the organ.  Is it similar to organs Bach may have played or the instrument that was part of the church at Bach’s wedding?

Rosemarie: Johann Sebastian Bach’s wedding in Dornheim had an organ but we do not know how it looked. In 1723/24 an organ built by Johann Anton Weise (1672-1759) was added with the installation of the galleries. The current organ came to Dornheim for the 300th anniversary of the Bach wedding.  The late Baroque case with its wonderful prospect came from Schongleina and was built in 1766 by Justin Ehrenfried Gerhard and Christian Vogt.  The organ builder, Karl Heins Schoenefeld from Stadtilm built a new organ, but used the bellows, and the mechanical tracker actionn as well as existing wood and metal pipes from the Gerhard organ.  These parts were carefully repaired or reconstructed, but the stop draws and console are new.  The organ has two manuals with a pedal and 18 registers.  It is popular with many organists.

 

J: Where can one find more information on the Bach Wedding Church?

Rosemarie: Our Association has a Web page, see www.bach-in-dornheim.de.  Or visit us at Dornheim.  Guests are always welcome in Bach’s Wedding Church.

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The Bachs Are Off to Weimar

(Maria Barbara, Johann Sebastian Bach’s first wife, shares the news that they are leaving Muhlhausen and moving to Weimar.)

St. Blaise
Muhlhausen, Germany

Glorious news! Johann Sebastian has just returned home and he tells me the interview went superbly and that he was immediately hired as Kapellemeister and chamber musician at the court of his majesty, Duke Wilhelm of Saxe-Weimar. Tomorrow he will resign his position at St. Blaise’s in Muhlhausen and we will move to Weimar.

Ah, Weimar! Life is so different here. It is like another world. Johann has a wonderful salary and besides that, some men showed up with grain and wood and wine at our front door the other day. This is the way we now live here in Weimar.

Weimar, Germany

Johann Sebastian has started his new job and he is so happy. The Duke does not tolerate the religious rancor that had marked our time at Muhlhausen and he told JS he would be free to develop his ideas on “well-regulated church music” at Weimar. It is such a blessing to have Johann Sebastian happy and engaged in his music, playing his violin, but also composing, composing and composing!

We also have a new baby, our first. We named her Catharina Dorothea and she is a healthy beautiful baby. Ah, our lives are so full and happy here in Weimar.

(This story above is one of many vignettes from the organ and multi-media and event, Bach and Sons, presented by Dr. Jeannine Jordan, concert organist with media artist, David Jordan.)

More Children for the JS Bach Family

My husband, Johann, recently heard the music of some Italian composers and he was most impressed. In fact, just the other day he played for Dorothea and me, a piece he arranged for his “King of Instruments” (that’s the organ, you know) which he cleverly based on a violin concerto by a Mr. Vivaldi. It is amazing how he was able to play all the parts of the orchestra and the part of the violin soloist on the organ by himself!

Our little family continues to grow. Dorothea is now 2 years old, and we have a new baby we have named Wilhelm Friedemann. You do remember our Duke’s name is Wilhelm don’t you? Their father is wonderful with them when he has time. Johann Sebastian is so busy with all his activities from tuning harpsichords, repairing and maintaining organs, playing his violin in the Duke’s orchestra, and of course composing, a lot of which is for the organ right now.

Our twins, Johann Christoph and Maria Sophia, were born this year, but alas, they were so tiny and sickly, they did not survive more than a day. I was heartbroken of course and Johann Sebastian was especially sad. He has already had too much death in his life.

Even through this tragedy, Johann Sebastian has continued with all his work and has even continued to compose. He composes his glorious music not just as an employee of the Duke but to the glory of God! Always to the glory of God.

(This story above is one of many vignettes from the organ and multi-media and event, Bach and Sons, presented by Dr. Jeannine Jordan, concert organist with media artist, David Jordan.)

Johann Sebastian Bach Takes His Final Breath

(The last years of Johann Sebastian Bach’s life as related by Catharina Dorothea, Johann Sebastian Bach’s eldest daughter)

My father suffered from eye trouble for the last ten years of his life. By the beginning of 1749, he could no longer work to his full capacity. He was simply tired and broken from his constant eye trouble that at times rendered him nearly blind.

To make matters worse, the horrible and tactless authorities in the town council even allowed a candidate, a Herr Harrer, to take the examination for my father’s post of Kantor of St. Thomas a full year before my father’s death. The town chronicle also reported that the authorities were counting on the great Johann Sebastian Bach’s death. Still, my father continued when he was able with his compositions and correspondence with the help of his wife, Anna Magdalena and his new son-in-law and former pupil Johann Christoph Altnikol who married my sister Elisabeth Juliane Friederica. It was a difficult time for all of us.

Finally, my father’s eyesight and health declined dramatically. He struggled so and was so frustrated in not being able to see, that when we heard that a famous English eye specialist named John Taylor was visiting Leipzig, it was decided that our dear father would have the painful operation to restore his eyesight.

The excruciating eye surgery performed by Dr. Taylor in March seemed to help a bit, but then a month later, my father’s eyesight was nearly gone again. Therefore, Dr. Taylor performed this awful operation a second time.

Unfortunately, that operation turned out very badly and our father was then totally blind and greatly weakened by the ordeal and the harmful medications. We strove to make him comfortable, but he never gained his strength.

By July 22, with his children and his beloved Anna Magdelana at his side our father took his last communion at our home. He died only six days later on the evening of July 28 of a stroke. We buried him three days later at St. John’s cemetery.

From the pulpit of St. Thomas my father’s death was announced: “Peacefully and blissfully departed in God the Esteemed and Highly Respected Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach, Court Composer to his Royal Majesty in Poland and Serene Electoral Highness in Saxony, as well as Capellmeister to the Prince of Anhalt-Cothen, and Cantor in St. Thomas’ School, at the Square of St. Thomas.”

The greatest of the Bachs had left this world for the peace of the next.

This story is one of many vignettes from the multi-media and organ program, Bach and Sons, presented by Dr. Jeannine Jordan, concert organist with David Jordan, visual artist.