The city of Leipzig in eastern Germany celebrates an extraordinary triple anniversary in 2012. The church, choir and school which all bear the name St Thomas reach their 800th birthdays this year.
The Gothic construction of Thomaskirche which stands in the city’s historic center dates back to the late 15th century, but the first church named for St Thomas was dedicated in 1212. Though relatively modest in scale, the church has hosted some exceptional guests over the centuries: Martin Luther preached here, Mozart played the organ and Richard Wagner was baptized. But the church’s most illustrious association is that with the composer widely considered the greatest ever: Johann Sebastian Bach. The Baroque genius served as choir director here for 27 years until his death in 1750. Two centuries later his remains were transferred here, where they lie under a simple slab near the altar.
Bach’s choir, the Thomanerchor (St Thomas Choir), also notches up its eighth century this year. In an age when musical careers are measured in news cycles and can be snuffed out by a careless tweet, it’s a remarkable symbol of heritage and continuity. By comparison those whippersnappers the Vienna Boys‘ Choir only have 500 years under their belts, while the world’s oldest choir – Germany’s Regensburger Domspatzen – is more than a millennium old.
Rounding out the celebrations is Thomasschule, alma mater of Wagner and most of Bach’s brood, also established in that very busy year of 1212. Leipzig is hosting a huge program of events to mark all three prestigious milestones. From March 19 to 25 the Thomanerchor steps into the spotlight, in late September it’s the school’s turn while the Thomaskirche throws opens its doors for five days of festivities starting on Halloween. Leipzig’s annual Bachfest, in mid-June, will naturally concentrate on the composer’s association with the church and choir.