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Bach’s Collegium musicum in Leipzig and Its History

[A Summary Translation by Thomas Braatz of an article by Andreas Glöckner entitled
“Bachs Leipziger Collegium musicum und seine Vorgeschichte”
from Die Welt der Bach-Kantaten Vol. 2 Johann Sebastian Bachs weltliche Kantaten
editors: Christoph Wolff/Ton Koopman
published by Metzler/Bärenreiter, 1997, pp. 105-117]

Musical Life in Leipzig in the second half of the 17th century was influenced considerably by the existence of the Collegia musica consisting mainly of university students. Various famous musicians of their time were conductors of these groups and composed music for the members to play and sing: Adam Krieger (1657), Gerhard Preisensin (1660), Sebastian Knüpfer (1672), Johann Pezel (1673), and Johann Kuhnau (1682). It can, however, be assumed that these earlier groups did not meet on a regular basis (twice weekly, for instance, as under J. S. Bach’s directorship).

A new era of public concert activity began in Leipzig when, in the fall of 1701, musically enthusiastic university students were organized by Georg Philipp Telemann according to a new model. Telemann later recollected: “This collegium, despite the fact that it consisted mainly of university students, often reaching a total of 40 musicians, nevertheless could be listened to with great appreciation and pleasure.” Telemann praised the high quality of the vocalists and commented that there was no instrument which was not represented in the orchestra. Proudly, Telemann recounted how he had the pleasure of entertaining nobility such as the Elector Friedrich August I and others. In 1704, when Telemann accepted the position of organist and music director of the New Church in Leipzig, members of the Collegium musicum joined him regularly in the performance of figural music, among them some notables as Johann David Heinichen and Melchior Hoffmann.

It cannot easily be determined from the existing address books of Leipzig of that time just where these performances took place. Arnold Schering, without giving any sources for his information, claimed that the chosen location was in Hohmann’s Courtyard on the Petersstraße. Unclear, however, is whether this was a reference to a special occasion concert or a regular meeting place for the ensemble. Johann Adam Hiller (1728-1804), in his Lebensbeschreibungen berühmter Musikgelehrten und Tonkünstler neuerer Zeit, Leipzig, 1784, pp. 184ff., refers to concerts that took place in the shooting gallery at Ranstadt in 1710, a point in time when Johann Georg Pisendel substituted for Melchior Hoffmann who had taken a trip to England. A report from three years later indicates the Hoffmann’s ensemble came together regularly at the ‘Schlaffs=Hause’ on the Market Square at the establishment of the ‘Royal Court Chocolate Maker’, Johann Lehmann, on Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 to 10 in the evening.

The date of inception of this Collegium musicum is still rather unclear, although an address book for Leipzig from 1717 refers indirectly to an approximate date: “The Collegium musicum, the one usually referred to by this name, was founded by Georg Philipp Telemann, now the Capellmeister in Frankfurt am Main, and has continued to flourish for about 10 to 12 years now under the directorship of Melchior Hoffmann, currently the Director of Music at the New Church.”

Telemann had conducted this ensemble for only a short time, leaving Leipzig in June of 1705 (probably as a result of the imprisonment of his patron, Mayor Franz Conrad Romanus). Telemann was succeeded by a Leipzig university law student, Melchior Hoffmann not only in his position as director of the Collegium musicum, but also as the Music Director of the New Church and as the managing director of the Leipzig opera.

In Melchior Hoffmann’s obituary appearing in a newspaper in 1716, there is the following reference to the Collegium musicum: “Mr. Melchior Hoffmann, a famous composer, organist at the New Church, had assumed the leadership of a wonderful Collegium musicum under whose direction this ensemble consisting of 50 to 60 members flourished considerably and met twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 to 10 pm and from which organization there arose many virtuosi who eventually assumed positions of importance as cantors and organists at various important courts and cities such as those located in Dresden, Darmstadt, Eisenach, Weißenfels, Merseburg, Zeitz, etc.” Even Ernst Ludwig Gerber (1790) reported that the public concerts of the Collegium musicum under Hoffmann’s directorship reached a high point.

