In October of 1713, Johann Sebastian Bach worked as court organist to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Saxony-Weimar. With money scarce and little to give but his talents, the 28-year-old composer wrote an aria for his patriarch’s birthday. The Duke put the piece in a box – where it stayed, never to be played nor heard.
Nearly 300 years later, however, a Harvard University doctoral student happened upon the aria while examining some documents saved from a fire at the Anna Amalia Library in Weimar, Germany.
The Bach Archive Foundation was alerted to the findings, and the piece was sent to them for authentication. In June of 2005, the composition was confirmed, and it was decided to release the music to the general public.
Officials from the Anna Amalia Library contacted the foundation, however, and requested they not play the aria – so the world premier could be held at the re-opening of the library. The foundation agreed, but at the re-opening, musicians performed only half of the piece.
When Lynn Sampson, singer, trumpet player and member of the Kiwanis Club of Modesto, California, heard of the aria, he promptly contacted the publishing company in Germany in an attempt to obtain a copy of the music.
“We saw a newspaper article about it,” says Lynn. “I stayed up until two in the morning to call Germany to talk to some people about the piece.”
After several calls and scheduling, the publishing company agreed to send the music to the club, which in cooperation with the opera singers in Modesto, staged the world premier of the entire piece before a standing-room-only crowd September 7, 2005.
More than US $10,000 was raised to support the event. Kiwanians knocked on doors and explained what they were trying to do. A graphic designer offered to help with the programs for the event, and a printer in Modesto produced them at no cost. Modesto Junior College donated a harpsichord for the performance.