Bach's Letter to George Erdmann


Just lick and the envelope is tight: that is how it didn't work as early as in the year 1700. Folding the paper properly, heat up sealing wax, sealing wax on the envelope. Push signet ring or seal on a stick into the wax, let it dry – that is like it worked back then.


It sort of looked like this, when a letter of Johann Sebastian Bach arrived in Gdansk. However, for the historians among you: it's not a Gdansk mail man and in the background that is just not Gdansk. And the gentlemen on their horses are four years early too.


Who Actually Is Friend George Erdmann?


There is no picture of George Erdmann. Instead of this you get the common part biography of both friends Erdmann and Bach in pictures of their friendship – here on "Bach on Bach". Their friendship probably started in Ohrdrurf, because it's really improbable that they were friends already in Eisenach and Johann Sebastian Bach with his brother plus friend moved to Ohrdrurf together.


Johann Sebastian Bach and George Erdmann very probably became best friends in Ohrdruf. They both attended school in Ohrdruf, after Johann Sebastian moved in with his oldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach. After his brother needed all bedrooms in his household because his wife was pregnant - and for more reasons - both friends decided, to move to Lueneburg. They both ... hiked to Lueneburg. That is a distance of almost 350 miles.


Together George Erdmann and Johann Sebastian Bach attended school there too. Until their paths went separate ways in the year 1702. While Johann Sebastian Bach moved back to Thuringia, it is not known where Erdmann went. Full 27 years are gone, until posterity learns about the friendship between both school friends from just two letters. Two letters of Bach are known, which he sent to Geroge to Gdansk, where George was living and working at that time.


Lueneburg, a common place of study for friends George Erdmann and Johann Sebastian Bach. It has probably looked liked this, when Bach and Erdmann approached the city of Lueneburg in the year 1700.


City Hall of the Bach city of Lueneburg in the change of time. Looking for images to illustrate this chapter "The letter of Johann Sebastian Bach to his friend George Erdmann", a trilogy of the following illustrations was perfect – and you just now don't know how to kill time with different things – have much fun with this: this work of art is from 1700 ...



... this is from 1850 ...


... and finally this is from 1900.



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The Letter of Bach to George Erdmann


The city of Leipzig in the time of Johann Sebastian Bach. In the year 1730 the Thomas Cantor decided, after working seven years for the council of the town, to write the letter to Georg Erdmann.


Johann Sebastian Bach considered life expensive in Leipzig, as he wrote in his letter to friend George Erdmann.


What actually is the "Singende Muße an der Pleiße", which translated is the "Singing Muse on the River Pleiße"? First it is the title of a book. Then, in addition, it is a picture, that is the book jacket. The Pleiße however flows through the city of Leipzig. Fourthly they believe it's Mr. and Mrs. Bach. Do you know, which one? That by the way is no laptop in front of Mrs. Bach. And if you have problems, there is a close-up beneath this picture. However, it's unclear until today who the gentleman without clothes below the table is and why he is wearing no clothes. And what he is doing there. By the way it is the only existing picture of Anna Magdalena Bach, which is not disagreed by the Bach science.


No laptop, no travel type writer. But – seriously – a portable organ.


"Auerbach's Court" at Leipzig around 1780, surely it didn't look very different in 1740.


The Gothic Gate in Leipzig.


It was the year 1730. Johann Sebastian Bach is living in Leipzig for seven years and he regretted his decision., having left Koethen 1722 and having moved to Leipzig. There they "welcomed" him as a third choice and hired him willy-nilly, as they, the Leipzig Chronicle reports of that fact, just be satisfied with "a mean musician", as they couldn't hire a first class professional. The wording here is a rough repetition. That is why Johann Sebastian Bach was looking for a next place to work and to make his living. And he remembers his old school friend, with whom he hiked from Ohrdruf to Lueneburg back then and attended school with him. George Erdmann meanwhile, as mentioned before, was working in Gdansk.



Johann Sebastian Bach to George Erdmann


The "George Erdmann Letter", the original, page 1.


The "George Erdmann Letter", original, page 2.


This letter to George Erdmann is the only personal one of two letters, which is still preserved of Johann Sebastian Bachs personal letters. The second one, however is just a confirmation with actually no exciting content. The so called Erdmann letter is preserved in Berlin. From this letter we know of the cost of living in Leipzig plus how Bach felt with the hostility of the town council, his employer. This is written in this famous letter from George Erdmann to Johann Sebastian Bach.


It is crystal clear, that such a postage stamp hasn't been on the letter to George Erdmann, which Johann Sebastian wrote in the year 1730. The first stamps existed in 1840, that is to say 110 years later. By the way, postage stamps have been invented, to cash the cost of transportation from the sender and to make the transportation of mail not only affordable for the rich. For those, who are really much interested in details, are invited to click exactly here to learn more. Is there something more? Yes. The gentleman in the picture above has delivered his mail of course in Nuremberg, and that was in the year 1700 – however, not in Gdansk – and not in Leipzig.


Who invented it? He invented it. Sir Rowland Hill. Memeber of the British Government. He is considered creator of the first adhesive postage stamp. And when did that happen? In the year 1840.