An important key witness of Hoffmann’s Collegium musicum, Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, a student at the University of Leipzig from 1707 to 1710, reported in Mattheson’s Ehren=Pforte, a publication for which J.S. Bach never submitted his biography when requested: “In my very first days in Leipzig, I immediately wanted to join Hoffmann’s ensemble not only because it had a large number of good musicians, but also because it sounded great. Members of the singing choir included the current royal court advisor of Eisenach, Mr. Langmasius as bass, the current deputy headmaster of the Gymansium in Augsburg, Mr. Marckgraf, as soprano, the now-deceased royal court secretary in Eisenach, Mr. Helbig, as tenor, the royal chamber musician (who, if I remember correctly, has died a few years ago), Mr. Krone/Crone, as contralto. The orchestra, in which the above-mentioned singers also played, had a most excellent concertmaster, Mr. Pisendel who now leads the royal Polish chamber orchestra. Playing excellent oboe were Privy-Councilor Mr. Fickweiler, whom I was honored also to have as my roommate for a while at that time, and also Mr. Blockwitz currently a musician at the royal court of Saxony and Poland. I have forgotten the names of other instrumentalists and the positions that they currently hold. Among others I remember the Wentzel brothers, one of whom is a senior clerk and who both played the violin very well. And there is also Mr. Götze, an official in charge of the weights and measures in Leipzig who played the violoncello. In all, there must have been a total of about 40 musicians. Such a large group [Stölzel uses the term “Chor” here in the sense that Praetorius did a century and a half earlier and later J.S. Bach as well: both singers as wellas instrumentalists], to be sure, would come together only for Feast days (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Ascension, Trinity, Michaelmas, Marian holidays) and for the Leipzig fairs when they could be heard in the New Church. Is it no small wonder that, under Hoffmann’s directorship, this ensemble attracted many listeners?” Stölzel points out not only the large size of this ensemble, but also lists a few names of the members as he could remember them after 30 years. Stölzel, when referring to a large ‘Chor’ of circa 40 musicians, is actually including the singing members among the instrumentalists. The four individuals Stölzel singles out (Langmasius, Marckgraf, Helbig and Krone/Crone) were, without a doubt, the Concertists (those who sang solo parts) who were joined by the Ripienists for whom additional ripieno parts were copied out (evidence for the existence of these parts stem from a later period than the one described above by Stölzel). It becomes quite clear from Stölzel’s report that the Collegium musicum had a great drawing power among Leipzig citizens as well as the many visitors who came to the city. Johann Kuhnau, the Cantor at St. Thomas at that time, had great difficulty presenting his music with such stiff competition available in the same city. He complained that many of the Thomaner who had graduated directly left his musical organizations to go “where things are certainly more fun, where they could perform in operas [the Leipzig Opera House was still in existence], in the public coffee houses, and even perform music at times when it was forbidden [tempus clausum – when no figural music was performed in the churches or during periods of mourning].” This latter complaint by Johann Kuhnau has not yet been confirmed by other sources.

There is an anecdote related by Hiller (see above) about Pisendel’s reception in the Collegium musicum when Pisendel first came to Leipzig from Ansbach. Shortly after his arrival in Leipzig, Pisendel wanted to play something more like a solo violin concerto. Johann Christoph Götze (mentioned above as a violoncellist) sized him up quickly noting that by the poor quality of his clothing that not much could be expected from this newcomer. Götze said: “Was will doch das Pürschen hier?” (“What in the world is this little guy doing {up to} here?”) “Ja, ja, der wird uns was Rechtes vorgeigen!” (“Yeah, he’s really going to play something great for us!”) Pisendel then began playing a concerto by his teacher, Torelli. Pisendel had hardly begun to play the first solo section when Götze put his violoncello aside and simply listened to the music with astonishment. He was joined in this by the new students who were present. The adagio section had an even greater effect on him, for during the playing Götze tore his wig from his head and threw it on the floor. He could hardly wait to embrace Pisendel and compliment him, so moved was he by the performance. Thereafter they became friends for life.

