As much as Leipzig has been celebrating its native son Wagner this week, it is J.S. Bach—who lived in Leipzig for the last 27 years of his life—whom they hold dearest to their hearts. Bach wrote thousands of works while he served as Thomaskantor at the Thomaskirche from 1723-1750, including the Mass in B minor, both the St. Matthew and St. John Passions, hundreds of cantatas, and numerous organ works.
The Thomaskirche still stands exactly where it has since 1212, on the eastern end of the old city center. If you visit, you'll find a large monument to Bach standing outside the east door; inside, you'll find Bach himself laying under a huge bronze slab in front of the altar. But, the Thomaskirche is no museum—it is a living memorial with three weekly services featuring Bach's music, performed by members of the Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Thomanerchor, who celebrated their 800th anniversary last year. Just as the Bayreuth Festpielhaus is a mandatory destination for any Wagner devotee, in order to truly appreciate Bach's music, you have to hear it performed in this church.
So on my way out of town yesterday, I stopped by the afternoon service, which was so packed by the time I arrived that I had to sit on the stone floor beneath the pulpit. There was no view to speak of, but the music soared through the high white nave. On this occasion, Wagner's music featured prominently, with Thomasorganist Ullrich Bohme playing Liszt's transcription of the "Pilgrim's Chorus" from Tannhauser, and the Thomanerchor singing "Da zu dir der Heiland kam" from Die Meistersinger, as well as Wagner's early motet, "Dein ist das Reich," written in 1832 while studying with Thomaskantor Theodor Weinlig.