Despite those little bumps in the road that touring abroad can bring, such as organising a precious half hour of rehearsal time and then losing it when a grumpy local prefers to go off and have their lunch, yesterday went pretty well, and I played the great man’s Prelude in C (BWV547) on the “Bach” organ in the Thomaskirche after the evening service yesterday. This is not an instrument from Bach’s time, but rather a modern reconstruction of the instrument he would have used, and very light and bright it is too, fun to play.
At lunchtime the choir had gathered around Bach’s tomb in the church to perform Singet dem Herrn, an extraordinary piece of writing that positively fizzes around the ether, while I sat in the main body of the building and listened, the better to get a feel for what that music might have sounded like back in the day. Experiencing music in the place for which it was written – Monteverdi Vespers in St. Mark’s, the Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis at Gloucester – is never less than hugely informative.
Informative too was the Stasi Museum, which is housed here in the same rooms where it lived until its collapse in 1989, so much so that the furniture, fixtures and fittings, and even, according to those who were unfortunate enough to be taken inside, the smell remain from former days. I had not quite realised that every East German citizen was allocated to a regional office and observed as a matter of course, that this was not a case of keeping suspected dissidents in line, but a matter of the monitoring of an entire population.
Much of it is frightening in the extreme – cameras in motorway signs to monitor every car that used the motorways, equipment for steaming open and resealing letters (apparently the cash taken from envelopes from the West in the run up to Christmas practically kept the economy afloat), secret execution sites, sealed scent samples, recruiting of school children, fake post offices…the list goes on. A certain Russian leader used to work in the Dresden office, apparently, which reminds me that I must get to visit the famous spire at Salisbury one day.
It would be naïve to think that this kind of thing does not still happen on a daily basis, just with a much lighter touch, but to see its apparatus in the hands of an oppressive regime is shocking, made me think of Shostakovich and his many less canny contemporaries. Should anybody be observing this particular tourist today, he is going to saunter around Leipzig, take in a museum or two, browse some shop windows and then write some music in the shadow of the statue of Bach.