Hiller’s anecdote does reveal some details about the atmosphere that must have prevailed at the weekly concerts. In the spaces provided by the Leipzig coffee houses, the musicians performed contemporary music without having a fixed program “in lockerer Abfolge” ("in a loosely defined sequence/succession") “und in der Regel ohne vorherigen Proben prima vista” (“and as a general rule this was done {the music was performed} at sight without any prior rehearsals.” The audience, consisting of visitors in Leipzig as well as residents including musically interested university students, would be offered the newest instrumental concerti, ouverture suites, solo cantatas as well as regular chamber music compositions, in short, all such musical literature that could easily be obtained. Printed lists of compositions, which were at some point in time performed by the Collegium musicum, were offered for sale to the public by Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf in 1761 and had been derived from the estate of Carl Gotthelf Gerlach, Bach’s successor as director of the Collegium musicum. They include 10 ouvertures by Johann Friedrich Fasch, 6 string sinfonias by Melchior Hoffmann, several chamber cantatas by Nicola Antonio Porpora and Handel’s chamber cantata “Armida Abbandonata”. There is no doubt these compositions were at one time in the repertoire of the Leipzig Collegia musica.

Also included in Breitkopf’s list are numerous compositions by Hoffmann (now lost): birthday, congratulatory, tributary, farewell cantatas as well as humorous compositions such as a “Cantata [Dialog] between a Lover, a Hunter, and an Alcoholic” or “Cantata [Dialog] between Diana, Plutus, and Bacchus”. These are pieces in very much the same mold as Bach’s Coffee Cantata BWV 211.

During the absence of Melchior Hoffmann (on a trip to England), Pisendel was the official substitute conductor, but from time to time Johann David Heinichen also led the ensemble. Fickweiler, the oboist mentioned above had numerous contacts with Gottfried Silbermann, organ builder in Freiberg and the alto soloist/concertist, Crone/Krone, later moved up to the position of 1st violinist in the Weimar Court Chapel in 1718.

Telemann also gives the names of additional members of the Collegium musicum: oboe and flute player, Johann Michael Böhm (after 1711 a member of the Darmstadt Court Chapel Orchestra), an excellent bass-baritone, Johann Gottfried Riemenschneider, (sang at the London Opera in 1729 – took the position of Cantor and Music Director at the Hamburg Cathedral in 1739), the basses Petzoldt (went to the Hamburg Opera) and Salomo Bendeler (Singer and Actor at the Court at Wolfenbüttel). Telemann pointed out one of the best altos of his time, Schneider. This singer has eluded further identification.

Sicul, a Leipzig chronicler, also has pointed out that the Hoffmann’s Collegium musicum was the training ground for many of the most famous German musicians who held positions in various courts throughout Germany at that time. He even gives the number of musicians at any given time as being between 50 and 60 members. Similarly Stölzel’s reference to the large number of members involved is in contrast to many court orchestras whose roster of paid musicians was usually much smaller.

Hoffmann’s successor was the violinist, Johann Gottfried Vogler. As as gifted and talented the latter was, his questionable lifestyle which caused him to gamble and run up large debts undermined his leadership. He was eventually accused of embezzlement in regard to the instruments belonging to the churches and relieved of his position in May, 1720. Vogler then took over the directorship of the Telemann Collegium musicum, but soon had to relinquish this position to Georg Balthasar Schott. In 1720 Johann Friedrich Fasch founded a new Collegium musicum which met Friday evenings from 8 to 10 o’clock in Gottfried Zimmermann’s Coffee House on Catherstraße. After Fasch left Leipzig, Johann Samuel Endler and then later Johann Gottlieb Görner assumed the directorship of this ensemble.

