Leipzig – the home of famous composers

Johann Sebastian Bach

City of Leipzig Music Director and Thomas Cantor

Bach worked in Leipzig from 1723 until his death in 1750. During this time, he was responsible for church services and special ecclesiastical festivities at both the St. Nicholas and St. Thomas  churches.

In addition, he also organised many secular events in his role as the "director musices" (musical director) of the city. For many years he was head of the Collegium musicum, an association for professional artists and student musicians. He was also invited to test newly-built organs in numerous towns, where he took the opportunity to show off his virtuoso skills.

Many of his significant compositions were written in Leipzig during his time as  Thomas Cantor  including several years' worth of sacred cantatas, the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, the Christmas Oratorio, the "Art of Fugue" and the Mass in B minor. Since the 19th century, much work has been done in Leipzig on researching and interpreting Bach's compositions. Several institutions, associations and competitions have been founded as a result of this work.

Would you like to learn more about this famous composer? Then we recommend a visit to the Bach Museum, which provides deep insights into the life and work of Johann Sebastian Bach in Leipzig.


The Leipzig Podcast

In the footsteps of Bach, Mendelssohn and co.!

The Leipzig St. Thomas Boys Choir

Concerts in St. Thomas Church Leipzig

Leipzig St. Thomas Boys Choir

Musical life in Leipzig stretches back to the choir's roots in the year 1212. It is at this point in time that Margrave Dietrich appropriated a church and dedicated it to the Augustinian canon, who was very interested in growing his own power. The associate monastic school was initially tasked with training boys in liturgical singing. This later resulted in the formation of the St. Thomas Choir.

The structure of this most famous German boys choir, which was led by Johann Sebastian Bach for 27 years, has remained unchanged for 800 years. The weekly performances of motets and cantatas enjoy great popularity among music lovers.

Performances in St. Thomas Church:

  • Fridays: 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm (liturgical form of the vesper)
  • Saturdays: 3:00 pm bis 4:15 pm (a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach is usually performed at this time)

Each visitor is required to purchase a ticket for €2 at the entrance. These tickets are more than worth it!


Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, born on 3 February 1809 in Hamburg, was the grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and is one of the most impressive figures in international music history. He is recognised as the most important conductor of Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra as well as for his work in fundamentally changing the city's musical landscape and initiating the Bach Renaissance in Germany.

His symphony in C minor premiered on 1 February 1827 and was the first of his compositions to be played at Leipzig Gewandhaus. At the age of 26, Mendelssohn Bartholdy travelled from Berlin to Leipzig in late August 1835 to replace the dismissed Gewandhaus conductor Christian August Pohlenz. During his 12 years in Leipzig, he worked with Ferdinand David to turn the Gewandhaus orchestra into a high-quality ensemble of European standard. He also founded the oldest music school in Germany. By setting up the Leipzig Conservatory on 2 April 1843, he created ideal conditions for providing a better education for young musicians. The first permanent staff members included Ferdinand David, Moritz Hauptmann, Henriette Bünau-Grabau and Robert Schumann.


Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner, the most influential composer of the High Romantic period, was born in Leipzig on 22 May 1813 in the "House of the Red and White Lion", the last of nine children. The house of his birth on Brühl boulevard 319, later no. 1-3, was torn down in 1886. 

From June 1813, Wagner attended St. Thomas school, although he left without completing the final exam. The young artist secretly received his first musical harmony training from Gewandhaus musician Christian Gottlieb Müller.

In order to devote himself entirely to student life and music, Wagner enrolled in "studiosus musicae" at the Leipzig University in February 1831. Soon thereafter, he became a student under the St. Thomas choirmaster Christian Theodor Weinlig. The choirmaster recognised Wagner's musical talents and encouraged him. Wagner expressed his admiration for his music teacher Weinlig by dedicating his Opus I (Piano Sonata in B flat major) to him. In 1843, he dedicated his work for male-voice choir "Das Liebesmahl der Apostel" to his teacher's widow.

At Leipzig Gewandhaus, Wagner was introduced to Ludwig van Beethoven's nine symphonies and was inspired to compose his own symphony. He was 17 years old when his Overture in B flat major was performed in 1830 at the Comödienhaus and his music was played in Leipzig for the first time. Wagner's music was first performed at Leipzig Gewandhaus in February 1832 (Overture in D minor).


Clara und Robert Schumann

a marriage of artists!

Clara Schumann, née Wieck

Leipzig's most famous female musician

Clara was the daughter of Friedrich Wieck, an ambitious piano teacher and instrument trader, and remains the most famous female musician from Leipzig to this day. She was born on 13 September 1819 in Leipzig and received a strict musical education at the piano from the age of five. She performed in Leipzig Gewandhaus for the first time at the young age of nine. At 16, she was counted as a pianist of European importance.

In October 1831, she performed in Weimar for Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who was full of praise for her. This was followed by numerous concert tours where she performed the works of Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann.

In 1828, she met the 18-year-old law student Robert Schumann. Schumann was her father's piano student, and lived with the Wiecks in 1830/31. He fell in love with the young Clara, who returned his affections. Five years later, they secretly got engaged. On 12 September 1840, the celebrated pianist and the as-yet-unknown composer got married in the Schönefeld church and moved to their apartment in the Inselstrasse. They spent four happy and productive years there.

