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  • Leipzig after Bach: Church and Concert Life in a German City by Jeffrey S. Sposato
  • Kimberly Beck Hieb
Leipzig after Bach: Church and Concert Life in a German City. By Jeffrey S. Sposato. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. [xix, 313 p. ISBN 9780190616953 (hardback), $74; ISBN 9780190616960 (updf); ISBN 9780190616977 (e-book), prices vary.] Illustrations, music examples, tables, bibliography, index.

While much of the existing literature regarding Leipzig's musical culture focuses on the town's arguably most famous musical resident, Johann Sebastian Bach, Jeffrey Sposato makes a mark with Leipzig after Bach: Church and Concert Life in a German City. A distinct contribution to the musicological literature, Sposato's book focuses on the musical atmosphere in Leipzig after the time of Bach, activating his expertise in late eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century music, the era at the heart of his first book, The Price of Assimilation: Felix Mendelssohn and the Nineteenth-Century Anti-Semitic Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). Sposato's narrative picks up where Tanya Kevorkian left off with Baroque Piety: Religion, Society, and Music in Leipzig, 1650–1750 (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007)—a book that likewise examines Leipzig's musical culture—and concludes with a chapter addressing Felix Mendelssohn's tenure in the Saxon town.

Sposato's detailed narrative is peppered with a number of illustrations, including concert programs and handwritten church service diaries. One such illustration (fig. I.2) is a black-and-white reproduction of a watercolor of the interior of Leipzig's first Gewandhaus. An epigraph etched into the façade directly behind the stage quotes from Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca: "Res severa est verum gaudium" (a serious thing is a true joy) (p. 2). These words foreshadow the final chapter of the book, in which Sposato argues that Mendelssohn and his contemporary Moritz Hauptmann transformed the focus of Leipzig's performance organizations to best serve the elite members of the city's society, a move that encouraged the performance of repertoire demanding a certain focus and attention of the listener.

The book's narrative thread toes an invisible line between the city's sacred and secular performance institutions and practices. Sposato immediately establishes a close connection between Leipzig's churches, managed by the Thomaskantor, and secular institutions, managed by a Kapellmeister. Table 1 (p. 5) charts the careers of men in both of these positions, revealing that three of the Thomaskantors who directly followed Bach had first served as Kapellmeisters. Despite their contrasting missions, these organizations maintained a closer-than-normal relationship. Sposato validates this distinct character of Leipzig's musical community by comparing it with other major eighteenth-and nineteenth-century concert capitals, including Paris, Berlin, and Vienna, [End Page 94] cities where public concert traditions emerged without the established ties to the church observed in Leipzig.

While the music and career of Bach are both usually presented as products of an expressly Protestant community, Sposato opens by depicting Leipzig as a historically conservative community, a place where sacred ceremonies and practices maintained a distinctly Catholic flavor even after adopting the Lutheran faith. Chapter 1, "Leipzig, Saxony, and Lutheran Orthodoxy," serves as a prechronology to the text and relays that the city's conservative atmosphere not only was a product of the Reformation's Saxon roots, which established Lutheran practices throughout the region while the movement still embodied a more conservative and Catholic leaning identity, but also was influenced by the continued presence of both Lutheranism and Catholicism in the region throughout the sixteenth century. When the Saxon Elector Friedrich II died in 1464, his territory was divided between his two sons, one of whom (Elector Ernst) welcomed the Reformation and the other of whom (Duke Albrecht) remained hostile to Lutheran principles. The territory remained divided throughout the sea change of the religious tides that rocked the first part of the sixteenth century but was united in 1547, and Leipzig as a town ushered in the Reformation in 1539. With Leipzig coming relatively late to the party, it is no surprise that Catholic traditions maintained a stronger hold there than in other Saxon towns.

Sposato organizes the remaining chapters largely around the lives and careers of Kapellmeisters...


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