It appears from the records that Schott may already have assumed the directorship of the Collegium musicum led by Vogler as early as 1718. An announcement from 1720 shows that Schott conducted ‘his Collegium musicum’ in Mr. Hemm.’s Raths=Wein=Keller (City Hall Wine Cellar – Tavern) on Thursday evenings from 8 to 10 o’clock. The following year the concerts took place at Mr. Helwig’s Coffee House on the Market Square on Thursday evenings from 8 to 10 o’clock. Since 1723, these concerts were also held outside on Wednesdays during the summer at Mr. Gottfried Zimmermann’s garden on the Wind=Mühl=Gasse from 4 to 6 o’clock in the afternoon and in winter on Fridays in Zimmermann’s Coffee House from 8 to 10 o’clock in the evening. Since its foundation, the Collegium musicum had frequently experienced such changes of venue; but after 1723 the affiliation and cooperation with Zimmermann brought a greater regularity to their concert seasons. Until the death of Gottfried Zimmermann in 1741, the Collegium musicum played its concerts at those locations which were Zimmermann’s property. Zimmermann purchased large instruments such as the ones musicians would most likely not own and carry around with them: violoncellos, violones, harpsichords, etc. In 1721 his collection of instruments included the following: two violins, a viola, two bassoons and two violones. The inclusion of the bassoons and violones would signify that the orchestra accordingly would have been quite large. This is confirmed by the numbers of musicians given by Sicul and Stölzel in their reports. Zimmermann’s ownership of a set of instruments points towards his important role as a serious promoter of concert activity in Leipzig. His instruments are also included in a list of instruments used at the New Church where some festive sacred cantatas were most likely performed by the members of the Collegium musicum.

Later sources inform us that no entrance fees were ever collected for the concerts that were performed at Zimmermann’s garden on the Wind=Mühl=Gasse or at his Coffee House on Katherstraße. Females were allowed to attend these events.

It is quite obvious that Bach must have been interested in an ensemble that was flourishing as well as the Collegium musicum, the one founded by Telemann. As soon as 1723 and until his official acceptance of the post as its director in March 1729, Bach must already have drawn upon the services of this organization by means of a friendly arrangement with his colleague Schott at the New Church; otherwise Bach would not have been able to perform many of his secular cantatas which call upon large instrumental forces: BWV 205, BWV 249a+BWV249b, BWV 198, BWV 193a, BWV 207. Just how these arrangements for using the services of members of the Collegium musicum were made has yet to be clarified. It is a fact that such a friendly relationship between Schott and Bach did exist: Schott substituted for Bach when the latter was performing outside of Leipzig or on private trips away from the city (Bach-Dokumente II, Item 383). That Bach did perform outside of the church in Leipzig is confirmed by a report given by Heinrich Nicolaus Gerber, one of Bach’s students, who already as early as 1724 heard Bach conduct excellent sacred cantatas as well as concert music (Bach-Dokumente III, p. 476). There is a set of parts for the C-Major Ouverture (BWV 1066) which Bach had his copyists prepare in 1724.

Because Schott was offered the position of city cantor and music director in Gotha, he vacated his post at the New Church on March 24, 1729. As early as March 20th, Bach writes to his former student, Christoph Gottlob Wecker: “P.S. the latest news is that the dear Lord has provided for the honorable Mr. Schott by allowing him to obtain the cantorship in Gotha. For this reason he will give his farewell speech next week since I will be assuming the leadership of his Collegium.” (Bach-Dokumente I, Item 20) Seven weeks before a successor was chosen for Schott’s post at the New Church, Bach’s takeover of the Collegium musicum had already been fixed and sealed. The new music director of the New Church, Carl Gotthelf Gerlach, officially began his duties on May 10, 1729. Since Bach gave his personal support to Gerlach in obtaining this position, Gerlach renounced his claim to Schott’s directorship of the Collegium musicum. As the conductor of this ensemble some entirely new perspectives were opened for Bach: it was now possible to have larger orchestrations than before such as those in the double-chorus version of the SMP or the Pentecost cantata BWV 174. Now Bach could more easily draw upon an even larger pool of resources than before. He would now be able to use in church performances the instruments made available through Zimmermann’s instrument acquisitions. Since Gerlach would be ‘losing’ these instruments (not be able to use them for church performances since they were no longer available to him, the Leipzig City Council decided to compensate him for these ‘losses’ by doubling his yearly salary from 50 to 100 Talers since he would now need to hire out of his own pocket musicians and pay for instrument repairs, etc. in order to present properly sacred figural music in the New Church. He was unable to draw directly from the membership of the Collegium musicum since it was now under J.S. Bach’s control.

