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Mühlhausen (official: Mühlhausen/Thüringen) is a city in the federal state Thuringia, Germany. It is the capital of the Unstrut-Hainich district, and lies along the river Unstrut. Mühlhausen lies about 30 km north of Eisenach, in the picturesque Unstrut River valley. The city experienced its greatest glory as a 'free imperial city' in the Middle Ages. Its historical core, criss-crossed by cobbled alleyways, reflects 800 years of architectural styles. There's a good collection ofhalf-timbered houses with gorgeous carved and painted doors.

Country: Germany | State: Thuringia | District: Unstrut-Hainich-Kreis | Area: 86.34 km² | Population: 36,200 (December 2008)


Mühlhausen is one of the oldest towns in Thuringia. It said to have been fortified in 925, and is first documented in 967 in one of Otto II's manuscripts as an Ottonian village. Its early importance is shown by the grant of privileges made to it by the German King Henry the Fowler (876-936), and by the Imperial Diet held here in 1135. Mühlhausen had developed into a town by the 12th century and was enclosed by a town wall which is largely still extant. Its property was based on manufacture of drapery, leatherwork and dyer's woad (blue dyestuff). Its period of glory was the 13th through the 15th century.

During the Reformation, Mühlhausen became one of the chief seats of the Anabaptists. The town was transformed into a centre of the Thuringian peasant revolt against the feudal overlords fomented by Thomas Münster, a local radical Reformist, who preached in the Church of Saint Mary in 1525, and was captured in the vicinity and executed in the town.

Internal dissensions and injuries received during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) reduced Mühlhausen to unimportance. In 1802 it lost its independence and passed to Prussia. In 1807 it was attached to the kingdom of Westphalia, but in 1815 it again became part of the Prussian Province of Saxony.

From 1944 to March 1945, a women's slave labor camp was directly outside Mühlhausen (a branch of the Buchenwald camp). The women were deported in April 1945 to Bergen Belsen.

The old town has been restored since 1991, with obvious success. It won distinction in the German Federal competition for best preserved historic town.

Musical History of Mühlhausen

In the course of the centuries the Thuringian city of Mühlhausen, with its status of Free City of the Reich (and from 1348 onwards having full provincial sovereignty), was of enormous political importance. It was particularly at events in this political context that the city - whose detailed musical history has not yet been fully recorded - was able to emanate a distinctive aura of musical excellence. But it was not only during politically occasioned festivities that musical culture thrived in Mühlhausen - as indeed it did throughout Thuringia. 16th and 17th century musicians of no mean rank were born in this city (Johann(nes) Eccard, Johann Rudolf Ahle and his son Johann Georg, to name but a few). Evidence of the powerful influence music must once have exerted on the citizens of Mühlhausen is to be found in the proud assertion made in 1626 by Georg Andreas Fabricius, rector of the Grammar School in Mühlhausen (and later of that in Göttingen) who taught the young Johann Rudolf Ahle "Qui non est musicus, non est Mühlhausen" (He who is not a musician is not of Mühlhausen).

The state of musical culture as it existed during the 17th and early 18th centuries in the free city is captured by the of musical works composed here, as if caught by a roving historical spotlight. The compositions of Heinrich Schütz, Philipp Heinrich Erlebach and J.S. Bach owe their genesis to extraordinary (political) events in Mühlhausen, while Johann Rudolf Ahle's contributions represent, as it were, the 'long-established, native musical practice for Sundays and feast days, the continuity of music of an artistically high standard.

