“The Kapellmeister of Kothen: A Fugue”

By Christopher G. Moore

It was still winter in April in Leipzig that year. Snow still thick on the ground. Church spires still shivering in the air. Months of winter following more months of winter—an unnaturally endless season of cold. The toothless gypsy at the market, haggling with the farmer, declared the long winter was a punishment from God. “The sacred city is without its sacred music. There is no choirmaster at St. Thomas,” she said.

Yes, there is no choirmaster at the parish of St. Thomas but that is hardly my fault, repeated Councilman Plaz over and over to himself. Not my fault, he repeated, barreling up the marble stairs, bundling himself against the wicked winds, bracing for the worst. Plaz knew he led the town council, and the town council was responsible for hiring the choirmaster.

Councilman Plaz was a baroque man with rococo hair and the body of a marzipan squash. With his poxy face powered chalky white, pink painted severe lips, and a naturally red-tipped nose, he was considered attractive compared to the other members of the town council. How did he get to become head councilman anyway? He couldn’t hire his own mother! envied a handful of lesser civil servants as Plaz burst into the meeting. Late. Again.

“You can’t blame the endless winter on the lack of a choirmaster,” scolded the farmer.

“Poor Kuhnau, the old choirmaster, God rest his soul, died in June. It wasn’t winter then!”

“It was an unexpected death but only fair, because Kuhnau, God rest his soul, had been boring people to death with his music for years,” whispered the gypsy.

“That was in June, it wasn’t winter then,” repeated the farmer.

“Now, today, we, the town council of Leipzig, will select a new choirmaster for St. Thomas,” announced Plaz, collecting himself, gathering courage. “We will do God’s work. Yes, it has been months, but we will do this today.”

Heard that before, the council thought in unison. Their bodies shifting in their privileged seats. The public pressure is building. The councilmen seeing themselves in the papers of late, lampooned as ballooned buffoons incapable of accomplishing anything, let alone an important task like hiring a choirmaster. It hurts. Leipzig is a Christian town, but it is not a patient one. Religion is serious business, and a choirmaster is essential. The town had waited long enough, now blame must be assigned. The council members confronted Plaz.

“But Georg Telemann had accepted the post in August!” reminded Plaz.

“But then, Georg Telemann refused the post in October! We have no choirmaster!” countered the council.

It was a jubilant day in August when Telemann accepted the post, the papers in Leipzig overflowed with sacred verbs and sacramental adjectives. He was an inspired choice. Then, in October, Telemann abruptly refused the position. He had secured more money from his current employer. Telemann shamed Leipzig.

“Am I to blame that Telemann used us like a Hamburg tart?” argued Plaz.

“You lost Graupner too,” the council replied.

“True,” said Plaz softly, turning his face toward the window. Christoph Graupner too was a celebrated talent. He too accepted the post. He said yes. Then, he said no. Plaz had no explanation as to why. He lost Graupner.

“Is there a candidate left to hire, Herr Plaz?” demanded the council. “It has been months. What is your recommendation?”

It was a dangerous question, requiring an answer, sending Plaz studying the short list of remaining candidates. He had seen the names countless times before, but was incapable of committing them to memory. These are also-rans, third choices, runners-ups to runners-up, names to fill a page, not names to be remembered.

“Gentleman, I recommend we hire…” his eyes falling on a peculiar phrase: Kappellmeister of Kothen.

“Well?” demanding the council.

“Well, since the best men cannot be obtained, a mediocre one will have to be accepted,” Plaz had no time left to stall. “I recommend we hire that Kapellmeister from Kothen. What is his name?”

“Bach? Johann Sebastian Bach,” answers a clerk, finding the name in a haystack of papers.

“Yes, Johann Bach. I suppose he’ll have to do,” Plaz sighed heavily, as though his soul was leaving his body. He knew it was a horrible decision, but what choice did he have?

At that instant, in the market, the toothless gypsy noticed a flicker of sun inch through the winter sky. She smiled for a moment, then bought an egg for her dinner.

All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.