On June 5th, 1722, an aging and infirm Johann Kuhnau passed away leaving open the position of Thomaskantor of Leipzig. As director of music for all of the town’s churches and university, as well as teacher at the Thomasschule, Kuhnau had a lot of responsibility, to say the least. When it came time to find a replacement, the town council looked only for the best and the brightest.
Initially their first and only choice was a major coup. The council picked Georg Phillip Telemann, arguably the most famous and successful German composer of the time. But it was not to be — months after he passed an audition, Telemann withdrew his application.
The next candidate was Christoph Graupner, a former student of Kuhnau. Unfortunately, Graupner’s employer would not release him from his current job and the town council was forced to move ahead.
A member of the Leipzig town council made it clear when their preferred candidates could not be acquired: “Since the best could not be obtained, mediocre ones would have to be accepted.” Apparently, the council was forced to lower their standards against their will.
The mediocre candidates weren’t necessarily bad, they just didn’t want to teach as the job description required. There were four names in the lot: Georg Friderich Kauffmann, Johann Heinrich Rolle, Johann Sebastian Bach, and a local by the name of Georg Balthasar Schott.
It is no secret that Johann Sebastian Bach was ultimately given the Kantor’s job at the Thomasschule. As well, it also known that he was to a certain extent unhappy with this job—he was primarily dissatisfied with an unsympathetic town council. With his passing away in 1750, the job of Thomaskantor was his last and most lengthy period of employment that produced, in spite of his unhappiness, some of his most memorable works.
The English Baroque Soloists is featured in our new release of the week. Vol. 21 of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage series brings us live performances from two different locations in England — Walpole St. Peter in Norfolk and King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.