Beginning in the Spring of 1729, Bach began using his family members for copy work to a greater extent than hitherto to help prepare parts from his own and other composer’s compositions for secular cantatas and instrumental works that the Collegium musicum would perform. Among those works which were prepared at this time were the two Violin Concerti BWV 1041 and BWV 1043, the Orchestra Suite BWV 1068 and several Ouvertures by Johann Bernhard Bach. It is possible that J.S. Bach composed expressly for the new concert season his satirical Dramma per musica “Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und PanBWV 201.

Bach’s musical activities with the Collegium musicum increased considerably after the young elector Friedrich August II became the ruler after the death of his father, August the Strong. Between August and December of 1733 Bach performed with the Collegium musicum three congratulatory cantatas for birthdays or name days of the ruler’s family. These would be the ‘extraordinaire’ concerts which were not part of the ‘ordinaire’ series which took place at a regular time and place. For the latter no programs were printed, as a result, we know little about the content of these ‘ordinaire’ concerts. Considering that Bach actively conducted these concerts for almost a decade, it becomes clear what a great loss of performing mamust have taken place. Compositions which can be linked to this venue are: the Violin Concerti BWV 1041-43, the Ouvertures BWV 1066-69, the Harpsichord Concerti BWV 1052-1065, numerous chamber works as the Violin Sonatas BWV 1014-19, the Flute Sonatas BWV 1030-35, various secular cantatas such as BWV 201, BWV 204, BWV 209, BWV 210, BWV 211. But all of these taken together do not suffice even in a minimal fashion to account for the many hours of music performances that actually took place under Bach as the director of the Collegium musicum. It is just as difficult to imagine that Bach would have performed exclusively works by other composers to fill the gap between his own production of music and the requirements of the Collegium musicum to perform music on a regular basis as described above.

What these performances of the Collegium musicum did offer young members was the opportunity to have their own compositions and/or talent with an instrument or voice put on display. This most certainly must have happened with Bach’s famous sons. In this relatively free atmosphere, in contrast to the strict adherence to certain musical traditions in the churches, there was much more room for experimentation with stylistic elements or the creation of new musical forms. For this reason we would really be interested in knowing what the lost cantata BWV Anh. I, 13Willkommen! Ihr herrschenden Götter der Erden!” (1738) was like, particularly because Lorenz Mizler commented about it as follows: “It has been composed entirely according to the new taste in music and all who heard it gave it their approval….he really knows how to give his listeners what they want to hear” (Bach-Dokumente II, Item 436). However, it should be noted that this cantata was composed at a time when Bach had temporarily relinquished the directorship of the Collegium to Carl Gotthelf Gerlach, the musical director of the New Church.

In 1741 or at the latest in 1744, Bach finally gave complete control of the ‘Bach’ Collegium musicum to Gerlach who had conducted it on an interim basis from March 1737 until September 1739. Apparently this change affected only the ‘ordinaire’ concerts or schedule. Bach was now approaching old age and possibly this rigorous schedule of performances was demanding too much of his time or perhaps he simply was not as willing to invest the necessary amount of time needed to prepare materials and to appear for performances on a biweekly (twice a week) basis. During these years, Bach, according to one of his Thomaner pupils, Johann Friedrich Sonnenkalb, rarely performed in public “ausser seinem Hause” ("outside of his house") anymore (Bach-Dokumente III, Item 703). Possibly the death of Gottfried Zimmermann on May 30, 1741 gave Bach a reason to withdraw altogether from public appearances of this sort.

