Leipzig 1723 – Audition Cantatas Impress

Many music lovers know that in 1723 Johann Sebastian Bach became Tomaskantor in Leipzig. He would remain there the rest of his life, composing some of his greatest works for the church.

Not as many know that Bach wasn’t the town council’s first choice. Or even their second choice. And most — including myself — were unaware of the application requirements.

Johann Kuhnau, Tomaskantor from 1701 to 1722, was a polymath. He composed weekly church services and played the organ. Kuhnau also taught at the Thomasschule. And he practiced law, published novels, and translated classical literature.

The council quickly realized they weren’t going to find another Kuhnau. But they tried.

The applicants had to compose two cantatas based on texts supplied by the council (one of whom was a poet). The council would then hear the application pieces. They were performed in Thomaskirche with the applicant conducting. The council’s first choice was Germany’s greatest composer — George Philipp Telemann.

He passed the musical test easily and was promptly hired. Within a week Telemann resigned — his former employer had come through with a better offer.

Next on the list was Christoph Graupner. After hearing his cantatas, the council was ready to sign. But not Graupner. He, too, was using the gig to negotiate a better deal with his current employer. But he did recommend a friend of his — Johann Sebastian Bach.

The council, twice burned, waited until Graupner confirmed he was unavailable. Only then, after two months, did Bach get the nod.

This release presents the audition cantatas of the three composers. And they’re quite different stylistically. Aelbut and the Capalla Jenensis give these works spirited readings. In a way, these are showpieces. Each composer stresses his strengths to impress the council.

Telemann presents ingenious word painting coupled with imaginative orchestration. Graupner delivers lush, almost operatic works. And Bach gave the council introspective spiritual works. As one council member remarked, Bach’s music “was highly praised by all those who appreciate such things!”

Here’s my recommendation. Get this release, and without looking at the liner notes, do some blind listening tests. Based on the music alone, who would you hire?

Leipzig 1723: Telemann, Graupner, Bach
AElbtu; Capella Jenensis

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