Background Information
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Guide to Bach Tour: Main Page | Life History of J.S. Bach | Performance Dates of Bach’s Vocal Works | Maps | Route Suggestions | Discussions
Maps of Bach Places | Videos of Bach Places | Symbols (Coats of Arms) of Bach Places | Organs in Bach Places
Places: Altenburg | Ammern | Arnstadt | Bad Berka | Berlin | Brandenburg | Bückeburg | Celle | Collmen | Dörna | Dornheim | Dresden | Eisenach | Erfurt | Gehren | Gera | Gotha | Halle | Hamburg | Heiligengrabe | Jena | Karlsbad | Kassel | Kleinzschocher | Köthen | Langewiesen | Leipzig | Lübeck | Lüneburg | Meiningen | Merseburg | Mühlhausen | Naumburg | Ohrdruf | Pomßen | Potsdam | Ronneburg | Sangerhausen | Schleiz | Stöntzsch | Störmthal | Taubach | Wechmar | Weimar | Weißenfels | Weißensee | Wiederau | Zeitz | Zerbst | Zschortau

Guide to Bach Tour


Description | History
J.S. Bach: Connection | Events in Life History | Performance Dates of Vocal Works | Festivals & Cantata Series
Features of Interest | Information & Links
Photos: Part 1 | Part 2 | Maps


Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area.

Dresden has a long history as the capital and royal residence for the Electors and Kings of Saxony, who for centuries furnished the city with cultural and artistic splendour. The city was completely destroyed by the controversial Allied aerial bombing towards the end of World War II. The impact of the bombing and 40 years of urban development during the East German socialist era have considerably changed the face of the city. Some restoration work has helped to reconstruct parts of historic inner city, including the Katholische Hofkirche, the Semperoper and the Dresdner Frauenkirche. Since the German reunification in 1990, Dresden has re-emerged as a cultural, educational, political and economic centre of Germany.

The Elbe Valley of Dresden was for five years an internationally recognised site of cultural significance by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. After being placed on the list of endangered World Heritage Sites in 2006, the city had its status as world heritage site formally removed in June 2009, for the wilful breach of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, through the construction of a highway bridge across the valley within 2 km of the historic centre. It thereby became the first ever place in Europe to lose this status, and the second ever in the world.

Alongside Leipzig, Dresden is one of the ten fastest-growing cities in Germany.

Country: Germany | State: Saxony | District: Urban district | Area: 328.80 km² | Population: 512,200 (December 2008)


Although Dresden is a younger city of Slavic origin, the area had been settled in the Neolithic era by Linear Pottery culture tribes ca. 7500 BC. Dresden's founding and early growth is associated with the eastward expansion of Germanic peoples, mining in the nearby Ore Mountains, and the establishment of the Margraviate of Meissen. Its name etymologically derives from Old Sorbian Drežďany, meaning people of the riverside forest. Dresden later evolved into the capital of Saxony.

Early History
Around the late 12th century, a Slavic settlement called Drežďany ("alluvial forest dwellers" had developed on the southern bank. Another settlement existed on the northern bank, but its Slavic name is unclear. It was known as Antiqua Dresdin verifiable since 1350 and later as Altendresden. Dietrich, Margrave of Meissen, chose Dresden as his interim residence in 1206, as documented in a record calling the place "Civitas Dresdene".

After 1270 Dresden became the capital of the margravate. It was restored to the Wettin dynasty in about 1319. From 1485 it was the seat of the dukes of Saxony, and from 1547 the electors as well.

Modern Age
The Elector and ruler of Saxony Frederick Augustus I became King August the Strong of Poland in personal union. He gathered many of the best musicians, architects and painters from all over Europe to Dresden. His reign marked the beginning of Dresden's emergence as a leading European city for technology and art. Dresden suffered heavy destruction in the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). Friedrich Schiller wrote his Ode to Joy (the literary base of the European anthem) for the Dresden Masonic Lodge in 1785.

The city of Dresden had a distinctive silhouette, captured in famous paintings by Bernardo Bellotto and by Norwegian painter Johan Christian Dahl.

Between 1806 and 1918 the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Saxony (which was a part of the German Empire from 1871). During the Napoleonic Wars the French emperor made it a base of operations, winning there the famous Battle of Dresden on August 27, 1813. Dresden was a center of the German Revolutions in 1849 with the May Uprising, which cost human lives and damaged the historic town of Dresden.

During the 19th century the city became a major centre of economy, including motor car production, food processing, banking and the manufacture of medical equipment. The city's population quadrupled from 95,000 in 1849 to 396,000 in 1900 as a result of industrialization.

