The history of Bach Week begins in Pommersfelden. Karl Graf von Schönborn wants to organize a musical festival week. Well-known musicians such as the cellist Ludwig Hoelscher, the pianist Carl Seemann and the conductor Ferdinand Leitner, as well as a trade unionist named Oskar Embacher support him. Dr. Carl Weymar, himself a violist and owner of a Munich arts and crafts business, is to organize the whole thing and recommend: We play Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach! In no time at all got around: in one of the most beautiful places in Franconia, in Weissenstein Castle near Bamberg, Bach is to be played for a whole week, around the day of his death. From all parts of the ruined country, visitors flocked to this event. They took home comfort, edification, fresh courage - necessary for a present that was about to forget the traumatic past and to look to the future.
However, the premises in the castle were not enough. One reason for Carl Weymar to move with the Bachwoche Week in 1948 to Middle Franconia, in the largely undestroyed city of Ansbach with her residence. Among the contributors in this and the following years are names like Edith Picht-Axenfeld (harpsichord), Wilhelm Kempff (piano), the “Church Orphanage Choir” from Windsbach (later: Windsbach Boys Choir) under the direction of Hans Thamm, Wolfgang Schneiderhan (violin), Michael Schneider and Helmut Walcha (organ), along with singers such as Annelies Kupper (soprano), Gertrude Pitzinger (alto), Fritz Rieger and Ferdinand Leitner, who later conducted the "soloist community of the Bachwoche Ansbach". Some of the instrumental soloists such as Fritz Neumeyer (harpsichord), August Wenzinger (gamba) and Gustav Scheck (flute) advocated the use of historical instruments for the interpretation of baroque music even then. In 1948 the Bach Week had almost fallen victim to the currency reform, so the following year the "Association of Friends of Bach Week" was founded for financial and ideational support.
In 1953 no Bachwoche place. This was to counteract the effects of wear-and-tear and habit according to Dr. Weymer. Only one weekend was offered as an alternative in another place, in the palace of Brühl (near Bonn). Here a musician called Karl Richter attracted attention for the first time. Two years before this he had moved from Leipzig, where he had been organist at St. Thomas Church, to Munich. In 1954 Richter was listed as a harpsichordist on the list of cast taking part in the Bach Week. In this year it took place in Ansbach again in conjunction with the 31st Bach Festival of the New Bach Society. Fritz Rieger then conducted the Association of Soloists with musicians such as Aurèle Nicolet (flute), the conductors Kurt Thomas and Günter Ramin with their choirs as well as the violinist Yehudi Menuhin. “In Ansbach I fill my backpack and I can live on that for a full year” was a quote written by a visitor to the Bachwoche in a letter addressed to the artistic director Dr. Weymar.
From 1955 to 1964 the programme of the Bachwoche Ansbach was increasingly determined by Karl Richter working as harpsichordist, organist and as conductor. With his Münchener Bach Choir and soloists of his choice, amongst them Peter Pears and Fritz Wunderlich (tenor) and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, he performed many cantatas and Bach’s passions several times. However there were also many internationally appreciated instrumentalists such as Andres Segovia (guitar), Henryk Szeryng (violin), Pierre Fournier (violoncello) or Ralph Kirkpatrick (harpsichord). These all belonged to the guest-list of the Bachwoche Ansbach in those years. The multi-talented Richter conducted performances of cantatas and passions and played the organ and harpsichord. However his plan to move the Bachwoche completely to Munich failed due to the vote of the visitors of the Bachwoche organized by the “Friends of the Bachwoche Ansbach” organization. Both Richter and Dr. Weymar resigned from their positions.
Therefore a new start had to be made in 1966. Rudolf Hetzer, a member of the “Friends of the Bachwoche Ansbach” Association became the new artistic director and the City of Ansbach took over the sponsorship of the Bachwoche. Because of the changes needed, a two-year cycle emerged and this was maintained. Increasingly more international artists and ensembles came to Ansbach: Nathan Milstein (violin) and Mstislaw Rostropowitsch (violoncello), Maurice André (trumpet), the conductors Sir Neville Marriner and Helmuth Rilling and ensembles such as The English Concert and London Baroque. For this reason not only the historically informed performances found their way into the Bachwoche Ansbach, but also, for the first time, works from other composers cautiously became part of the programme.
Due to health reasons, Rudolf Hetzer was forced to resign from his position in 1979. His replacement was Hans-Georg Schäfer, a piano graduate and music director who later became General Manager of the Berlin Philharmonic. During his term of office he drew Bach’s sons into the programme and extended the range beyond the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. It now varied from Claudio Monteverdi, Henry Purcell and Heinrich Schütz to composers from the 20th century for example Paul Hindemith, Witold Lutoslawski and Arvo Pärt. The first Bachwoche assignment given to a contemporary composer was also given by Hans-Georg Schäfer. Musicians such as Andràs Schiff (piano), Guy Touvron (trumpet) and the conductor Hans Martin Schneidt became idols of the public. Of all the performing musicians who were prevalent in this style then, the most important gave regular guest performances at the Bachwoche Ansbach, for example, John Eliot Gardiner, Reinhard Goebel, Ton Koopman and Philippe Herreweghe with their ensembles. Schäfer hosted an extra Bach weekend in 2000, the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death and after this he retired from his position.
Dr. Lotte Thaler was then artistic director for the three following Bach Weeks. She set a new agenda with thematic focal points, e.g. in 2001 “Bach and Strawinsky” or in 2005 “Bach’s World Music”. For this reason she promoted the image of the music of the 20th century and at the same time she enriched the Bachwoche with elements such as the Bach consultation hours, listeners’ guides and brochures as well as concerts for children. She established jazz concerts, which had first been attempted by her predecessor, and tried new recital forms and new venues on “Ansbach Day” in the middle of the Bachwoche.
Dr. Andreas Bomba, who worked together with Lotte Thaler, has been Chief Executive Officer and artistical director since 2006. His wish is to strengthen the vision of the man and his works who gave his name to the Bachwoche Ansbach, Johann Sebastian Bach. Simultaneously he sees it is necessary to extend the programme to include its roots and its repercussions. Every Bachwoche he gives the assignment for an “Ansbachisches Concert” to a different group of musicians. He also attaches importance to integrating a new generation of musicians into the tradition of the Bachwoche and offers a forum for a variety of interpretations. In addition it is his aim to trace other musicians and influential people who were associated with Bach from the former margraviate. An “outing” to the churches and palaces in the surroundings of Ansbach also belongs to the programme as well as the co-operation with other genres e.g. combined productions with Theatre Ansbach.
In this respect and to comply with public demand, the number of concerts and other events has been increased. In 2007, the restored, historical organ from the margravial court organ builder Johann Christoph Wiegleb (1739) in St. Gumbertus’ Church was brought into use. This instrument has enriched the Bachwoche Ansbach and gives the opportunity to allow Bach’s organ music to be played on an instrument from the Bach era. During the Bachwoche in 2011, Stefan Zednik’s documentary film “Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten” (Yield now, troubling shadows) celebrated its opening night and was enthusiastically received by the public.
Added to this, there has been an increased commitment by lovers of music for the coming generations. Since 2009 simultaneously to the morning concerts there have been workshops for children and young people. They were proposed and managed by the music instructor, Petra Mengeringhausen. In age-appropriate and active playing of music, the life and works of Bach are communicated and made into a tangible experience for the participants. The extent and the intensity of these workshops make them something unique in the European Festival World.