A Walk on the Leipzig Music Trail, Leipzig

A Walk on the Leipzig Music Trail (Self Guided), Leipzig

The spatial density of historic locations associated with music in Leipzig is truly mind-boggling. But then again, this is hardly surprising, given the eclectic score of musicians who had left their mark on the city in various years.

Indeed, it was in Leipzig that Johann Sebastian Bach served as an organist and choirmaster at Thomaskirche as well as a cantor at Nikolaikirche; composer Robert Schumann fell in love with and married pianist Clara Wieck; and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy worked as a director of the Gewandhaus orchestra, the oldest concert orchestra in the world, and then founded a conservatory to instruct his musical protegees.

The city was also home to Richard Wagner, Albert Lortzing, and Gustav Mahler, to mention but a few. Many of the former residences and places of work of these and other prominent musicians, now carefully-preserved, serve as museums. Among them are the Bach Museum, the Mendelssohn Haus, the Edvard Grieg Memorial, the Robert Schumann House and more. Some of the musical grands, like Bach, also found their final resting place here.

Add to this the Altes Rathaus (Old City Hall) where Bach signed an employment contract with the city, the Leipzig Opera House established since the 17th century, and the Museum of Musical Instruments boasting the largest collection of musical instruments in Germany (more than 10,000 pieces), and you, perhaps, will get an idea of the place that music holds in the heart of Leipzig.

The Leipzig Music Trail is fairly short and can be easily explored on foot, allowing visitors a unique chance to discover Leipzig's 800 years of music history on a leisurely stroll. If you wish to learn about the city's architecture, public spaces, history, and personalities – all in the context of musical tradition – take this self-guided walking tour.
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A Walk on the Leipzig Music Trail Map

Guide Name: A Walk on the Leipzig Music Trail
Guide Location: Germany » Leipzig (See other walking tours in Leipzig)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles
Author: karenl
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church)
  • Bach Museum
  • Mendelssohn Monument
  • Market Square and Old Town Hall
  • Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church)
  • Leipzig Opera House
  • Mendelssohn Haus (Mendelssohn House)
  • Edvard Grieg Memorial and Social Centre
  • Museum of Musical Instruments
  • Alter Johannisfriedhof (Old St. John's Cemetery)
  • Robert Schumann House
Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church)

1) Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church) (must see)

Since the 1100s, at least, there has been a church at the St. Thomas Church site in Leipzig. Under the crossing and choir of the current Gothic hall church, there are the Romanesque foundations of a yet earlier church. In the 13th century, the earlier building became the Augustinian monastery and core of the University of Leipzig, founded in 1409.

Troubadour Heinrich von Morungen gifted a relic of St Thomas to the church in 1217. Martin Luther preached here in 1538. The current tower was built in 1537. Johann Sebastian Bach directed the choir at St Thomas and taught at st Thomas School until he died in 1750. Carl Seffner's statue of Bach next to the church was dedicated in 1906.

While on tour, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played the organ at the church in 1789. Richard Wagner was baptized here in 1813. He later studied piano with the cantor Christian Weinlig. A bronze statue of Felix Mendelssohn designed by sculptor Werner Stein was erected opposite the church in 1909.

St. Thomas Church is 250 feet long with a nave of 164 feet. The roof is extraordinarily steep. The crown is 148 feet high, and the tower is 223 feet. At the end of the 19th century, the interior of the church was transformed from Baroque to Neo-Gothic.

The church is home to a variety of works of art. The baptismal font was made in 1615 by sculptor Franz Doteber. A Baroque crucifix by artist Caspar Freidrich Löbel remains from the times of Bach. The colored windows date from 1889. They show King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, Johann Sebastian Bach, Martin Luther, Elector Friedrich der Weise and Emperor Wilhelm I.

