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A Bach A to Z

A to Z - W
W is for walking

Although Bach never left Germany , there were many occasions in his life when he undertook long journeys across the country. It is generally assumed that these journeys were made on foot, as he was never particularly wealthy, although it is possible that he may have negotiated a lift on occasions! In Bach's time, of course, long-distance walking between towns and cities was much more an aspect of everyday life than it is now; routes would have been well-trodden by traders and food and lodging would have been readily available in the towns and villages along the way.

Bach's first major journey on foot probably took place in March 1700, when he travelled to Luneburg from Ohrdruf (a distance of nearly 200 miles), just before his fifteenth birthday, to take up a free educational place at the Michael isschule. In Luneburg he would have been able to hear the playing of the great organist Georg Bohm, and the prospect of listening to and learning from other more experienced musicians seems to have been the main motivating force behind most of his subsequent journeys. During his three years at Luneburg , he is known to have walked to Hamburg (30 miles away) more than once in order to hear and meet the organist Johann Adam Reincken . Returning from one such visit, it is said that he had the good fortune to find a Danish ducat inside the mouth of a fish that had just been discarded from a window - thus providing valuable funds for future travels!

The longest walk of Bach's life, however, was his journey from Arnstadt (in Thuringia) to Lubeck (on the Baltic coast) to hear the very famous organist Dietrich Buxtehude . This trip was made in the winter of 1705 and totals some 260 miles, a feat all the more remarkable for the fact that the return journey (made in February 1706) would have seen Bach carrying, and somehow keeping dry, several manuscript copies he had made of Buxtehude's music! The exact route Bach took is not known, though it seems reasonable to suppose that he might have travelled through Gotha, Muhlhausen (where his next appointment was to be), Northeim, Seesen, Braunschweig, Luneburg (where he might perhaps have found free accommodation?) and then via the well-worn salt route to Lubeck. Although there is disappointingly little evidence of this journey, we must remember that Bach was merely another 20-year-old wanderer at the time; none of the people he would have met along the way would have had any idea of his future greatness!

Peter Dyke
November 2005

    Read what others have said..
    My brother and I hope to explore Bach's route from Arnstadt to Lubeck from 4 - 14 September Any advice about cheap travel and accommodation would be very welcome We are both 60+
    Wonderful your choise for all of the works from J S Bach,I do listen night and day! gr.PCZ

    david stedeford from yetminster
    Germany remains today the most wonderful place in Europe for walking with what surely must be the most comprehensive network of waymarked trails anywhere,and despite the huge density of Germany's population, there is woodland everywhere- Something like 50% of the land area, I believe. On another subject ,how come such a prestigious organisation as the BBC, with its eagle eye for detail and accuracy, cannot manage to include the Umlaut in its spelling of German names e.g. Lüneburg, Lübeck, Böhm etc. The ü can be obtained by holding down the alt key and tapping 129, the ö by holding alt and tapping 148 etc. The chart for these symbols is easily available. If you cannot manage to manage the Umlaut, the correct alternative is to include an -e instead of the Umlaut, e.g. Lueneburg, Luebeck, Duesseldorf,Boehm etc because the Umlaut stands for the letter -e. The Umlaut changes the pronounciation of the word and sometimes also its meaning.e.g schon and schön (already and beautiful) neither sound nor mean the same. D Stedeford

    Jon Hibberd.Chulmleigh,North Devon
    I am a Community Nurse Specialist in Palliative Care.Much of my work involves walking as I cover a large rural area. I have been inspired by the Bach Christmas.In my work many people are experiencing much sadness and loss at this time of year.Having the soothing,reflective music of Bach to refresh me as I walk about in my work visiting patients and their families has been a real inspiration and strength.Thank you.

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