Thomasschule, Leipzig

The Thomasschule was a boarding school attached to Leipzig’s principal church, St. Thomas’s (the Thomaskirche).

 Bach, as Kantor, was its director. The pupils at the school were selected on
musical aptitude, and it was the Kantor’s responsibility to select them and train them as singers. Instrumental training was provided for the most able of them, and all had to learn Latin. Bach refused to teach Latin, so he had to pay for a Latin tutor out of his own salary.

The Kantor, had to provide all the music for the four principal churches in Leipzig, and any other music the City Council required. To aid in this, the council employed some professional musicians: four wind-players, three fiddlers and ‘an apprentice’.

Most of Bach’s instrumentalists were drawn from amongst the Collegium Musicum, students at the University or pupils at the school. The age-range of the school’s pupils was from 12 to 23. At that time boys’ voices ‘broke’ at about 17 or 18, so in fact Bach had a pool of very able, experienced singers at the school; and his band was of high standing, despite the stinginess of the ‘official’ provision.

The Thomasschule placed severe restrictions on Bach’s choice of musicians to perform his music. However, the Collegium Musicum was a pool of highly competent musicians, some of them virtuosos of their instrument. It was from the Collegium Musicum that Bach drew his musicians for the secular cantatas.

A piece of ‘trivia’ not trivial at the time: on the day after the performance of no.215 Bach’s virtuoso trumpeter and the leader of the Leipzig Stadtpfeifer (town wind-band), Gottfried Reiche, died as a result of his musical exertions. Such are the demands of the first trumpet part of the Christmas Oratorio.