On this page it's prepared for you, how doing science works in little portions. When you are underway in the matter of historic documents and you meet documents, which seem like jewels - better: they actually are jewels:


It's crystal clear and actually not worth to be mentioned: the "George Erdmann Letter" is no jewel found by me. But actually because it's the only document of that kind, it is well known among Bach enthusiasts. And every person, who ever read a biography about Johann Sebastian Bach, probably will remember the part, where Bach complained about his decision.


However, with this letter you can clearly point out, which challenge finds of old documents deliver: the readability, the old font, the back then really different language, the same words with a whole different meaning. Know a little German? Than enjoy the fun first, to try to read some lines of the original letter of Bach first. If you don't manage, than we minimize the challenge in a first edit and reduce the document by taking the handwriting of the master away. You get the George Erdmann Letter in the same wording, plus in an old German font.


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The Letter to George Erdmann in Every Next Version Easier to Read for You


If that doesn't work better, you get the whole nine yards in "Arial". I mean, "Arial" is the name of the font, which you are – and yes, I too – just read more, nowadays. If that is still hard to understand, than there is the letter of George Erdmann translated by a professional. This professional is German teacher Martin Schlu and he is engaged competently on the internet. I asked him, whether he would allow me to publish his translation and so you may read the letter of Johann Sebastian Bach to Gerorge Erdmann first in German, how it would sound, if the Thomas Cantor would have written it yesterday with his keyboard and screen. Thank you, Martin Schlu. And here you get to the website of Martin Schlu.


You are lucky with three alternatives. Downright lucky. Because for visitors from the United States of America or Great Britain or elsewhere in the world there is even one more alternative – you guessed it. The English alternative. However, you might not be able to read the first two versions, as they are German. So, it's true one more time: America, you are better off. Who said so? That wasn't  Bach, that is correct. Not Johann Sebastian and it wasn't me. Correct, it had been Goethe. Johann Wolfgang von.



The Letter to George Erdmann – for You in Four Versions


Already in 1730 Gdansk was an impressing city. George Erdmann, the former school friend of Johann Sebastian Bach is an agent of the Russian Emperor at that time.


The port of Gdansk.


City Hall and market in Gdansk.


The stock exchange in Gdansk.


These ... are not the Erdmanns. But that is what it probably looked like back then, when a letter arrived. Not the hectic placement in the letterbox and than the rush of the mailman to the next house. Nope, when there was a letter coming, the whole family gathered around the mailman and saluted him with a warm hello ...



Bach's Letter to School Friend George Erdmann – Now in Readable German


Here and now you get the revision of Martin Schlu for Bach enthusiasts. Probably exactly like the following sentences the text would have been written today. However, even in this version there are phrases, which might be in the status of change, as some German terms, like "sich die Freiheit nehmen" surely soon go out of style, you don't end German letters any more like this and you don't address letters with "honorable friend" anymore. Twenty years from now all of those will have disappeared at all and be replaced by younger, newer expressions. Here now is the letter in a nowadays consumable German version:



Here Now You Finally Get What You Wanted: Bach's Famous Letter to School Friend George Erdmann in English


One more beautiful historic picture to discover and you made it to the English translation.


Dear friend,


you might excuse an old friend, who allows himself to bother you with this letter.


Almost four years are gone, since you answered my last letter. I remember you asked me to report about my difficulties, which I would like to do now. Since our youth you know my career, until my change as a band master in Koethen. There I found a human and competent sovereign as my employer and I felt my service as a future life position. But my sovereign married a princess and had no interest or time for music any more – maybe because she didn't feel about music like he did – and there was a job as a music teacher at the Thomas High School in Leipzig.


Although I didn't want to step down from being a court composer to be a music teacher, that is why I hesitated for three months with a decision, they made this position so exciting, that one day (because my sons wanted to study too), that in God's name I one day travelled to Leipzig and played to them, got that job and I still have it today. However, on the one hand because this job doesn't pay by far as much as they told me before, and there are, on the other hand no extra pays, in addition the cost of living is immensely and my supervisor is almost not interested in music and I am bullied too, I am now looking for – with the help of God – for a new job, I don't care where.

If you might find an acceptable job close to where you live for an old friend, I ask you to recommend me, I will provide no reason to complain about my willingness to work and I would struggle in the best way for acceptance. My current payment is 700 Reichstaler (... today some € 3,500 = $ 5,000> in a month. And if more people die, there is more extra income with funerals, if the people are healthy, there is less money to earn, so I earned 100 Reichstaler (... today some € 500 = $ 800) per month less. In Thuringia I could get accomplished more with 400 Reichstaler (... today some € 2,000 = some $ 3,000) in a month than here (... in Leipzig), because the cost of life is so high here.


Now I want to report something personal too. Meanwhile I am married for the second time, after my first wife (... Maria Barbara) died in Koethen. From my first marriage three sons and one daughter are still living, whom you saw in Weimar years ago. From my second marriage one son and two daughters are living. My oldest son is studying law, the two others still go to school, one in the prima, the other one in the secunda. The children from the second marriage are still little, the oldest is six years of age.


They are all future musicians – I assure, that together with my family I already could perform a concert with choir and orchestra, in particular my second wife sings a beautiful soprano and the oldest daughter is not bad too.


I would be impolite, if I would tell more now, that is why I finish the letter with all respect and remain


Your, honored friend

in thankfulness


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