The world-famous St. Thomas Boys Choir of Leipzig, Germany, is first mentioned in 1254. But most likely, the choir is as old church itself. The St. Thomas Church came into being in 1212 when Margrave Dietrich of Meissen founded an Augustinian Monastery on this spot. Toward the end of the 15th century, the church’s Romanesque nave was razed and replaced by the late-Gothic “Hall-Church” that we see today. In fact, the architecture of today’s church has not changed much since the end of the 15th century.
St. Thomas Church, Leipzig
Photo © J. Elke Ertle
Choir Director Johann Sebastian Bach
From 1723 to 1750, the renowned composer and musician of the Baroque period, Johann Sebastian Bach, led the St. Thomas Boys Choir. At that time, the chorus consisted of 54 boys. Today, about 100 boys and young men sing in the choir. Their primary focus is the preservation of Bach’s choral music. For that reason, weekly Friday and Saturday motets have become a permanent musical tradition at St. Thomas. Bach Passion Concerts and the Christmas Oratorio draw thousands of visitors each year. https://www.thomaskirche.org/r-st-thomas-boys-choir.html The present leader of the choir is, Georg Christoph Biller, the church’s 36th cantor. https://www.thomaskirche.org/r-st-thomas-boys-choir.html.
During a recent visit, I was able to enjoy a Friday motet with the St. Thomas Boys Choir. The church was packed, and we were not disappointed. Music and setting succeeded in linking us emotionally to a long-forgotten time period.
Statue of Johann Sebastian Bach in front of the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig
Photo © J. Elke Ertle
The Bach Organ
The organ from Bach’s days no longer exists. In 2000, for the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death, St. Thomas acquired a new organ. This new instrument, with its 61 registers and 4 manuals with pedal, looks and sounds similar to an organ of the 18th century.
Historic events at St. Thomas
The Lutheran St. Thomas Church has a long and eventful history. Not only has the St. Thomas Boys Choir sung here for the last 800 years. Many other important events took place in this church as well: In 1409, the University of Leipzig was founded in the monastery. In 1539, Martin Luther preached at St. Thomas, introducing the Reformation to Leipzig’s citizens. From 1723 until his death, Johann Sebastian Bach was Cantor of the Thomas school. In 1789 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played the organ here. Mendelssohn performed at St. Thomas, and in 1813 Richard Wagner was baptized here. Since 1950 the St. Thomas Church is the location of Johann Sebastian Bach’s remains. Originally buried in an unmarked grave outside the Johanniskirche in Leipzig, Bach was moved to his final resting place at the foot of the church’s altar.
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