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Guide to Bach Tour
Köthen (Anhalt)
[L] [V]


Description | History
J.S. Bach: Connection | Events in Life History | Performance Dates of Vocal Works | Festivals & Cantata Series | Bach in Köthen
Features of Interest | Information & Links
Photos: Part 1 | Part 2 | Maps


Köthen (in old spelling Cöthen) is a city in Germany. It is the capital of the district of Anhalt-Bitterfeld in Saxony-Anhalt, about 30 km north of Halle.

Köthen is the location of the main campus and the administrative center of the regional technical university Hochschule Anhalt which is especially strong in information technology. The city is conveniently located at the hub of major rail links.

Köthen is situated in a fertile area with rich black soil suitable to the cultivation of sugar-beets. Industry includes high-tech engineering, manufacture of cranes, as well as chemicals, printing, and foodstuffs.

Country: Germany | State: Saxony-Anhalt | District: Anhalt-Bitterfeld | Area: 78.42 km² | Population: 28,800 (December 2008)


Owing to the fertile soil of the region, the area of Köthen is unusually rich in archaeological discoveries. The earliest signs of human habitation go back to the early Stone Age about 250,000 years ago, and evidence of every succeeding historical period may be found in the collections of the local Prehistorical Museum.

The first documentary mention of "Cothene" dates to 1115; by 1194 it was already known as a market town, becoming a seat of the princes of Anhalt. Köthen was chartered in 1200. The town obtained its charter in 1313. For over two centuries (1603-1847), it was the capital of the independent principality (from 1806, duchy) of Anhalt-Köthen. A succession of royal rulers intensely interested in culture and the arts typified the development of the town.

The town has long been known to classical music enthusiasts as the place of origin of J.S. Bach's best-known secular works, including the Brandenburg concertos and the Well-Tempered Clavier. J.S. Bach worked in Köthen from 1717 to 1723 as Kapellmeister for Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen. It is also the birthplace of the composer Carl Friedrich Abel who, together with Johann Christian Bach, founded the popular "Bach-Abel Concerts" in London, the first subscription concerts in England.

Köthen's castle has been fully restored except for a small side wing bombed in 1944. Its Hall of Mirrors where Bach's music is now often performed is a popular attraction. It can be seen on DVD in the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra's recording of the Brandenburg concertos. Since 1967 a bi-annual Bach Festival has been held at Köthen, in the various halls of the castle as well as the local churches. Another concert hall was opened in 2008 in the castle complex.

Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, practised in Köthen from 1821 to 1834, and during this period he published many of his best-known works. In 1855 his disciple Arthur Lutze opened a palatial homeopathic clinic. Both the clinic and Hahnemann's home are now open to tourists. The city has become the national center of homeopathy, location of congresses and of the new European Homeopathic Library.


Bach Connection

The sound of Köthen culminates in J.S. Bach: in his music and in the environment, which favoured its creation. The very young Leopold (1694-1728) began his reign with an edict for confessional tolerance and he paid tribute to the Muses. Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen was a musically educated man who probably recognized the meaning of J.S. Bach immediately. In 1717 he appointed J.S. Bach, then 32 years old, to be the “Anhalt-Köthen Prince's own musical director". Previously, he had raised the number of the court's orchestra to 17 among them excellent “Cammer Musici” of the same orchestra that he had admired as a student of the Knights' Academy in Berlin (and which the King of Prussia had thrown out without a word!).

The period of J.S. Bach in Köthen may well be described as the most fruitful of his life. He had friendly relationships with the Prince. Bach accompanied the prince on many journeys. Whilst he was staying with him in Karlsbad in 1720, Bach's wife Maria Barbara, with whom he had seven children including Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann, died ((See: Memo-1217)). These two of his children were to be the most significant musicians in the generation after the father. In 1721 he married the singer Anna Magdalena Wilcken. He dedicated the famous "Little Clavier Booklet for Anna Magdalena Bach" to her in 1722.

J.S. Bach's genius as a composer and his abilities as leader of an orchestra preferentially from the position of the viola stood as a challenge in the form of interaction with capable music interpreters. His orchestral works were the main focus in Köthen and the musical highlights were the Six Brandenburg Concertos (BWV 1046-1051) which he wrote for the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg. Other important work composed in Köthen are the Well-Tempered Clavier (Part 1) (BWV 846-869), in sonatas, suites, double concertos. Often the Prince joined the ensemble - as a singer; harpsichord or viola da gamba player. Even many vocal pieces were created; Anna Magdalena Wilcken took part professionally in their performances as 'Princely singer". After the painful loss of his first wife Maria Barbara, Bach married her at the end of 1721 in Köthen. In 1723 the musical director moved to the position of the choirmaster and organist at St. Thomas' in Leipzig. However, he returned to Köthen several times, the last time when he created the music for Prince Leopold's burial. On this occasion he quoted several passages from Matthäus-Passion (BWV 244) which was premiered only later.

The town of Köthen "lives" J.S. Bach's music: in the choir bearing his name which has existed since 1908: in the "Bach Festival Days" founded in 1935. In 1967, in remembrance of Bach’s stating in office 250 years before, the town raised these "Bach Festival Days" alternatively with the “Köthen Bach Competition” to a fixed tradition. Since that time a Bach organisation had supported this initiative, registered today as “Köthen Bach Society”. In 1983 the Historical Museum opened a place of Memorial to Bach. The Bach Memorial (See: Memo-1207) and the Historical Museum are found in the Ludwig building of the Köthen Palace since 1977. Pictures from the circle around the Muse Prince Leopold and J.S. Bach can be seen in the Bach Memorial and also documents on the Köthen Bach family and the town of Köthen at that time.