St. Thomas Church has two pipe organs. The older, Romantic organ by Wilhelm Sauer was built in 1889. This organ was considered inadequate for Bach's music. The newest organ to replace the original was built in 2000. It was designed to look identical to the organ Bach played in the St.Paul Church, where he was music director for holiday services in 1723−1725.
Bach Museum

2) Bach Museum

Housed in the historic Bose House, the Bach Archive and Museum in Leipzig features a permanent interactive multimedia exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Johann Sebastian Bach. The renowned 18th-century German composer, who made a name for himself internationally as the cantor of the nearby St. Thomas's Church, used to live just across the street – in the old St Thomas’s School (now demolished).

The museum location is the former residence of the Bose family, affluent merchants and close friends of the Bachs. This is one of the oldest buildings in the area, dating back to 1711.

A true testament to modern museum culture, the venue contains numerous exhibits, spread across 12 rooms (750 square meters), allowing visitors to engage themselves in a variety of exciting things such as, for instance, a chance to compare modern-day Leipzig with its erstwhile version, to date Bach's works in a research lab, to explore the sound of Baroque-era instruments including an organ console at which Bach himself played in 1743, and even to arrange a Bach chorale to your own taste.

One of its highlights is the treasure room, featuring original Bach manuscripts and other precious items, such as a casket containing relics from Bach’s tomb, a recently discovered iron cash box that was once owned by the Bach family, and more.

The tunes floating from the organ pipes immerse visitors into the fascinating world of Bach's music and ensure by no means a passive experience. For additional enjoyment, there's a small pleasure garden, an audio studio and Café Gloria offering ample opportunity to sit back and relax after a busy time exploring the museum.
Mendelssohn Monument

3) Mendelssohn Monument

The western portal of the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas's Church) in Leipzig is often habitually referred to as the Mendelssohn Portal. The reason for that is the Mendelssohn Monument that stands directly in front of it and lends its name to the place. It honors the composer and former Leipzig Gewandhaus Kapellmeister, founder of the local Conservatorium of Music, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.

The sculpture that we see today, however, is just a detailed replica of the original monument that once stood outside the second Gewandhaus, also known as the Neues Concerthaus, from 1892 to 1936, and was destroyed by the Nazis (because Mendelssohn was a Jew).

The current 2.8-meter bronze statue, jokingly described as the “Gründerzeit figure with toga”, was installed in 2008. It stands upon a stepped granite base, the upper part of which is made of red Meissner granite, and the lower two steps – of gray granite. The total height of the monument is 6.8 meters. Here, Mendelssohn is depicted holding a piano roll in his left hand and a baton in his right. His standing in front of a music desk indicates that he was the first musical conductor in the modern sense of the term.

Below, sitting at Mendelssohn's feet, on the steps, leaning on a lyre, is the muse of music, Euterpe. The two pairs of angels to her sides are also tuned in to the music theme: those on the left are singing, and the ones to the right are playing instruments: the flute and the violin. Inscribed on the pedestal's front is the name of the composer, while on the back is the inscription which translates as "Nobleness can only be expressed through the language of music". An organ in the bronze medallion on the left side of the pedestal symbolizes sacred music; the masks, the vase with a dance scene, the flutes and the sword, seen on the right side, symbolize secular music.

The location of the monument – in the garden outside the Thomaskirche – is also symbolic. In this church, Mendelssohn used to play and conduct organ concerts. The old Bach monument, found in the same park, was also donated by Mendelssohn. The two of Mendelssohn's Leipzig apartments – in Reichels Vorderhaus und Lurgensteins Garten – are also situated nearby.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Market Square and Old Town Hall

4) Market Square and Old Town Hall (must see)

The Market Square of Leipzig is the central place of Leigzip's city center. There are arcades and courtyards well worth a visit, and the Old Town Hall housing the City History Museum is the central attraction. St Nicholas and St Thomas Churches are easily reached from here.

Throughout the year, the square is the venue of a diversity of Markets and events. There is the Easter Market, the Wine Festival, Leipzig Market Music, and the fabulous Christmas Market. Since the 13th century, Leipzig and its Markets have been the most vital centers of trade in Germany.

