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Bach's Good Friday Cantata

As we begin preparations for Lent, Holy Week and Easter, I am focused on special music for the Good Friday Service which will be held in our church. We are preparing one of Bach's most famous cantatas, Christ Lay in the Bonds of Death. In researching this era, I learned interesting things. Bach started his appointment in Leipzig, Germany in early 1724 and served as Cantor (Director of Music) at Thomaskirche and Nicholaskirche, the two largest churches in the city until his death in 1750. This cantata was probably his first Holy Week cantata. He had written the cantata earlier in his life as audition music for another church cantor position.

In 1724, there was no separation of church and state; Bach was hired by the city council. Before Holy Week, the city council wrote instructions to Bach on April 3, 1724 saying that the council wanted the Good Friday Service moved from Nicholaskirche to Thomaskirche. Bach wrote back and said that he would of course honor their wishes but he needed to reprint the materials that had already been printed for the service; he needed the sexton to enlarge the choir loft so there was enough room for the musicians; and the harpsichord needed to be repaired. The city council wrote back and said they would pay for these needs.

How lucky we are to have a church structure in this country where decisions are made internally. Can you imagine if churches had to go to the city council for necessary authorizations?

Stay tuned, I am still learning about Leipzig in 1724.

--Jack

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