Weimar: Bach, Liszt and …..

We booked an apartment in downtown Weimar for 5 days.  We figured we would need that amount of time to cover the significant history of Weimar.  Weimar’s golden age was from Bach (early 1700’s) til the contemporary kunst (art) of the Bauhaus movement (1920’s).  What came next is dark and comes later in the blog.

Weimar is a bustling town of 60,000 inhabitants.  In Bach’s day, it consisted of the old town area with about 5000 inhabitants.  Unfortunately for Bach, a few other international figures have over shadowed the prominence and accomplishments of Bach, namely Goethe and Schiller.  So, if you’re in Weimar to relish in all things literary, you’re in luck.  If you want to explore Bach’s Weimar period, not so much.  Bach (1685-1750) lived in Weimar twice; as a teenager when he was a “lacquay” or lackey, and later as an adult.  Both times he worked for the Duke of Weimar.  As a lackey, he was part time musician and part time ‘chief pot washer’, doing what ever needed to be done around the court.  But later (1708-17), he was court musician, organist and kappelmeister for the court church.  During this period, he began to compose his prelude and fugues, as well as Well Tempered Clavier.

Here is a pic of the palace where Bach worked:

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The chapel is in the corner behind the tower.  Unfortunately, there was a fire recently so we were unable to see it.  There is little left of Bach’s home other than this facade, which has been concreted over.  A weed patch exists behind what you see:

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Finally, across the street from the pic above is a bust of Bach and that pretty much sums it up.  Again, the golden boys of Weimar are Schiller and Goethe, and to a lesser extent, Liszt.  No museum nor celebration of Bach’s life and work in this town.

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So, we move on to Liszt, and will return to Bach when we visit Leipzig just 60 miles or so away.

Liszt lived in Weimar twice as well, but only in the summers (probably to escape the heat). In Weimar, there is the perfectly preserved home of Liszt, just on the outskirts of old Weimar.

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Liszt was an absolute rock star in his day.  He was one of the earliest concert pianists who made a living performing all over Europe.  He was the whole package:  composer, conductor, teacher and pianist.  He threw towels from around his neck into the audience (yes, Elvis must have gotten that from him) and wore a glove on one hand that he would also toss into the audience (yes, Michael Jackson must have gotten this from him!).  People loved Liszt and apparently he was an all around pretty good guy.  In Weimar, he was Kappelmeister for the Duke but left when he had made grand plans for a theater to be built that would be able to perform Wagner’s Ring Cycle (instead, Beyreuth was built for that purpose) and plans for a music school to be built.  What he encountered was a lack of money and interest from the ‘government’.  Sound familiar?  However, he returned years later and spent that last 20+ summers in Weimar.  Although the theater he envisioned was never built, there is a music school in his name today.

In the summers, Liszt taught lessons to 40 plus students.  However, he did not teach them one at a time.  These were accomplished young pianists who would benefit more from group lessons.  Essentially, Liszt invented the Masterclass.  The students would come to his home with prepared pieces and put them on the table (he never assigned specific pieces).  Liszt would look through the pieces and decide which ones would be used for the masterclass.  He charged no fee for these sessions.  Here are some pics, preserved in the home exactly as it was when Liszt died.

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The table:

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The piano from the previous pic is just to the left of the table.  This area makes up the salon where he taught.  There are chairs all around the area for which the students can sit.

Here is a pic of the great one:

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He is in his 60’s for this portrait.

Finally, as one can imagine, Liszt concertized and traveled all over Europe.  He was not picky about pianos and would often exit a stage coach and play a concert with in 5 minutes time.  But he did have a portable piano that he traveled with.  He kept it in his hotel room and practiced on it.  However, the keyboard was silent; truly a practice piano:

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Here is it is pictured on a table.  How cool is that?  His dining area and bedroom area are equally preserved.  He was “rich and famous” but lived quite humbly.  It was an honor to be in his space, I must say.

After the 1920’s, things got dark in this region of Germany.  I would not normally seek out a concentration camp.  But when Buchenwald is only 6 miles up on the hillside, you have little excuse but to go and see it.  Buchenwald was built in 1937, to house dissidents, gays, gypsies, enemies of the state etc.  But by WWII, it is a full blown concentration camp.  Over 400,000 individuals would pass through this camp, and some 56,000 would die there.  Buchenwald had 139 subcamps around Germany and even a few in France.  What most people don’t realize is that in 1945 when the Russians liberated the camp, they took over the camp and housed Germans, purportedly Nazis, and thousands would die there over the next 5 years.

Not much remains of the camp; it was mostly blown up by the Allied forces.  The gate house does remain, and the clock stopped at 3:15 when the camp was liberated on April 11.

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Most of the living quarters are gone.  A few buildings remain.  Here is the crematorium:IMG_1736.jpg

The fencing is about 7 feet tall and was electrified.  Although the barb wire is new, the posts are original.  Two guard towers remain, as you can see on the left.  Here are the stats for the camp:

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I was told by our apartment hosts that some time around age 13, every school child with in a 100 mile radius takes a school trip to see the camp.  Germans want to make sure that this never happens again and this is a good way to ensure just that.

I blog to you from Potsdam, along the river Havel.  On our way here, we spent the day in Leipzig where we were able to delve into Bach’s life and work.  I will blog in a day or two about the master, and our time in Potsdam.

I leave you with a picture of a “half timbered” house, which is common in the northern parts of Germany.

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Author: euro916

I am a college professor in the music department of Utah State University. I will start my sabbatical on May 1, 2016 and plan to document the year's experiences in this blog. The sabbatical consists of musical endeavors in Europe/UK for 3 months, and half a semester as guest artist in a couple of California universities. Thanks for following!

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