Following the failure of the relevant rulers negotiating at an initial summit conference in Mühlhausen in March 1620 to reach compromises which would restore peace to the Reich, the Thirty Years' War continued, "senselessly, and following a colossal, bewildering and unfathomable dramaturgical plan" (M. Gregor-Dellin, 1984). A man of no martial bent, the Electoral Prince of Saxony, Johann Georg I sought with conciliatory and diplomatic tenacity to be loyal to the Imperial constitution in his thinking and actions, desiring "at all costs to avert for as long as possible the warring armies' invasion of his vulnerable province, with its inviting potential for use as a corridor" (M. Gregor-Dellin). However, the fighting continued to spread, the belligerents had got the bit between their teeth. Ferdinand II too, who had been elected Emperor on the votes cast by the Protestant electoral princes in 1619, was not to be persuaded into assuming a more tolerant or peace-loving attitude by the occasional battle victories booked by the Catholic Imperial League. The consensus the electoral princes were nevertheless able to reach in the course of renewed negotiations which took place in Mühlhausen between October 4 and November 5, 1627 (Oct 13 to Nov 15 by the modern calendar) was a course dictated by fear. Shared in equal measure by the Catholic princes, this apprehension was focused upon the figure of Wallenstein who, in his surfeit of self-confidence, "was taking history into his own hands, seeming to have the Kaiser fully in his control" (M. Gregor-Dellin) - an impasse not to be tolerated and providing ample justification for all parties concerned to make another attempt at dialogue. In its political consequences the conference was fruitless, despite the impressive array of powerful figures represented there. Whereas Kaiser Ferdinand II, two of the three "lords spiritual" among the electoral princes the Archbishops of Trier and Cologne, the Elector of Bavaria (as the successor to Friedrich von der Pfalz who had forfeited his electoral privileges) and the Elector of Brandenburg had sent emissaries accompanied in some cases by sizeable entourages, the Electoral Prince-Bishop of Mainz and Johann Georg I, Elector of Saxony, appeared in person (the electoral entourage from Saxony comprised 600 persons and 506 horses and included Kapellmeister Heinrich Schütz together with his instrumentalists, singers, organists and choir boys).

Following the custom of opening imperial and electoral assemblies with a composition appealing for concord and love of peace (as early as 1530 such a work had come into existence in Ludwig Senfl's motet "Ecce quam bonum", conceived for the Augsburg Parliament). H. Schütz composed for the Mühlhausen negotiations a work exhorting a similar attitude of mind. This was the appropriately impressive motet for double choir "Da pacem, Domine, in diebus nostris..." (SWV 465). With this medieval antiphon, after Martin Luther's "Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich" (Grant us merciful peace), the 5-part Chorus I opens as if in prayer, supported by violas da gamba, while Chorus II, in four parts and- as H. Schütz demanded "quite distinct from the first", greets and salutes the right honourable dignitaries of Church and Reich. Each emissary was included in an almost hundred-fold salutary address. The spiritual Electors of Mainz, Trier and Cologne were praised as very foundations of the peace, Ferdinand II as unconquerable Caesar and the Electors of Saxony, Bavaria and Brandenburg as the "three bulwarks" of the peace. In no other double choir work did H. Schütz provide the individual choirs with such opposing roles, revealing here his talents as a dramatist, and indeed as a theatrical composer and master too - at the same time testifying to his heart-felt yearning for peace.

Source: Liner notes to the CD 'Mühlhäuser Staats-, Fest- und Ratsmusiken: Schütz, J.R. Ahle, Erlebach, J.S. Bach', Thorofon 1995

Notable People

Ludwig Helmbold (1532-1598), composer and poet of church hymns
Joachim a Burck (1546-1610), composer and poet of church hymns
Johann [Johannes] Eccard (1553-1611), church composer of importance in the development of the German chorale
Johann Rudolf Ahle (1625-1673), composer, organist, writer on music and poet
Johann Georg Ahle (1651-1706), composer, organist, theorist, and Protestant church musician
Johann Friedrich Wender (1655-1729), organ builder
Johann Friedrich Bach [29] (c1682-1730), organist and composer; succeeded J.S. Bach as organist of St Blasius's church
Friedrich August Stüler (1800-1865), influential architect and builder
John Augustus Röbling (1806 -1869) civil engineer famous for the design of the Brooklyn Bridge
Adolph Methfessel (1807-1878), composer
Ernst Methfessel (1811-1886), composer
John [Johannes] Adolphus Etzler (19th century), German-American author, socialist theorist (technological utopianist)
Günter Fromm (1926-1994), author


Bach Connection

Mühlhausen is the town in Thuringia where J.S. Bach was organist in 1707-1708. Mühlhausen was an imperial free city, under the control of the emperor himself; its territory included several smaller villages. Following the practice of German town constitutions of the time, the local council changed every year, and the posts of lord mayor, his deputy, and the councillors were filled three times over, so that the officials were active only every third year.

Situated on an incline below which flows the River Unstrut, Mühlhausen has two important churches: in the upper town the Marienkirche, in the lower town the Blasiuskirche. Both churches had schools attached to them, and therefore they each had their own Kantor. They also had their own organists and pastors, but they were not strictly attached to one of the institutions. The pastors held services alternately in both churches; J.S. Bach became organist at the Blasiuskirche, but some of his duties were at the Marienkirche. For instance, he was responsible for the cantata performed on the occasion of the annual Ratswechsel ('change of council') in the Marienkirche. The reason for this was that in Mühlhausen the leading figure in the town's musical life was one of the organists, not a Kantor as in Leipzig - a tradition dating from the time when Joachim a Burck (1546-1610) was organist at the Blasiuskirche.

