Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714 – 1788)
As a German composer whose early works exemplified the grandeur of Baroque style and whose subsequent works evolved into pure Classicism, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s music offers a charming and historical look into the musical transition between two great eras of music history. Standing in the shadow of his famous father, Johann Sebastian Bach, C.P.E. Bach is sometimes overlooked by historians for his ground-breaking keyboard Sonatas and his significant contribution to Protestant Church music in the second half of the Eighteenth Century.
Most of his music is not as well known as that of his father, but in the second half of the Eighteenth Century, C.P.E. Bach was known as the “Great Bach.” He was the second eldest and the most famous of J.S. Bach’s sons. An advocate of subjectivity and individual self-expression in music, C.P.E. Bach was quickly hailed as the foremost exponent of the Sturm und Drang movement of the late Eighteenth Century. Growing out of Baroque music, the “Storm and Stress” period can be seen as a time of transition between the works of J.S. Bach, Handel, and Telemann, and those of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.
C.P.E. Bach believed in the new aesthetic ideals of his time which demanded that music “touch the heart” and “awaken the passions.” His works were daring for their time, and some were even considered bizarre by his contemporaries. In his music, there are often bold harmonic progressions, interjected sections in contrasting tempo, seamless transitions between movements, abrupt changes of mood, and frequent rambling passages that seem to be searching for a goal. While he was not a prodigiously prolific composer when compared to Haydn or Mozart, he produced music, often experimental, of undeniably high quality and with considerable charm and elegance.
While C.P.E. Bach’s progressive and uniquely individual style was most pronounced in his keyboard Sonatas and certain Symphonies, his Concertos for various instruments also contain many features that seize the attention of the listener with their great originality. After leaving the employ of King Frederick the Great of Prussia and settling in Hamburg, Bach was no longer restricted by the conservative tastes of the royal court, and he was able to indulge in a more daring, experimental kind of music. J.F. Reichardt, one of the most important music critics of the Eighteenth Century, praised the “original and audacious progression of ideas and the great variety and novelty in the forms and modulations” of Bach’s Symphonies.
Clearly, C.P.E. Bach was a leader among the group of composers who were creating music in a completely new style, and the influence of his works on those of Haydn and Mozart is considerable. His most conservative works were wholly Baroque in their conception (written in Leipzig and the early years in Berlin), while others contained many elements of what we now call Classical style while they simultaneously maintained Baroque elements as well. But in his most adventurous works (written for the private music circles in Berlin and later in Hamburg), he achieved a purely Classical idiom, thus branding him as a true innovator in music history and one of the founding fathers of the Classical Era through his contributions to the development of Sonata-Allegro form.
Playlist for tonight
- Symphony No. 1 in D Wq 183 (H663): I. Allegro di molto (6:14)
- Symphony No. 1 in D Wq 183 (H663): II. Largo (1:46)
- Symphony No. 1 in D Wq 183 (H663): III. Presto (2:47)
- Cello Concerto in A major Wq.172 / H.439 (Cadenzas: Anner Bylsma): I. Allegro (6:34)
- Cello Concerto in A major Wq.172 / H.439 (Cadenzas: Anner Bylsma): II. Largo con sordini, mesto (7:45)
- Cello Concerto in A major Wq.172 / H.439 (Cadenzas: Anner Bylsma): III. Allegro assai (5:06)
- Symphony No. 3 in F Wq183 (H665): I. Allegro di molto (5:17)
- Symphony No. 3 in F Wq183 (H665): II. Larghetto (2:14)
- Symphony No. 3 in F Wq183 (H665): III. Presto (3:10)