In the early 20th century Dresden was particularly well-known for its camera works and its cigarette factories. Between 1918 and 1934 Dresden was capital of the first Free State of Saxony. Dresden was a center of European modern art until 1933.

Military History
During the foundation of the German Empire in 1871, a large military facility called Albertstadt was built. It had a capacity of up to 20,000 military personnel at the beginning of the First World War. The garrison saw only limited use between 1918 and 1934 but was then reactivated in preparation for World War II. Its usefulness was limited by attacks at April 17, 1945 on the railway network (especially towards Bohemia). Soldiers had been deployed as late as March 1945 in the Albertstadt garrison.

The Albertstadt garrison became the headquarters of the Soviet 1st Guards Tank Army in the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany after the war. Apart from the German army officers' school (Offizierschule des Heeres) there have been no more military units in Dresden since the army merger during German reunification and the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1992. Nowadays, the Bundeswehr operates the Military History Museum of the Federal Republic of Germany in the former Albertstadt garrison.

World War II
Dresden in the 20th century was a leading European centre of art, classical music, culture and science until its complete destruction on February 13, 1945. Being the capital of the German state of Saxony, Dresden had not only garrisons but a whole military borough, the Albertstadt. This military complex, named after Saxon King Albert, was never targeted in the bombing of Dresden.

During the final months of World War II Dresden became a safe haven to some 600,000 refugees, including women, children, and wounded soldiers with a total population of 1.2 million. Dresden was attacked seven times between 1944 and 1945, and was completely occupied by the Red Army after German capitulation.

The bombing of Dresden by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force between February 13 and February 15, 1945, remains one of the more controversial Allied actions of the Western European theatre of war. The inner city of Dresden was largely destroyed by 800 RAF and USAAF bombers that let loose 650,000 incendiaries and 8,000 lb of high explosives and hundreds of 4,000 lb bombs in three waves of attacks — approximately one bomb for every two people. Early reports estimated 150,000 to 250,000 deaths but a recent commissioned report claims there were 25,000 civilian casualties.

The inhabited city centre was almost wiped out, while larger residential, industrial and military sites on the outskirts were relatively unscathed. Some of the Allies described the operation as the justified bombing of a military and industrial target. In a report from the British Bomber command it stated that the military target was the Railway Marshalling yard Dresden-Friedrichstadt which housed 4,000 trucks at most per 24 hours. Prime Minister Winston Churchill tried to distance himself from the attack, even though he was heavily involved with the organisation and planning of the raid. Several researchers have argued that the February attacks were disproportional. American novelist Kurt Vonnegut witnessed the raid as a POW; his novel Slaughterhouse-Five is based on that experience. In remof the victims, the anniversaries of the bombing of Dresden are marked with peace demonstrations, devotions and marches.

Post-War Period
After the Second World War, Dresden became a major industrial center in the German Democratic Republic with a great deal of research infrastructure. Many important historic buildings were rebuilt including the Semper Opera House, the Zwinger Palace and a great many other historic buildings, although the city leaders chose to reconstruct large areas of the city in a "socialist modern" style, partly for economic reasons but also in order to break away from the city's past as the royal capital of Saxony and a stronghold of the German bourgeoisie. However, some of the bombed-out ruins of churches, royal buildings and palaces, such as the Gothic Sophienkirche, the Alberttheater and the Wackerbarth-Palais were razed by the Soviet and East German authorities in the 1950s and 1960s instead of being repaired. Compared to West Germany, the majority of historic buildings were saved.

From 1985 to 1990 the KGB stationed Vladimir Putin, the future President of Russia, in Dresden. On 3 October 1989 (the so-called "battle of Dresden"), a convoy of trains carrying East German refugees from Prague passed through Dresden on its way to the Federal Republic of Germany. Local activists and residents joined in the growing civil disobedience movement spreading across the German Democratic Republic by staging demonstrations and demanding the removal of the non-democratic government.

Dresden has experienced dramatic changes since the reunification of Germany in the early 1990s. The city still bears many wounds from the bombing raids of 1945, but it has undergone significant reconstruction in recent decades. Restoration of the Dresden Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, which was being rebuilt from the stones of the original church, was completed in 2005, a year before Dresden's 800th anniversary, notably by privately raised funds. The urban renewal process, which includes the reconstruction of the area around the Neumarkt square on which the Frauenkirche is situated, will continue for many decades, but public and government interest remains high, and there are numerous large projects underway - both historic reconstructions and modern plans — that will continue the city's recent architectural renaissance.

