From Bach to Egk

In this photo, which I took in 2005, the State Theater in Eisenach was advertising a new production of one of the most popular German operas, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).

Program booklet for Die Zaubergeige

Back in 2001 I saw a different “magic” opera in this theater: Die Zaubergeige (The Magic Violin) by the German composer Werner Egk (1901-1983). It is a sort of fairy tale in which the character Kaspar is given a magic violin, which enables him to have a brilliant career as a virtuoso, but nearly costs him his life before all the conflicts are resolved. The singer in the Eisenach production only pretended to play the violin. It was actually played by the concertmaster down in the orchestra pit, who came up on stage afterwards for his well-deserved applause. This is the way it is usually done, unless they happen to have a singer who is also an accomplished violinist, like the Frankfurt baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle (who as far as I know has never had the opportunity to perform this role on the stage).

Since I didn’t know anything about Werner Egk at the time, I found it very useful that they had a comprehensive exhibition about his life and work spread out through all the lobbies of the theater. It turns out that The Magic Violin had its world premiere in Frankfurt am Main on May 22, 1935, and that it was Egk’s first major success as an opera composer. He also wrote several other operas, such as Peer Gynt, which was also performed recently here in Eisenach. His operas were often played until well into the 1970s, but not so often since then. (He was not a Nazi, by the way, even though he stayed in Germany during the Nazi period and did not go into exile like his friends Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.)

Landestheater Eisenach

The theater in Eisenach belongs to the Land Thüringen. The building was completed in 1878 and was inaugurated on January 1, 1879. It has been nicely renovated in recent years, and has 501 very comfortable red-plush seats.

For many years this was an independent theater, with its own opera, drama and ballet ensembles, but in 2008 it was merged with the theater in nearby Meiningen, under the direction Meiningen’s General Manager (Intendant) Ansgar Haag. The current arrangement (as of 2018) is that the ballet troupe is still based in Eisenach, while the big opera and operetta productions originate in Meiningen but are shown in both venues. A further complication is that the Meiningen orchestra was merged with the one in Rudolstadt in 2017, and the spoken drama productions now also come from Rudolstadt.

The birth house (perhaps) of Johann Sebastian Bach

Eisenach was the birthplace of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). He was born here as the youngest of eight children, and lived in Eisenach for the first ten years of his life, until his parents both died and he went to live with relatives in the nearby town of Ohrdruf. He spent most of his adult life in Leipzig, where he was the cantor at St Thomas’s School and the city’s director of music.

In the Bach House, Eisenach

The Bach House in Eisenach is a 600-year-old house which for over a century has served as a Bach Museum and study center. When the museum was opened in 1907 it was thought that this was the house where Bach was born. In the meantime some doubts about this have arisen about this, and no one really seems to know exactly which house it was. But he was born in this neighborhood, in any case, on March 21, 1685, and was baptized here two days later.

In the Bach House, Eisenach

The instruments and furniture in the Bach House are old, but probably not old enough to have been used by the Bach family. This was not his baby bed, for example.

Introduction to Bach’s music

The Bach House in Eisenach is a good place to get acquainted with Bach and his life and work, since the admission price includes an introductory music lecture with examples of his music played live on five historical instruments (two organs, a harpsichord, a spinet and a cembalo), as well as two recorded selections with a chorus and orchestra. The lecture I heard there was in German, but they will lend you a written summary in Japanese or English, and I suppose also in other languages.

The Martin Luther House in Eisenach

The church reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) went to school in Eisenach, and he is said to have lived in this house with the Cotta family from 1498 to 1501. The house is now a museum with a permanent exhibition about the life of Martin Luther and also the history of the building.

Reuter-Wagner Museum

One of the things I want to do next time I am in Eisenach is to go to the Reuter-Wagner Museum, which is said to have the second largest Richard Wagner exhibition in the world — the largest being at his former home “Wahnfried” in Bayreuth.


The Wartburg is a large castle on a hill overlooking the city of Eisenach. In 1521-1522 Martin Luther lived here and translated the New Testament from the original Greek text into German.

The plot of Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser takes place up in the Wartburg, which is why the opera is performed here in concert from time to time, “on location” so to speak. (I’ve still never attended one of these performances, but maybe next year.)

My photos in this post are from 2005. I revised the text in 2018.

See also: Seventy-one opera houses in Germany.

1 thought on “From Bach to Egk”

  1. You may have guessed that I’m not a great fan of opera Don, but I do enjoy reading some of your stories. I did see ‘The Magic Flute’ once in the Kirov Theatre, in what was then Leningrad.

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