Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Sunday, August 25

Bach's Letter

Synopsis

You almost feel sorry for the guy – after all, how would YOU like to go down in history as the fellow who tried to stiff J.S. Bach? That’s what happened to Herr Johannes Friedrich Eitelwein, a rich merchant of Leipzig who thought he could avoid paying the customary wedding fee apportioned to that city’s church musicians by getting married OUTSIDE of the city limits.

Back then such fees provided a significant portion of their income, and so on today’s date in 1733, Bach and two other church musicians sent a letter to the Leipzig City Council complaining that, whether married inside or outside of the city, as a Leipzig resident, and a wealthy one to boot, Eitelwein should pay up.

Now in the 18th Century, such petitions required a delicate balance of formal flattery and firm persistence, so the letter begins: “Magnificent, most honorable gentlemen, our wise and learned councilors, distinguished Lords and Patrons: may it please you to condescend to hear how Herr Johannes Friedrich Eitelwein was married on the twelfth of August of the present year out of town, and therefore thinks himself entitled to withhold the fees due us in all such cases, and has made bold to disregard our many kind reminders.”

Bach’s letter survives, but not any records letting us know if Eitelwein ever paid up!

Music Played in Today's Program

J.S. Bach (1685 – 1750) “Weichet Nur,” from “Wedding” Cantata No. 202 Elly Ameling, soprano; Academy of St Martin in the Fields; Sir Neville Marriner, cond. EMI Classics

Additional Information

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