Introducing the Leipzig Bach Museum

The House of Bach’s friends

The historic Bose House, the present site of the Leipzig Bach Archive and the Bach Museum, is one of the oldest buildings on the square outside St Thomas’s Church. In Bach's day it was the residence of the Bose family – affluent merchants and close friends of the Bachs. The Bach family lived just across the street in the old St Thomas’s School (which was demolished in 1902).

 

The Bose House. Photo: Jens Volz

Remnants of the sixteenth-century front building include the twin-aisled Renaissance entrance hall with its impressive Tuscan columns and the portal with its Romanesque arch made from Rochlitz porphyry. In 1710, the building was acquired by Georg Heinrich Bose, an affluent manufacturer of gold and silver products, who had it turned into a prestigious Baroque merchant’s residence. The lateral wings and back building were newly erected at the time. The façade of the front building was adorned by a two-storey bay window. In the rear building, Bose installed a magnificent banqueting hall. Fitted with wall mirrors, a musicians’ gallery and a movable ceiling painting, this »Summer Hall« is used today as a concert hall.

 

The Richter Art Collection

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the Bose residence housed an important art collection. Georg Heinrich Bose had begun to amass paintings, engravings, coins and medals. His son-in-law Johann Zacharias Richter, who married Anna Magdalena Bach’s bosom friend Christiana Sybilla Bose and in 1745 acquired her parental home, added to this an extensive art collection of his own. Richter’s son Johann Thomas enlarged the collection further and opened it to the public. From 1765 it was opened to »connoisseurs on one afternoon each week for two hours« and was counted among the »sights of interest to travellers.« Among the celebrities who viewed the art treasures were Moses Mendelssohn, Christoph Martin Wieland, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein and Jean Paul. The collection remained in the family’s possession until it was sold by auction in 1810. Of the roughly 400 works of art, seven paintings are preserved today at Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts.

 

Paul de Wit's Museum of Music History

In 1893, the instrument collector Paul de Wit opened a private museum of music history on the premises of the Bose House. Again the building claimed the attention of the general public with a precious collection. Apart from a host of historical music instruments de Wit gathered musical manuscripts, letters, and portraits of composers and instrument makers. The journal of instrument making he started was also edited in the Bose House. Until de Wit’s death in 1925 the house was a meeting place for instrument makers, artists, and publishers.

 

The organ of Leipzig's St John's Church. Photo: Jens Volz

One of the instruments exhibited at the time, the organ console from St. John’s Church, Leipzig (Bach had examined this organ in 1743), is shown today in the Bach Museum. It is on permanent loan from the Grassi Museum für Musikinstrumente der Universität Leipzig, whose collection was based on Paul de Wit’s original museum.

 

The Leipzig Bach Museum

First small exhibitions were organized at the historic Gohliser Schlösschen Palace, where the Bach Archive was housed until 1985. The »real« history of the Bach Museum eventually began in the 1970s. After Dr Werner Neumann, former director of the Bach Archive, had pointed out the amicable relationship between the Bach and the Bose families, in 1973 a small Bach memorial was established in the entrance hall of the Bose House.

Die Bach-Gedenkstätte in der Eingangshalle des Bosehauses (1973)

Following a two-year  extensive reconstruction in March 1985 the Bach Archive moved into the former residence of the Bose family, where it also established the »Johann Sebastian Bach Museum Leipzig«. The first permanent exhibition consisted of four exhibition rooms on the first floor of the front building as well as two small rooms for special exhibitions. A first extension was added to the museum in the anniversary year 2000 by including two small rooms of the neighbouring building. The special exhibition room was enlarged and a listening studio and a media room were added. In the years 2008–2010 the building again underwent major reconstruction. On this occasion the museum, now referred to as »Leipzig Bach Museum«, was considerably enlarged and restructured. A single-storey annex with air-conditioned exhibition rooms (the treasure room, the special exhibition room) and a small pleasure garden has been added to the south wing at the back of the baroque courtyard. The sounding and interactive Bach Museum now covers an area of 450 sq.m. Its twelve thematically structured exhibition rooms are dedicated to the life and works of Johann Sebastian Bach, his family, Bach research and other topics.

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