BACH, CPE: Piano Sonatas and Rondos
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Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was born in Weimar, thesecond son by his first wife of Johann Sebastian Bach,then newly appointed Konzertmeister to the GrandDuke Wilhelm Ernst. He attended the Latin School inCothen, where his father became Court Kapellmeister in1717, and in 1723 moved with the family to Leipzig,where he became a pupil at the Thomasschule, on thestaff of which his father had become Cantor. In 1731 hematriculated as a law student at the University ofLeipzig, embarking on a course of study that had beendenied his father. He continued these studies at theUniversity of Frankfurt an der Oder, and in 1738,rejecting the chance of accompanying a younggentleman on a tour abroad, entered the service of theCrown Prince of Prussia at Ruppin as harpsichordist. Hemoved with the court to Berlin in 1740, on the accessionto the throne of the Prince, better known subsequently asFrederick the Great.
In Berlin and at Potsdam, Bach, confirmed as CourtHarpsichordist, had the unenviable task ofaccompanying evening concerts at which the King, anable enough amateur flautist, was a frequent performer.
His colleagues, generally of a more conservative bent,included the distinguished flautist and theorist Quantz,the Benda and Graun brothers and other musicians ofsimilar reputation, while men of letters at the courtincluded Lessing. In 1755 he applied for his father's oldposition at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, but wasunsuccessful, his father's former pupil Doles beingappointed to take the place of Johann Sebastian'simmediate successor, Gottlob Harrer. It was not until1768 that Carl Philipp Emanuel was able to escape froma position that he had found increasingly uncongenial,succeeding his godfather Telemann as Cantor at theJohanneum in Hamburg, a city that offered much wideropportunities than Leipzig had ever done. He spent thelast twenty years of his life there. In Berlin he had won awider reputation with his Versuch ??ber die wahre Artdas Clavier zu spielen (Essay on the True Art of ClavierPlaying) and was regarded as the leading keyboardplayerof his day. In Hamburg he continued to enjoy hisestablished position as a man of wide general education,able to mix on equal terms with the leading writers ofhis generation and no mere working musician. He diedin 1788, his death mourned by a generation that thoughtof him as more important than his father, the latterdisrespectfully dubbed 'the old periwig' by his sons.
As a composer Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach wasprolific, writing a considerable quantity of music for theharpsichord and for the instrument he much favoured,the clavichord. His music exemplifies the theoriesexpounded in his Versuch, with a tendency to usedramatic and rhetorical devices, a fine command ofmelody and a relatively sparing use of contrapuntalelements that had by now come to seem merelyacademic. In musical terms he is associated withLessing's theories of sentiment, Empfindsamkeit, thecomplement of Enlightenment rationalism.
Bach published some eighteen collections ofkeyboard music in his lifetime and, while he failed toplease general popular taste in Vienna and SouthGermany, he nevertheless won the admiration of thegreatest composers, of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
The influence on Haydn, in particular, is attested by thatcomposer's early biographers and is, in any case,apparent from his own keyboard sonatas.
The Sonata in D minor, Wq.51/4, was written inBerlin in 1758 and published in 1761 as what was to bea set of six, a supplement to the Sechs Sonaten f??rClavier mit veranderten Reprisen (Six Sonatas forClavier with Varied Repeats), first published in 1760.
The energetic first movement, with its rapid passagework,is followed by a slow movement with distinctlyrhetorical elements interrupting the general tranquillityof the singing principal theme. The sonata ends with avigorous final Presto.
Bach's Sonata in F sharp minor, Wq.52/4, waswritten in 1744 and published in 1763 in a set of sixsonatas as a second supplement to the Sechs Sonatenf??rs Clavier. The first movement offers a contrastbetween the dash of the opening and a secondarysinging melody. The second movement, marked Pocoandante, offers an aria, discreetly accompanied, areminder of Bach's own instructions in the Versuch onthe art of presenting a sustained melody on thekeyboard. The sonata ends with a return to the originalminor mode in a texture that develops further thedialogue suggested in the previous movement.
The Sonata in A major, Wq.55/4, was written in1765 and published in 1779 as one of a set of sixsonatas, Sechs Clavier-Sonaten f??r Kenner undLiebhaber (Six Clavier Sonatas for Connoisseurs andAmateurs), the first of six similar collections, dedicatedto a Madame Zernitz. The first classical movement leadsto an F sharp minor Adagio in which one writer hasperceived an affinity with the slow movement ofMozart's Piano Concerto in A major, K.488. The sonataends with an Allegro that seems to suggest a veinexplored by Haydn.
Bach's Rondos proved particularly popular withthose who subscribed to his Clavier-Sonaten f??r Kennerund Liebhaber. The Rondo in D minor, Wq.61/4,appeared in 1787 in the final collection, Clavier-Sonaten und freye Fantasien nebst einigen Rondos f??rFortepiano (Clavier Sonatas and Free Fantasies withSome Rondos for Fortepiano), the last contribution towhat Charles Burney's correspondent Thomas Twiningcalled his Carlophilipemanuelbachomania, anenthusiam that must have been widely shared, aswitnessed by the commercial success of thesepublications, although demand for this latest collectionhad been rather less, with only 288 subscribed for. CarlFriedrich Cramer, indeed, in the Magazin der Musik thathe published in Hamburg between 1783 and 1786,deplores the inclusion of rondos, which he regards as atrivial concession to superficial contemporary fashions.
Nevertheless Cramer, since 1775 professor of Greek andoriental languages at the University of Kiel, was amongthe subscribers, as was Baron van Swieten in Vienna,who ordered twelve copies, and the publisher Artariawho ordered six. Subscribers in London included DrBurney, the composer and harpsichordist ThomasLinley, Carl Friedrich Abel, former colleague of JohannChristian Bach, and Johann Samuel Schroeter, husbandof the heiress Rebecca Schroeter, who, as a widow,enjoyed a relationship with Haydn during his Londonvisits. In Berlin Mendelssohn's great-aunt Sara Levycontinued her patronage of the Bach family, while 44copies were demanded in St Petersburg. This finalvolume contains two sonatas, two fantasias and tworondos. In these last Bach's music is, as Burney hadearlier written, 'every thing, by turns, that music canexpress'. The Rondo in B flat major, Wq.58/5, is takenfrom the 1783 fourth collection for Kenner undLiebhaber.
The Sonata in C major, Wq.65/47, was written in1775 but not published in Bach's lifetime. The first ofthe two movements has the contrast and varietycharacteristic of the composer, with an aria-like Adagioassai that embodies the ideals of the Empfindsamerstil,with its juxtaposed changes of mood. Bach's Sonata inE major, Wq.65/29, also unpublished in his lifetime, is arelatively early work, written in 1755 andstraightforward in form and appeal. The presentrecording ends with the Cantabile from the Sonata in Bminor, Wq.55/3, published in 1779 in the first Hamburgcollection of sonatas, a telling melody of apparentsimplicity.Keith Anderson