Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Sunday, August 5

Bach gives notice

Synopsis

Today’s date marks a “good news, bad news” anniversary in the life of Johann Sebastian Bach.

On today’s date in 1717, Bach was appointed as the new Capellmeister at the Princely Court of Leopold of Coethen. Since the young prince was an avid music-lover, and offering Bach a much higher salary than his present one, that counts as “good news.”

The “bad news” related to Bach’s previous employer in 1717, namely the Duke of Weimar, who was not exactly pleased that Bach had accepted a new job offer. The Duke, in fact, flatly refused to let him go. Real or imagined court intrigue in Weimar complicated the matter, and the Prince’s “poaching” of Bach might have been perceived as just another indirect slap at the Duke maneuvered by a long-standing family feud.

The upshot was that Bach was put on the Prince’s payroll effective in August of 1717, but the Duke didn’t accept Bach’s resignation until five months later, and then only after throwing Bach in jail for almost a month to teach him a lesson, or, as the court secretary put it, “for too stubbornly forcing the issue of his dismissal.”

In an age when Dukes and Princes could do as they pleased, it appears giving two weeks’ notice was a tad more complicated than it is today!

Music Played in Today's Program

J. S. Bach (1685 - 1750) Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; David Shifrin, cond. Delos 3185

Additional Information

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