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II - How the St. Thomas School Became a Music School, 1594–1640

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 April 2019

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Summary

Singing for endowments and the growth of the school: a causal relationship

To understand why around the turn of the seventeenth century the St. Thomas School was transformed into a music school that became famous far beyond Leipzig, we must look at a passage in the new Leipzig school regulations of 1634, the first ever to be printed. The beginning of chapter VII says that a boy desiring admission to the St. Thomas School as a boarder would have to demonstrate above-average vocal and musical abilities. The passage goes on to refer to an important relationship:

That the school's progress and prosperity in previous years were manifestly furthered because the boys who were selected and admitted had a greater aptitude for music than those at the St. Nicholas school and performed in both churches, at funerals and weddings, and, finally, in the rounds of street singing, is beyond any doubt. For many people, sacred music, when sung in the churches and elsewhere, gives rise to an especially intense state of devotion, which is not the least of the reasons why in former times various legacies stipulated the better provisioning of the boys in the said school, and also some people, while still living, generously made weekly or monthly donations to be used for that purpose. For that reason, it is only proper to ensure, when auditioning and admitting boys who are over twelve years of age and desire to board at the school, that they are not untutored in the art of music but are sufficiently experienced, and can perform a piece of music in an accomplished and appropriately artful manner.

In other words, the Thomaners’ singing in the churches, at special occasions, and in the streets had made the school rich from performance fees and donations by the Leipzig townspeople, and in order to continue this success story, it became an iron-clad rule that the St. Thomas boarders all had to be musical. This passage in the 1634 school regulations would have read very differently had it been written three years previously.

Type
Chapter
Information
Bach's Famous Choir
The Saint Thomas School in Leipzig, 1212–1804
, pp. 27 - 72
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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