In 1341, Frederick II, Son of Frederick the Peaceful and Margrave of Meissen, offered the cloth merchants of Leipzig a Romanesque building of their own at the south end of the Leipzig Market Square. This building, called the Cloth Hall (Tuchhaus), shared extensions and spaces with the City Council.

The building complex grew. Two structures were added in the 15th century. A council chamber was completed in 1467. A stair tower emerged in 1476. In 1498, after all the growth and extensions, it was decided to rebuild the Town Hall.

The Old Town Hall was rebuilt in its current Saxon Renaissance style in 1557. It housed the Upper Court and the Court of Aldermen, the city magistrate, council archives, and prison cells. In 1905, it was decided to use the Old Town Hall as the Leipzig City History Museum.

The two-story building is over 300 feet long. It has a steep roof with 13 connecting row dormers and staggered gables. A stone arcade faces the square. An octagonal stair tower is next to the main entrance. The entrance is flanked by two ionic columns topped with the gaff heads of the master builders. Stone box oriels are on the gable ends.

In the large ceremonial hall is a portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach by German painter Elias Gottlob Haussmann. Haussmann also signed Bach's employment certificate as a cantor at St. Thomas' Church. There is also a scale model of the city in 1832 made by Leipzig upholsterer and furniture maker Johann Christoph Merzdorf.
Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church)

5) Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church) (must see)

One of the most important churches of Leipzig is named for St Nicholas, the patron saint of travelers and merchants. The church started in 1185 as a Romanesque-style edifice with two look-alike towers. It was enlarged and redone in the 16th century in the Gothic "hall church" style, which features a nave and aisles of approximately equal height, united under a single immense roof. The Baroque-style central tower was added in 1730.

The interior was remodeled in 1797, in a Neoclassical style, by architect Johann Carl Friedrich Dauthe. Inside, the apse is semicircular with a barrel vault roof. The narrow nave is supported by graceful Egyptian-style columns, with palm-shaped capitals. The interior colors are in two pastel shades of pale green and dusty rose.

The church hosted four of the five premier performances of Johann Sebastian Bach's Passion of St. John in 1724, 1728, 1732, and 1749. Several of his cantatas and oratorios were performed by the St. Thomas Choir of Leipzig (Thomanerchor), a boy's choir with a tradition of more than 800 years in music and city history.

From 1989 to 1991, people would gather at St. Nicholas every Monday evening. The meetings were not formal. They led to ad hoc protests against the Communist East German Government. Cabaret artist Bernd-Lutz Lange declared of the revolution: "The head was the St. Nicholas Church and the body the center of the city."

The authorities were thrown off balance, as they were expecting violence. But that never occurred, violance were not in the playbook. A monumental column stands outside the church today. Close to the Neoclassical column, colored panels in the pavement light up after dark, telling the story of the Monday night marchers.
Leipzig Opera House

6) Leipzig Opera House

The first opera – Singspiel – performances in Leipzig began as early as 1693. This effectively makes Leipzig the third oldest opera city in Europe after Venice, Italy (with its La Fenice theater) and Hamburg, Germany (with its State Opera).

Many early productions at the first opera house, the Oper am Brühl, were created by Georg Philipp Telemann, a self-taught German Baroque composer and multi-instrumentalist. He directed the house from 1703 to 1705.

The first opera house on the present site, on Augustusplatz, the so-called Neues Theater (New Theater), was inaugurated in 1868. From 1886 to 1888, Gustav Mahler, an Austro-Bohemian Romantic composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation, served here as the second conductor. As a composer, Mahler went down in history as a bridge between the 19th-century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century.

The Neues Theater, along with other theaters of Leipzig, was destroyed in an air raid on the night of December 3-4, 1943, as part of the Allied bombing of the city during World War II. For a while, after the war, the opera shows continued at Haus Dreilinden, presently known as the Musikalische Komödie.

In 1950, the Council of Ministers of the GDR decided to demolish what's left of the Neues Theater and build a new opera house in its place. After a series of design competitions and considerations, in 1954, the architects Kunz Nierade and Kurt Hemmerling were finally commissioned to do the job.