Dresden remains a major cultural center of historical memory, owing to the city's destruction in World War II. Each year on February 13, the anniversary of the British and American fire-bombing raid that destroyed most of the city, tens of thousands of demonstrators gather to commemorate the event. Since reunification, the ceremony has taken on a more neutral and pacifist tone (after being used more politically in Cold War times). In recent years, however, white power skinheads have tried to use the event for their own political ends. In 2005, Dresden was host to the largest Neo-Nazi demonstration in the post-war history of Germany. Between five and eight thousand Neo-Nazis took part, mourning what they call the "Allied bomb-holocaust".

In 2002 torrential rains caused the Elbe to flood 9 metres (30 ft) above its normal height, i.e. even higher than the old record height from 1845, damaging many landmarks (See 2002 European flood). The destruction from this "millennium flood" is no longer visible, due to the speed of reconstruction.

The United Nations' cultural organization UNESCO declared the Dresden Elbe Valley to be a World Heritage Site in 2004. After being placed on the list of endangered World Heritage Sites in 2006, the city lost the title in June 2009, due to the construction of the Waldschlößchenbrücke, making it only the second ever World Heritage Site to be removed from the register. UNESCO stated in 2006 that the bridge would destroy the cultural landscape. The city council's legal moves meant to prevent the bridge from being built failed.


Bach Connection

Dresden was the main city and capital of Saxony, in J.S. Bach's time and today. From 1694 Dresden was also the residence of the kings of Poland, August II (Elector Friedrich August I of Saxony) and his son August III (Elector Friedrich August II of Saxony). The father followed French examples and customs, whereas the son showed also Italianate tastes, including a notable predilection for opera.

From about 1685 the newly rebuilt section of the city on the west bank of the Elbe was enriched and enlivened as a result of the artistically enlightened despotism that made Dresden a cultural citadel open to the public, as well as to the court. The city's many palaces and museums acquired both old and new masterpieces, and the creative and performing arts were put on public display as a demonstration of both affluence and refined taste. The manufacture of Dresden china in imitation of far-eastern porcelain began in 1709 in Dresden, but was transferred the following year to nearby Meißen. Figurines and decorations on the porcelains depict festive events of the day and provide glimpses into the lavish court life when the city was at its cultural zenith around 1730.

J.S. Bach seems to have had a genuine admiration for Dresden. He cast envious eyes at the musical establishment maintained there by the Saxon court, and in the Entwurff (1730) he used it as a stick with which to beat his Leipzig employers. He visited the city at least five times, and on each occasion the aristocracy there were made aware of his visit, and his public performances were the subject of journalistic approval. The occasion of his visit in 1717 was the famous keyboard challenge from which J.S. Bach's contestant, Louis Marchand, withdrew at the last minute; on September 19-20, 1725 J.S. Bach gave recitals at the Silbermann organ in the Sophienkirche; during the week beginning May 14, 1731 he was again heard in the Sophienkirche and at court, and he may also have attended the premiere of Johann Adolf Hasse's opera Cleofide on July 13, 1733 he was in the Saxon capital to present the parts of the B minor Missa (BWV 232) (Kyrie and Gloria) to the elector; and on December 1, 1736, shortly after his appointment as Kapellmeister von Haus aus to the Dresden court, he gave a recital on the recently completed Silbermann organ in the Frauenkirche. J.S. Bach's greatest wish, to become the Royal Court composer to the Prince Elector in Dresden, was never fulfilled despite his composition of the Mass in B minor (BWV 232) specifically for that purpose, which is now stored in the Book Museum of the Saxon Regional and University Library.

These were doubtless not his only visits to the Saxon capital; according to J.N. Forkel, he took his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, to the opera in Dresden several times. W.F. Bach's association with the city was eventually even closer than his father's. From June 23, 1733 to April 1746 he served as organist of the Sophienkirche, which was effectively the place of worship for Lutherans in the royal employ throughout this period; he is certain to have had regular dealings with the court's official Lutheran composer, Pantaleon Hebenstreit, during these years.

J.S. Bach's heritage is kept alive in Dresden today primarily by the Dresdner Kreuzchor, the Virtuosi Saxoniae, the Dresdner Kammerchor, the Dresden Bach Choir, Dresdner Barockorchester and the Bach Camera Musicale.

Article by Stephen Daw in Malcolm Boyd (Editor): Oxford Composer Companion - J.S. Bach (Oxford University Press, 1999)
G.J. Buelow, 'Dresden in the Age of Absolutism', in Man and Music: The Late Baroque Era (London, 1993), 254-295
O. Landmann, 'The Dresden Hofkapelle During the Lifetime Johann Sebastian Bach', Early Music, 17 (1989), 17-30

Events in Life History of .S. Bach



Weimar (1708-1717)

Autumn 1717

Organ competition in Dresden with Louis Marchand

Leipzig (1723-1730)

Apr 19-20, 1725

Organ recitals at Sophienkirche, Dresden

Leipzig (1731-1740)

