Rens Bijma

All Chapters

Possible positioning of the musicians in the Thomaskirche.
Drawing from Rens Bijma’s thesis by Cobi Brak with assistance of Rens Bijma, Margreet Bijma and Bartosz Animucki.

Below you will find the complete series of Chapters that together give a picture of how Bach performed his church music in the two main churches in Leipzig. Some of the chapters (in Dutch) were part of Rens Bijma’s thesis, but these now include errata and other additions and improvements.

All Chapters

The 33 chapters below describe how Bach performed his own cantatas and passions in the two main churches in Leipzig.

Many Chapters are not yet translated, but will be in the course of time.
All citations from primary sources (in German) are to be found in end notes (at the end of each Chapter).
You can download the pdf files by clicking on the ‘Download PDF’ button under each Chapter description.
Published Chapters may be corrected as soon as there is a reason to do so. This is then reflected in the dates of the files. You can see these dates when you click on the image or point to the image with your mouse.

If you would like to be informed each time a new Chapter appears, you can let me know via the Contact tab.
Your reactions will be highly appreciated.


Version 02-03-24

I. Introduction

With justification, glossary and list of Leipzig cantatas, masses and passions with BWV-numbers

version 24-09-23

II. The Thomaskirche

What did the interior of the Thomaskirche look like, and where were the musicians positioned? What were the acoustics like?

version 23-06-23

III. The Nikolaikirche

What did the interior of the Nikolaikirche look like, and where were the musicians positioned? What were the acoustics like?

version 28-06-23

IV. Bach’s musicians

Who were the singers? Who were the instrumentalists? About alumni, students, city musicians and adjuvants.

version 30-06-23

V. The number of players

How many instrumentalists performed Bach’s parts? And what would have been Bach’s ideal number of players?

version 09-10-23

VI. The number of singers

How large was Bach’s “choir”? Would Bach have preferred a larger choir if he had the opportunity?

version 01-07-23

VII. Bach’s direction

What was Bach’s way of conveying his intentions to the musicians during his performances?

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VIII. The positioning of the musicians

How did Bach set up his musicians in the Thomaskirche and the Nikolai-kirche, and was this arrangement similar in both churches?

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IX. The organisation of the Music and the conditions during the church services

What was the cantata’s place in the liturgy? Under what conditions did Bach have to work?

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X. Pitch, tuning and intonation

At what pitch was the a¹ in Leipzig? How were the organs and other instruments tuned? And what was considered to be a “pure” intonation?

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XI.1. Tempo 1.
Basic tempos and the factors that could influence them

Were there generally accepted basic tempos? If so, when were these tempos changed?

version 01-12-23

XI.2. Tempo 2.
The basic tempos of the metres

Is it possible to establish from the treatises how fast the basic tempo of each metre was?


 XI.3. Tempo 3.
Measure changes, dance forms and French overtures

Was the tempo after a change of metre always related to the old tempo? Were basic tempos also applied in dances and overtures?

(not yet translated)

version 12-12-2023

XII. Articulation en synchronisation

Were certain notes accentuated? If so, how? How was the length handled of simultaneous sounding notes in different time signatures?

version 02-03-24

XIII. Dynamics

How were loud and soft notes distinguished? Did Bach also use “terrace-dynamics”?

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XIV. Ornamentation

Were Bach’s forefalls and trills always performed in the same way? To what extent were Bach’s musicians free to embellish the music?

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XV. The art of singing

How were Bachs singers  required to sing in his cantatas and passions? Was the Baroque Italian method of singing natural to him?

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XVI. The recitative

There are different forms of recitatives. How free were Bach’s singers in performing them? How were they accompanied?

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XVII. The Chorale

How fast (or slow) were chorales sung in congregational singing, and how fast as part of Bach’s church works? And how were the fermatas performed?

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XVIII. The organ

What organs were used in the accompaniment in Bach’s cantatas and passions? Who were the organists and what registrations were used?

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XIX. The harpsichord

What role did the harpsichord play in Bach’s cantatas and passions? Who played it, and how? What were the characteristics of the church harpsichords?

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XX. The accompaniment (general bass)

The organist and harpsichordist accompanied on the basis of “figures” – but often these were missing. Were both instruments played in the same way?

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XXI. The violoncello

How large was Bach’s cello, and was it played upright or hanging in front of the chest? Was the cello Bach’s standard continuo instrument in Leipzig? Who played the cellos?

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XXII. The violone

How large were Bach’s violones? How many strings did they have? Did they sound an octave lower than cellos? Who played these instruments?

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XXIII. The bassoon

How often did Bach employ the bassoon as a continuo instrument? Was the bassoon the standard continuo instrument with the oboe(s)?

version 09-05-22

XXIV. The viola da gamba

How many strings did Bach’s viol comprise? Bach sometimes prescribed a viola da gamba as a solo instrument. But did he also use it as a continuo instrument?

version 25-03-2022

XXV. The lute

Bach rarely prescribed a lute. How many “choirs” (=pairs of strings) did Bach’s lute have? Did Bach also use the lute as a continuo instrument, for example instead of a harpsichord?

version 20-10-22

XXVI. The violin and the viola

Who played these string instruments with Bach? How did Bach use the violin and viola in his cantatas and passions?

version 09-02-23

XXVII. Special string instruments

About some string instruments (Violino piccolo, Violetta, Viola d’amore and Violoncello piccolo) that Bach rarely wrote for. What kind of instruments were they?

version 21-11-22

XXVIII. The flutes

When did Bach prescribe recorders, piccolo recorders, and flutes? What kind of instruments were these and who played them?

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XXIX. The oboes

What types of oboes were played in Leipzig, and by whom? What was the difference between a “taille” and an oboe da caccia?

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XXX. De trumpet en de timpani

When were long natural trumpets, ‘hunting trumpets’, slide trumpets and timpani used in Leipzig, and who played them?

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XXXI. The horn and the lituus

What did the horns in Bach’s orchestra look like and who played them? What did Bach mean by a ‘corno da tirarsi’ and by a ‘lituus’?

version 27-01-23

XXXII. De cornetto and the trombone

When did Bach prescribe trombones, and when a cornetto? Did Bach use soprano trombones or cornettos for the highest parts?

version 15-01-24

XXXIII. Bach’s own performances of his Matthäus-Passion

Caput selectum, in which the knowledge from all the other Chapters is applied to Bach’s Matthäus-Passion.