Construction of the modern opera house began in 1956. The theater was inaugurated on 8 October 1960 with a performance of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

In terms of stage equipment, the new Oper Leipzig (Leipzig Opera House) was one of the most advanced in Europe at the time. During the 1970s, it had a basement theater added (now closed) for the chamber drama-like productions, and in 1990 a small art gallery was integrated into the building.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Mendelssohn Haus (Mendelssohn House)

7) Mendelssohn Haus (Mendelssohn House)

Mendelssohn's house in Leipzig is where the composer Felix Mendelssohn lived from 1845 until his death in 1847. Now a museum, it features a collection of artifacts dedicated to the life and work of the composer including, particularly, his time in the city.

Born in Hamburg in 1809, Mendelssohn moved to Leipzig in 1835, upon his appointment as a director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. His family joined him in 1845 and settled in an apartment on the bel etage (second floor) of this building. It was in this house that Mendelssohn's daughter Elisabeth (aka Lili, one of his five children) was born, and he himself died on 4 November 1847.

The International Mendelssohn Foundation, founded in 1991, aimed at preserving Mendelssohn's last home in Leipzig, had this museum opened in 1997.

The property has been restored to the appearance it once had during the composer's life, furnished in the style of late Biedermeier. Mendelssohn's former apartment contains original furniture, written documents, and musical sheets with autographs, as well as the first prints of his productions and some of his watercolors. The study documents the atmosphere in which the composer created, featuring, among other things, the oratorio "Elias".

In addition to the displayed artifacts, the museum has a music salon which is now used for matinee concerts every Sunday. There's also a large chamber music hall, on the first floor of the former coach house.

In 2014, the museum had an extension, on the ground floor, featuring a unique installation allowing visitors to interactively conduct an orchestra, arrange instruments, and switch between modern and historical instruments during playback. A newly created "world for children" in the garden house – which is part of the historical garden surrounding the place – is yet another important addition to the museum.

The Mendelssohn Haus is included in the Blaubuch (Blue Book) of the German Federal Government, as an important cultural site.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Edvard Grieg Memorial and Social Centre

8) Edvard Grieg Memorial and Social Centre

The Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg got his formal musical education in Leipzig. He arrived in the city, for the first time, in September 1858, aged fifteen.

The musical life in Leipzig of that period was vibrant and exciting: the Gewandhaus orchestra was a magnet for Europe’s best virtuosi as a chance to play new stuff. Opera was another source of inspiration and the young Grieg, surely inspired, attended every performance of Wagner’s Tannhȁuser during his first year in Leipzig. There and then he also heard Clara Schumann play her husband’s piano concerto, and met Tchaikovsky and Brahms.

Grieg completed his studies in 1862. Afterwards, he kept in touch with his publisher, Carl Friedrich Peters, at Talstrasse 10, and visited Leipzig several times as a guest of publishers M. Abraham and H. Hinrichsen. On each of those occasions, the flat ‘above the shop’ in the C.F. Peters building was made available to him. It was also here that he composed Peer Gynt Suite n1, in 1888.

After many years of disrepair, this property has finally undergone extensive restoration, courtesy of the memorial and social center which documents the life of Edvard Grieg, and today boasts a permanent extensive exhibition. Here, apart from learning about the life and work of Grieg in Leipzig, visitors can attend concerts in the same room where the Norwegian composer himself once played excerpts from his new compositions to a limited audience.
Museum of Musical Instruments

9) Museum of Musical Instruments

The Museum of Musical Instruments of the University of Leipzig is a part of the Grassi Museum, which also incorporates under its umbrella two other museums: of Ethnography and Applied Arts. This is one of the largest music instrument museums in Europe, having in its collection nearly 10,000 items, including instruments and other related artifacts, from Europe and further afield, spanning the Renaissance, Baroque, and Bach's Leipzig periods.

In 1886 the Dutchman Paul de Wit opened a museum of historic musical instruments in Leipzig, which he then sold to the paper merchant, Wilhelm Heyer, in 1905. Years later, in 1926, the entire Heyer collection was acquired by the University of Leipzig, partly paid for by the State of Saxony and partly by the music publisher Carl Friedrich Peters, and was finally opened within the New Grassi Museum in 1929.