It would appear that Bach could count on the support given by membership of the Collegium musicum when he performed figural music in the main churches of Leipzig. In contrast, Gerlach was granted additional monies for hiring his own musicians for church performances in the New Church. These payments were made in 1736, 1738, 1741 and 1745. In December 1737, Gerlach received 24 Talers toward the purchase of a new violone made by Johann Christian Hoffmann, an instrument maker in Leipzig. It is difficult to explain this generous support on the part of a city hall administration which had a reputation of being quite chary with most expenditures of this sort, if it were not for the fact that the musical activities at the New Church would have suffered considerably. From the obvious fact that Bach did not receive such extra payments for the St. Thomas and St. Nicolaus churches, a conclusion can be reached that Bach could rely upon using musicians from the Collegium musicum even after 1741. Another point to be mentioned here is that the few payments that Bach received from City Hall for university students who performed Bach’s figural music ceased after 1730 (with one exception, Altnickol) and after 1741 were never again granted.

The presentations of Bach’s passions with a larger than usual number of performers after 1741 were only made possible with the help given by the musicians in the Collegium musicum with whom Bach continued his contacts even though he no longer functioned as their official leader. Likewise, Bach was able put on performances with a large ensemble such as the wedding cantata, BWV 195 (1742), which has separate parts written out for the concertists and the ripienists. Repeat performances of secular cantatas such as BWV 208a (Aug. 3, 1742), BWV 212 (Aug. 30, 1742) or BWV 201 (1749), or of instrumental compositions such as BWV 1055 (circa 1742) and BWV 1067 (between 1743 and 1746), make the assumption appear possible that Bach also directed these works although he no longer conducted the Collegium musicum in an official capacity. By this time the Collegium musicum had already reached and passed its zenith and new competition arose in the form of “das Große Concert” or also called “die Große Concert-Gesellschafft”, a musical organization supported by various Leipzig merchants. Among the musicians in this new orchestra were Carl Gotthelf Gerlach along with his 1st violinist and concertmaster, Johann Trier and Johann Gottfried Wiedner, also a 1st violinist. The organist at St. Nikolaus, Johann Schneider, played the 2nd violin and a harpsichordist and violone player, Cunis, also played along. Wilhelm Friedemann Bach made frequent appearances with this group which performed at the Three Swans Inn in Leipzig. His father very likely showed little interest in this newly formed musical organization.

According to information gleaned from the Leipzig annual address books, Gerlach took over the Collegium musicum in 1741 or 1744 and remained in charge until 1746, when he allowed Johann Trier to begin substituting for him. One last time in 1751, Gerlach’s name appears as the director of the Collegium musicum. After that point in time, the organization is referred to only as “Enoch Richter’s Collegium musicum” and there is no information available to support the contention that it continued to perform under Enoch Richter’s direction.


Explanation of the Summary Translation

The purpose of my summary translation is to present material which is important to the ongoing BCML discussion and to do this as quickly and as efficiently as possible. The material is particularly pertinent at this time but is only available in German and not English. In the process of providing a rather free translation which does not attempt to account for every jot or tittle of the original, it is necessary to select and edit as well as amplify and explain what the author may have been trying to present as being clear and straightforward in German but sometimes not very apparent to a reader not so familiar with the current scholarship surrounding Bach's life and works. Some passages have been left out or simply summarized while others demand additional explanation such as Stölzel's use of the word "Chor". Sometimes the original German is quoted directly, but is then followed by my translation into English. Repetitious material has been excluded as have also the footnotes at the end of the article . A strict translation, of course, would have to account for these.

I sincerely hope that interested readers will find this type of summary translation useful in coming to terms with the results of current research which are not aleasily accessible to those readers who need or want to know more about a specific subject such as this.


Source: An article by Andreas Glöckner entitled “Bachs Leipziger Collegium musicum und seine Vorgeschichte” from Die Welt der Bach-Kantaten Vol. 2 Johann Sebastian Bachs weltliche Kantaten
editors: Christoph Wolff/Ton Koopman, published by Metzler/Bärenreiter, 1997, pp. 105-117.
Translated and summarised by Thomas Braatz (July 7, 2008)

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