See detailed description and photos at: Bach in Köthen

Events in Life History of J.S. Bach



Weimar (1708-1717)

Aug 5, 1717

Appointment as Kapellmeister at Köthen

Köthen (1713-1723)


Transfer to Köthen to serve as Kapellmeister

Dec 16, 1717

Organ examination in Paulinerkirche, Leipzig

May-June 1718

Visit to Karlsbad with Price Leopold

Nov 17, 1718

Baptism of son Leopold Augustus

Feb (?) 1719

Visit to Berlin for purchase oharpsichord

May-July 1719

Attempted meeting with Händel in Halle

Sep 16, 1719

Death of son Leopold Augustus

Jan 10, 1720

Godfather to S.C. Abel

May-July 1720

Visit to Karlsbad with Price Leopold

July 1720

Death of J.S. Bach’s wife Maria Barbara (buried July 7)

Nov 1720

Visit to Hamburg; offer of organist post at Jakobikirche declined


6 Sonatas & Partitas for Violin BWV 1001-1006

Feb 22, 1721

Death of brother Johann Christoph Bach [22]

Mar 24, 1721

Performance of the 6 Brandenburg Concertos ((BWV 1046-1051))

June 26, 1721

Godfather to J.C.H. Bähr

Sep 25, 1721

Godfather to J.C. Hahn

Dec 3, 1721

Marriage to Anna Magdalena Wilcken (Wilcke, Wülcken), princely court singer at Köthen

Apr 16, 1722

Death of brother Johann Jacob Bach [23]

Oct 26, 1722

Godfather to S.D. Schulze

Dec 21, 1722

Candidate entered for post of Thomaskantor, Leipzig


The Well-Tempered Clavier Part I (BWV 846-869) completed

Mar 4, 1723

Birth of daughter Christiana Sofia Henrietta; godfather to J.F. Bähr


Fair copy of Inventions

Leipzig (1723-1730)

July 1724

Visit to Köthen with wife

Dec 1725

Visit to Köthen with wife

Mar 23-24, 1729

Visit to Köthen

Performance Dates of J.S. Bach’s Vocal Works: None.






1718-1722 [Köthen]


Dec 10, 1718



Der Himmel dacht auf Anhalts Ruhm und Glück

Music lost

Jan 1, 1719

Celebration of New Year


Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht


Dec 10, 1720 or Jan 21, 1721



[Text Lost]


Dec 10, 1722 ?



Durchlauchtster Leopold


1723 [Leipzig]


Feb 7, 1723



Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe

1st Performance




Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn

Not performed

Bach Festivals & Cantata Series

Festival (Link to Website)

Artistic Director





Köthener Bach Festtage

Hans-Georg Schäfer



Köthen, Saxony, Anhalt, Germany



Features of Interest

Köthen Palace: (1597) - now museum -- features Chapel, a Versailles-style Hall of Mirrors (1722) as well as the actual rooms where much of J. S. Bach's secular music was first performed, and royal stables enlarged at the turn of the 16/17th centuries to form a stately Renaissance seat of government
Bach Memorial.
Apothecary's vault: dating from the time of Prince Ludwig with periodically-changing special exhibitions
Naumann Museum in the Castle with the only preserved early 19th century ornithology collection.
Neo-Renaissance Town Hall
Municipal and Cathedral Church of St James: (1400-1514).
The St. Agnus Church: (1694-1698) where J.S. Bach worshipped. "Last Supper" by Lucas Cranach the Younger (1565); donor portrait by Antoine Pesne (1713); organ by Wilhelm Rühlmann.
St Mary's Church.
The "Romanesque Road": in Saxony-Anhalt as elsewhere, leads people interested in the history of culture and civilisation to many castles, palaces, royal residences and ecclesiastical buildings, all of which are well worth visiting.
The Köthen district: is a veritable archaeological treasure-chest Flint axes and hunting trophies are up to 350,000 years old and evidence of stock-breeding and the growing of grain dates back to the year 5000 BC. The megalithic graves in Schortewitz (near Drosa) and Wulfen are the southern most locations in Central Europe where such finds have been made
St. James' Church: (1400), with baptismal font designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen; crypt with sarcophagi of the reigning princes; organ by Friedrich Ladegast
Naumann Museum of ornithology
Historical Museum for city and district
Prehistorical Museum
Homes of J.S. Bach, Eichendorff, and Hahnemann

Information & Links

Tourist-Information im Schloss Köthen (Anhalt) (Köthen Kultur und Marketing GmbH)
Schlossplatz 4
D-06366 Köthen (Anhalt )
Tel: +49 3496 700 99 - 260
Fax: +49 3496 700 99 -29

Stadt Köthen (Anhalt) (Official Website) [German]
Landkreis Köthen / Anhalt [German]
Köthen (Wikipedia) [various languages]
Cityreview: Sachsen Anhalt > Köthen (Anhalt) [German]
Köthen (Anhalt) (Meinestadt) [German]

Köthen 1717-1723 – Part 1 (Koster)
Köthen 1717-1723 – Part 2 (Koster)
The J.S. Bach Tourist 11: Köthen (Koster)
On the Traces of J.S. Bach: Köthen (Germany Tourism)
J.S. Bach Biographie: Köthen 1717-1723 (Schlu) [German]
J.S. Bach Education & Career: Cöthen 1717-1723 (T.A. Smith)
Bach in Köthen [German] Bach in Köthen
J.S. Bach Biography: Cöthen (Carolina Classical)
Köthen (Anhalt) (Wikimedia) [Photos]


Prepared by Aryeh Oron (October 2003 - January 2012)

Guide to Bach Tour: Main Page | Life History of J.S. Bach | Performance Dates of J.S. Bach’s Vocal Works | Maps | Route Suggestions | Bach Organs | Discussions of Bach Tour
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Last update: ýJanuary 20, 2012 ý15:07:24