Despite efforts to safekeep the collection during World War II, a large number of its items were destroyed during a bomb raid in 1943, or otherwise damaged and lost, owing to improper storage and theft.

Starting from the 1950s, the museum was gradually rebuilt and eventually reopened to the public. Replenished over the following decades (through both purchases and donations), its most valuable elements (such as the De Wit, Heyer, Kraus, Friedrich von Amerling, and Ibach instruments) have been preserved almost intact.

The exhibits are chronologically ordered and divided into 13 sections (e.g. bowed, wind and percussion instruments, etc.), with the oldest ones dating from the 16th century. The museum also contains a sound laboratory where musical instruments can be tested out.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Alter Johannisfriedhof (Old St. John's Cemetery)

10) Alter Johannisfriedhof (Old St. John's Cemetery)

A historic Old St. John's Cemetery is the oldest burial ground in Leipzig. Established in 1278, originally as part of the Johannishospital (St. John's Hospital) for lepers, it was later attached to the Johanniskirche (St. John's Church), which was built in the 14th century and destroyed during World War II.

In 1536, by order of George, Duke of Saxony, the cemetery became a common graveyard and had since been expanded several times (in 1680, 1805 and finally between 1827 and 1863). It was also re-modeled, in the style of the Camposanto Monumentale ("monumental cemetery") in Pisa. The last burial here took place in 1883.

Over the centuries, the cemetery had served as the final resting place for many of Leipzig’s prominent musicians, composers and music publishers. In 1894, during reconstruction of the Johanniskirche nave, the remains of Johann Sebastian Bach were discovered, buried on 31 July 1750. Following the discovery, these, along with the bones of another prominent individual, Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, a German poet, one of the forerunners of the golden age of German literature, were placed in a vault beneath the church altar, in 1900.

Although the building itself was reduced to rubble by Allied bombing in 1943, the coffins of Bach and Gellert were undamaged. In 1949, Bach's remains were transferred to their present resting place in the Thomaskirche (while those of Gellert to the Paulinerkirche).

The graveyard itself has been a memorial park since the early 20th century. In 1981 it was temporarily closed and comprehensively cleared. In 1995, after thorough renovation, the Old St. John's Cemetery once again opened to the public, and is currently a protected monument.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Robert Schumann House

11) Robert Schumann House

The Schumann House in Leipzig is the former home of the German composer Robert Schumann and his wife and famous pianist Clara Schumann (née Clara Wieck). Here, the Schumanns lived for their first four years of their marriage, from 1840 to 1844.

The house was built in 1838 by Friedrich August Scheidel. The strictly symmetrical Neoclassical building has three stories; the couple lodged in the first floor apartment.

In a sense, their home was a cultural venue. Among their guests here were the likes of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, Hector Berlioz and Hans Christian Andersen. Works composed by Robert Schumann during this period include the Spring Symphony, the three String Quartets, and the Piano Quintet.

Although the house survived the Second World War largely undamaged, it fell into disrepair during the 1970s, despite being listed as a historical monument in the GDR. In 1999, the building was bought by the Rahn Dittrich Group and renovated.

Supported by the Robert and Clara Schumann Association (established in 1995), the Schumann Museum comprises exhibition rooms in the former apartment, plus the so-called Schumann Salon, where the Schumanns received their guests, the Travel Room, dedicated to the Schumanns' concert tours to Denmark in 1842 and Russia in 1844, and the Sound Room (Klangraum), designed in the style of the Biedermeier period, containing interactive sound installation by the artist Erwin Stache. Apart from the museum, the building houses a small concert hall and the Clara Schumann primary school with an artistic and musical profile.

The concert hall regularly hosts musical performances, readings and discussions. The venue is included in the UNESCO Leipzig Music Trail. In 2019, to mark Clara Schumann's 200th anniversary, the Schumann House opened a renewed and expanded permanent exhibition.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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