At Easter 1707, J.S. Bach sat at the organ of the Blasiuskirche in Mühlhausen and impressed the elders of the town so much with a sample of his playing, that he was offered the vacant position of organist on the spot. He did not hesitate for very long and took over the position in the summer. J.S. Bach's predecessors at Mühlhausen were Johann Rudolf Ahle (1625-1673) and his son Johann Georg (1651-1706). Johann Georg Ahle had become famous above all as a song composer. J.S. Bach was the first member of his family to be active in Mühlhausen. As we know from a letter of Johann Gottfried Walther, who also applied for the post, the examination was not confined to playing the organ but included the performance of a cantata. The only known work by J.S. Bach which fits the chronological situation is the Easter cantata Christ lag in Todes Banden (BWV 4), which means that J.S. Bach's examination might have taken place at Easter 1707. His duties there began in July. As in Arnstadt, his contract did not mention any musical duties except those of organist, but J.S. Bach composed a number of cantatas in Mühlhausen, including the Ratswechsel cantata, Gott ist mein König (BWV 71) in 1708 and Aus der Tiefen rufe ich (BWV 131). According to his letter of resignation, he might have supervised music in the villages around Mühlhausen as well. During his Mühlhausen years J.S. Bach married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach, on October 17, 1707.

As organist of the Blasiuskirche, J.S. Bach initiated a complete renovation of the organ by the Mühlhausen builder Johann Friedrich Wender (1655-1729) in 1708-1709. The resulting instrument, which had three manuals, pedals, and 37 stops, is not extant. To save costs, J.S. Bach dispensed with the positive organ in the church (the instrument used to accompany music, such as traditional motets, directed by the Kantor) and thereby at the same time assured his own supervision of the music being performed in the Blasiuskirche. This Wender organ, which in the meantime has been replaced, was reconstructed in 1959 true to the original J.S. Bach designs by the Potsdam organ building company Schuke. The doctor and J.S. Bach researcher Albert Schweitzer was also involved and sent letters of advice from Lambarene. Today the organ sounds as it did at the time of J.S. Bach in the centre of the impressive architecture of this three nave Gothic Hall Church.

Religious life in Mühlhausen was burdened by quarrels between the two pastors, the superintendent Johann Adolf Frohne (1652-1713), who officiated mainly at the Blasiuskirche, and his colleague from the Marienkirche, Georg Christian Eilmar. Spitta supposed the reason for this to be the Lutheran controversy about Pietism (Frohne) and Orthodoxy (Eilmar), but Petzoldt has shown how little the positions held by Frohne were connected with Pietism. Apparently, it was more a personal quarrel between the two men about the 'proper' interpretation of the Bible. J.S. Bach was on July 1708 His reasons for leaving are obscure. He complained that he had not succeeded in establishing a 'regulated church music', and this could have been because of the theological disputes, or the financial problems of the town (a large part of which had burnt down on May 30, 1707, shordy after J.S. Bach's election), but also because of personal considerations. J.S. Bach continued to be active for the Reichsstadt. He composed the Ratswechsel cantata of 1709, which appears to have been printed, like Gott ist mein König (BWV 71) the year before, and he was asked to continue supervising the construction of the new organ. In 1735 his son Johann Gottfried Bernhard succeeded Johann Gottfried Hetzehenn (1664-1735), who had been J.S. Bach's opposite number at the Marienkirche.

The Marienkirche, with its 87 metre high tower and the colossal nave, is still the most overwhelming building of the town and is closely connected to the work of J.S. Bach in Mühlhausen. It was here in 1708 that his Ratswechsel Cantata Gott ist mein König (BWV 71) was festively performed. The town even printed the text afterwards. It is the only opus of J.S. Bach that was published during his lifetime. Incidentally, he came here again some time later as organ specialist and to recommend his sonJohann Gottfried Bernhard Bach [47] (1715-1739) for the position as organist. and who carried it out from 1735 to 1737. The Marienkirche played another great role in the history of the town. On the March 16, 1525, the citizens removed the old council from office, and it was here that the reformator Thomas Muntzer preached. A permanent exhibition in the Corn Market Church is dedicated to the events of the Peasants' War.

