Johann Sebastian Bach in Berlin
From 1723 to his death in 1750, Bach was the music director at the Thomas Church in Leipzig as well as the overseer of the music directors in all of the churches in that city. One of his duties was to perform a piece of church music of approximately 20 minutes' length, based on specified biblical texts für each sunday. For this purpose, Bach composed an average of one new cantata every four weeks, creating a unity between his music and the selected scriptures. He composed over 300 cantatas, of which approximately 200 survive today.
The tradition of cantata services in Berlin
The regular performance of Bach cantatas in week final services in Berlin began in 1947. Among the initiators at that time was the important Bach researcher Friedrich Smend (died in 1980). Up to the establishment of the Bach-Choir the cantatas were performed by various Berlin choirs assisted by an ensemble of instrumentalists. The conducting in each case was given to the director the participating choir.
Hanns-Martin Schneidt, which had taken over 1956 the direction of the Berliner Kirchenmusikschule and der Spandauer Kantorei, conducted nearly all performances starting from 1957. On May 25, 1957, he created the Bach-Collegium from the proven circle of the instrumentalists, who came first, due to the building of the wall only from the orchestras of the Western part of Berlin (Orchester der Deutschen Oper, Berliner Philharmoniker, Radio-Symphonie-Orchester-Berlin). Later the Collegium was statutory connected with the Bach-Choir which had been created in 1961 by Hanns-Martin Schneidt. Since the reunification members of orchestras of the former East part of the city, including those of the Staatskapelle Berlin would also play.
After Hanns-Martin Schneidt left Berlin, Helmuth Rilling took over the direction of the Bach-Chor and the Bach-Collegium in 1963/64. His follower, Karl Hochreither, began in February 1964 and continued up to 2001. Since 2002 Achim Zimmermann leads the Bach-Choir and the Bach-Collegium.