Would you like to walk in Clara and Robert Schumann's footsteps? 

At the Schumann House on Inselstrasse, which was regarded as an important meeting place for international artists, you can get an insight into the artistic careers of Clara and Robert during their youth. The exhibition at the Schumann House, which opened in 2019 on September 14 and was curated by Dr Beatrix Borchard, is entitled "Experiment Künstlerehe" (Experiment of an artist marriage) and for the first time addresses the life of a musician couple.

Robert Schumann

He wrote his famous "Spring Symphony" in Leipzig

Schumann, who was born on 8 June 1810 in Zwickau, came to Leipzig in May 1828 to study law. The "old, famous and beautiful city" became the melting pot of his self-awareness. After just one year, he dropped out of law school and switched to music. He moved in with his piano teacher, Friedrich Wieck, and trained as a pianist. This is where he first met Cara Wieck, the nine-year old piano prodigy.

In the spring of 1833, Schumann overextended a tendon in his right hand through excessive and erroneous practice, forcing him to dedicate himself exclusively to his compositional work. His ideas on modern poetic composition styles were first expressed through his piano pieces, such as the "Abegg Variations Op. 1".

After he married Clara Wieck on 12 September 1840 in Schönefeld Church, the young couple moved into a late classical house. There is no other building in Leipzig where so much incredible music was written and so many important artists came to stay. The year of the wedding was Schumann's "year of songs". He created around 150 songs for voice and piano, including the "Liebesfrühling" cycle.

Clara Schumann in Leipzig

The life of a powerful woman

A young woman portrays the Leipzig composer Clara Schumann at the piano in the historic salon in the Schumann House, while two young female listeners look at her admiringly as she gives a concert.© Andreas Schmidt

“What?! You can't just do that!" Well, some of you know these words all too well. Words that tell us that we aren't allowed to do something, that we can't or shouldn't. Because we are not experienced enough, talented enough, or our job does not entitle us to do so. And the only correct answer to such a quick judgement is – you can already guess - "Oh yes, I can!" 

How do you think such a strong statement was received 150 years ago? Especially from a woman? We would like to introduce you to a personality bursting with expressive power: Clara Schumann! But does she really deserve all this praise? Decide for yourself! Today we will introduce you to the famous composer and pianist and her eventful time in Leipzig – but above all, we want to show you how strong the woman behind the musical talent was...

Gustav Mahler

Komponist, Operndirektor und Dirigent

Gustav Mahler came to Leipzig in 1886 after working for one year at the German Theatre in Prague. Max Stägemann, the head to the Leipzig City Theatre, offered him a contract, but when Mahler came to Leipzig and realised that he already had ambitious competition in the form of his colleague Arthur Nikisch, he almost wanted to turn around and return to Prague. Stägemann, however, insisted that Mahler fulfilled the terms of the contract, and Mahler, for his part, became Leipzig City Theatre's second conductor. At his début on 3 August 1886, Mahler conducted Richard Wagner's "Lohengrin".

He very quickly became embroiled in a rivalry with Nikisch. Mahler, 26 years old at the time, was unwilling to accept Nikisch' seniority, given that the latter was only 5 years older. When Nikisch fell ill in February 1887, Mahler had to take over his duties – something he was quite happy to do. It allowed him to conduct 214 theatrical performances and 54 different pieces during the 1887/88 season. It was also during Mahler's time that Leipzig was first introduced to Richard Strauss, whose music premièred on 13 October 1887 in the Gewandhaus. Strauss conducted his 2nd Symphony in F minor, op. 12, himself. 

One of the highlights of Mahler's career was the début performance of Car Maria von Weber's "The Three Pintos" on 20 January 1888. Mahler turned the unfinished opera sketches into a unified piece. He reconstructed Weber's work, and added his own touches. The premiere was a first-rate event – even Saxony's royal couple was in attendance! Mahler received enthusiastic acclaim.


Max Reger

Komponist zwischen Spätromantik und Moderne

Max Reger, born on 19 March 1873 in Brand (Oberpfalz), was one of the leading German composers of his time, along with Richard Strauss. He became especially famous thanks to his organ compositions. In addition, he wrote chamber music and worked as a conductor and a pianist. Reger worked in Leipzig for many years – among other things, his piano concerto was first performed in the Gewandhaus. in 1907, he was appointed University music director and professor at the Royal Conservatory of Leipzig. He carried out his teaching activities until his death on 11 May 1916.
In 2016, on the occasion of his 100th death day, the city of Leipzig honoured the composer with many events. The highlight was the Max Reger festive days which took place from 8 to 20 May. Herbert Blomstedt, the honorary conductor of the Gewandhaus orchestra, took on patronage for this event. Many other special concerts were arranged in addition to organ concerts on the "Reger Organ" in St. Thomas Church, such as an organ night, promenade concerts, chamber music evenings, symphonies and organ concerts with the Gewandhaus orchestra and motets by the St. Thomas Boys Choir.


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