The handwritten organ arrangement by J.S. Bach for the Blasiuskirche and his letter of resignation from 1708 are kept in the Reich City Archive in the Town Hall. He wrote in this that despite all his efforts, it was not posible to create enough church music which were up to his standards. He left Mühlhausen after only one year in order to try his luck at the Court of Weimar. It is speculated on by some biographers whether J.S. Bach left because he did not want to be drawn into the open quarrel between pietists and orthodox Lutherans which was carried out from the pulpit at that time. After all he was befriended with the Lutheran priest of the Marienkirche, Georg Christian Eilmar. Or whether it was only creative unrest which drove him away, and most certainly the better conditions which awaited him in Weimar. J.S. Bach's successor as organist was his cousin Johann Friedrich Bach [29] (c1682-1730), son of the Eisenach organist Johann Christoph Bach [13] (1642-1703).

Article by Konrad Küster in Malcolm Boyd (Editor): Oxford Composer Companion - J.S. Bach (Oxford University Press, 1999)
Konrad Küster: Der junge Bach (Stuttgart, 1996), pp. 151-181
Martin Petzoldt: Bachstäten Ein Reiseführer zu Johann Sebastian Bach (Insel Verlag, 2000)
Mühlhausen brochures from Bach Tours of Aryeh Oron (1999, 2004)

Events in Life History of J.S. Bach



Arnstadt (1703-1707)

Apr 24, 1707

Easter Sunday: audition for the organist position at Blasiuskirche, Mühlhausen

Jun 14-22, 1707

Negotiations with the Mühlhausen Town Council; accepts appointment

Mühlhausen (1707-1708)

July 1, 1707

Begins as organist at Blasiuskirche, Mühlhausen (until June 1708)

Leipzig (1731-1740)

Jun 1735

Organ examination in Marienkirche, Mühlhausen

Jun 16, 1735

Appointment of son Gottfried Bernhard as organist at Marienkirche

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






1707-1708 [Mühlhause]



Penitential Service


Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir

1st performance

Aug 10, 1707 ?



Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit

1st performance


Easter Sunday


Christ lag in Todesbanden

1st performance


Unknown occasion


Meine Seele soll Gott loben


Feb 4, 1708

Town Council Inauguration


Gott ist mein König

1st performance

Jun 5, 1708

Wedding [Dornheim?]


Der Herr denkt an uns

1st performance

1708-1714 ?

New Year’s Day


Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele

1st performance

1708-1717 ?




1st performance

Bach Festivals & Cantata Series

Festival (Link to Website)

Artistic Director





Thüringer Bachwochen

Christoph Drescher



Thuringia, Germany



Features of Interest

Blasiuskirche = Divi Blasii Church = The Parish church of St. Blasius (13th-14th centuries)
Bach Church
Town Wall (12th-14th centuries)
Town Hall (13th-18th centuries)
Marienkirche = Church of St. Mary = Church of the Virgin Mary (12th-15th centuries)
Jakobikirche = St. James Church
City archives

Apart from the two main churches Divi Blasil and of the Virgin Mary the town has ten other places of worship and sacral buildings. These and the towers along the 2700 metre long town wall form the silhouette of the town which can be seen from afar and reward the visitor on his way there with a unique view. Mühlhausen, "ornamented with towers", has kept the medieval structure, too. It is one of the most attractive towns in Thuringia next to the unique countryside of the Hainich National Park.


M?hlhausen US

Information & Links

Ratsstrasse 20
D-99974 Mühlhausen
Tel.: +49-3601-452335 / Fax: +49-3601-452316
Website: Mühlhausen (Official Website) [German]

TA Mühlhausen [German]
Mühlhausen [German]
Cityreview: Thüringen > Mühlhausen/Thüringen [German]
Mühlhausen/Thüringen (Meinestadt) [German]
Mühlhausen Museen [Geman]

Mühlhausen 1707-1708 (Koster)
The J.S. Bach Tourist 9: Mühlhausen (Koster)
On the Traces of J.S. Bach: Mühlhausen (Germany Tourism)
J.S. Bach Biographie: Arnstadt-Weimar 1703-1708 (Schlu) [German]
J.S. Bach Education & Career: Mühlhausen 1707-1708 (T.A. Smith)
J.S. Bach Biography: Mühlhausen (Carolina Classical)


Prepared by Aryeh Oron (October 2003 - 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 13:34