Sep 14-21, 1731

Organ recitals at Sophienkirche, Dresden

June 23, 1733

Appointment of son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach as organist at Sophienkirche, Dresden

July 1733

Visit to Dresden

Nov 19, 1736

Appointment as Hofcompositeur to Dresden Court

Dec 1, 1736

Organ recital at Frauenkirche, Dresden

May 1738

Visit to Dresden

Leipzig (1741-1750)

Nov 1741

Visit to Dresden

Performance Dates of J.S. Bach’s Vocal Works






Leipzig (1731-1740)


July 27, 1733



Kyrie & Gloria from Mass in B minor


Bach Festivals & Cantata Series: None


Features of Interest

The Old City: The historical centre of Dresden is located on the left bank of the Elbe, at the peak of a graceful river bend. Protected for centuries by mighty fortifications, the Saxon capital developed splendour and activity.
Royal Palace: First mention of a castle some 700 years ago. A palace comprising four wings was built in the late 15th century. Renaissance-style enlargement 1548-1556. Destroyed by fire in 1701 and rebuilt under Augustus the Strong. Large-scale alterations in Neo-Renaissance style 1889-1901 to mark the 800th anniversary of the Wettin dynasty. Destroyed in 1945. Reconstruction commenced in 1989 and still in progress. Tower and Palace Exhibition.
Zwinger Palace: Built 1710-1728 by the architect Pöppelmann in cooperation with the sculptor Permoser. Originally designed as an orangery and a setting for court festivities, it was later used for exhibitions. Most perfect example of Late Baroque architecture in Germany. Construction of the Semper Gallery 1847-55.
Semper Opera House.
Loschwitz Elbe Palaces.
Pillnitz Palace.
Palace in the Grand Garden.
Cathedral: Built 1738-54 in Baroque style by the Italian Gaetano Chiaveri. Largest church in Saxony. Cathedral of the Dresden-Meissen Diocese since 1980.
Frauenkirche (The Church of our Lady).
Kreuzekirche (Church of the Holy Cross): The present church was built in the late Baroque and early Classicistic style between 1764 and 1800. It is the home of the Kreuzchor boys’ choir, whose tradition reaches back more than 700 years.
Three Kings Church.
Old and New Masters art galleries, "Green Vault" treasure chamber, Porcelain Collection.
The Königstrasse.
Pfund's Dairy in the Outer New Town (Äussere Neustadt) and the "Gründerzeit" quarter.
Procession of Princes: Mural painted on tiles of Meissen porcelain. 101 metres long. Depicts successive generations of Wettin rulers as a mounted procession.
Altmarkt Square: The large rectangular market-place has been the heart of the town since Dresden’s foundation and was mentioned for the first time in a document in 1370. Markets, festivities, tournaments and games were staged here and important historical events also turned the Altmarkt square into one of the social centres in town.


Dresden + Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel von Johann Sebastian Bach - BWV 650

Information & Links

Dresden-Webrung und Tourismus GmbH
Ostra-Allee 11
D-01067 Dresden
Tel: +49-351/491920
Fax: +49-351/49192116
Tourist Information: Prager Strasse / Schinkelwache am Theaterplatz
Website: Dresden Tourist [various languages]

Dresden Tourismus [German]
Dresden (Official Website) [German]
Rund um Dresden [German]
Dresden Tourismus Service [German]
Dresden (Wikipedia) [various languages]
Cityreciew: Sachsen > Dresden [German]
Dresden (Meinestadt) [German]

On the Traces of J.S. Bach: Dresden (Germany Tourism)


Prepared by Aryeh Oron (March 2004 - December 2009)

Guide to Bach Tour: Main Page | Life History of J.S. Bach | Performance Dates of Bach’s Vocal Works | Maps | Route Suggestions | Discussions
Maps of Bach Places | Videos of Bach Places | Symbols (Coats of Arms) of Bach Places | Organs in Bach Places
Places: Altenburg | Ammern | Arnstadt | Bad Berka | Berlin | Brandenburg | Bückeburg | Celle | Collmen | Dörna | Dornheim | Dresden | Eisenach | Erfurt | Gehren | Gera | Gotha | Halle | Hamburg | Heiligengrabe | Jena | Karlsbad | Kassel | Kleinzschocher | Köthen | Langewiesen | Leipzig | Lübeck | Lüneburg | Meiningen | Merseburg | Mühlhausen | Naumburg | Ohrdruf | Pomßen | Potsdam | Ronneburg | Sangerhausen | Schleiz | Stöntzsch | Störmthal | Taubach | Wechmar | Weimar | Weißenfels | Weißensee | Wiederau | Zeitz | Zerbst | Zschortau


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Last update: Friday, June 02, 2017 13:46