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8.553640 - BACH, C.P.E.: Keyboard Sonatas
English 

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788): Keyboard Sonatas

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was born in 1714 in Weimar, the second son by his first wife of Johann Sebastian Bach, then newly appointed Konzertmeister to the Grand Duke Wilhelm Ernst, He attended the Latin School in Cöthen, where his father became Court Kapellmeister in 1717, and in 1723 moved with the family to Leipzig, where he became a pupil at the Thomasschule, on the staff of which his father had become Cantor. In 1731 he matriculated as a law student at the University of Leipzig, embarking on a course of study that had been denied his father. He continued these studies at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder and in 1738, rejecting the chance of accompanying a young gentleman on a tour abroad, he entered the service of the Crown Prince of Prussia at Ruppin as harpsichordist, moving with the court to Berlin in 1740, on the accession to the throne of the Prince, better known subsequently as Frederick the Great. In Berlin and at Potsdam Bach, confirmed as Court Harpsichordist, had the unenviable task of accompanying evening concerts at which the King, an able enough amateur flautist, was a frequent performer. His colleagues, generally of a more conservative tendency, included the distinguished flautist and theorist Quantz, the Benda and Graun brothers and other musicians of similar reputation, while men of letters at the court included Lessing. In 1755 he applied for his father's old position at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, but was unsuccessful, his father's former pupil Doles being appointed in succession to Johann Sebastian's immediate successor, Gottlob Harrer. It was not until 1768 that he was able to escape from a position that he had found increasingly uncongenial, succeeding his godfather Telemann as Cantor at the Johanneum in Hamburg, a city that offered much wider opportunities than Leipzig. Bach spent the last twenty years of his life in Hamburg. In Berlin he had won a wider reputation with his Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (Essay on the True Art of Clavier Playing) and was regarded as the leading keyboard-player of his day. In Hamburg he continued to enjoy his established position as a man of wide general education, able to mix on equal terms with the leading writers of his generation and no mere working musician. He died in 1788, his death mourned by a generation that thought of him as more important than his father, dubbed "the old periwig" by his sons. As a composer Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was prolific, writing a considerable quantity of music for the harpsichord and the instrument he much favoured, the clavichord. His music exemplifies the theories expounded in his Versuch, with a tendency to use dramatic and rhetorical devices, a fine command of melody and a relatively sparing use of the contrapuntal elements that had by now come to seem merely academic. In musical terms he is associated with Lessing's theories of sentiment, Empfindsamkeit, the complement of Enlightenment rationalism.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's compositions naturally include a considerable quantity of keyboard music. Some eighteen collections were published in his life-time and, while he failed to please general popular taste in Vienna and South Germany, he nevertheless won the admiration of the greatest composers, of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The influence on Haydn, in particular, is attested by that composer's early biographers and is, in any case, apparent from his own keyboard sonatas.

The Sonata in G major, Wq. 65/22, was written in Berlin 1748 and was published in 1768 in a collection of sonatas, C.P.E. Bachs, Nichelmanns und Handel’s Sonaten und Fugen. The inclusion of sonatas by Christoph Nichelmann is a reminder that this composer had worked in Leipzig under the supervision of J.S. Bach and had been a pupil of the latter's eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, subsequently moving to Berlin, where he studied with Frederick the Great's favourite composers, the flautist Quantz and the Berlin Kapellmeister C.H. Graun. From 1745 he served with C.P.E. Bach as harpsichordist at the court, leaving in 1756. Bach's sonata had a wide enough circulation in manuscript and a number of contemporary copies survive. The first movement opens with a forthright thematic figure, moving to material of a gentler cast.  The opening theme starts the central development, after the repetition of the exposition. The G minor slow movement unwinds a triplet triple-metre theme, with the simplest accompaniment, and is followed by a final Allegro in a lively 3/8 metre.

The Sonata in A major, Wq. 65/37, bears the date of 1763 and was written in Berlin. The opening Allegro follows the expected formal pattern, with an exposition modulating to the dominant and a central development with characteristic keyboard figuration. The final section recapitulates the material, with its ascending arpeggios. The following Andante ma non troppo, in A minor, achieves its moving effect through the simplest means, with a poignant melody, lightly accompanied. Melancholy is dispelled in the final Allegro di molto, with its continuing triplet accompaniment figuration.

Bach's Sonata in A major, Wq. 70/1, was written in I 758, while he and his family were staying at the house of Kapellmeister Johann Friedrich Fasch at Zerbst, where he had moved during the wars in which his patron was then engaged, as Russian forces approached Berlin. The sonata was published in Nuremberg in 1762-1763 in the collection (Œuvres mélées contenant VI sonates pour le clavessin d'autant plus célèbres compositeurs, VoI.IX, for which it was slightly varied, and is also found in a more elaborate version included in a manuscript that contains two other sonatas for the organ. The dynamic directions on this version, here recorded, suggest the use of a stringed keyboard instrument, although it could also be played on the organ. The simpler version of the sonata (Wq. 65/32) is elaborated considerably, with the repetition of the exposition written out in an embellished form, a clear enough suggestion of the expected form of contemporary practice, with repeated exposition and repeated development and recapitulation. The indications of the nature of the slow movement are clear enough. This A minor Andante con tenerezza is a poignant recitative, of which, it might be said, Johann Sebastian Bach was also capable, if in a more frivolous mood, as in the Lament of his Capriccio on the departure of his brother. The final Allegretto lacks the extra embellishment of the first movement in its later version, offering a conclusion that suggests clearly enough the use of the stringed keyboard rather than the organ.

The Sonata in B flat major, Wq. 62/16, was written in Berlin in 1757 and published in Part V of the Nuremberg (Œuvres mélées in 1760. The first Allegro starts boldly, moving forward to a second subject of dynamic contrast. The development is followed by a shorter recapitulation. The G minor Andante finds a place for a more reflective mood, its principal theme embellished in repetition. The Allegretto, with its two repeated sections, ends the sonata.

With a manuscript copy found, as with so many other sonatas, in the library of Princess Amalia of Prussia, the King's sister, the Sonata in E minor, Wq. 65/30, bears the date 1756. As its key suggests, the opening Allegretto is gently reflective rather than ebullient. The Andante provides a contrast, with its key of G major, its accompanying quavers giving the impression of greater animation. The final Allegretto restores the original key, its principal theme, varied in repetition, punctuated by its descending leaps and varied descending arpeggios.

Bach's Sonata in G major, Wq. 65/48, was written in Hamburg in 1783, fürs Bogen-Clavier. This instrument represented a further attempt to produce a keyboard instrument on which notes could be sustained, as on the organ, a sostenente piano. The Bogenklavier was the invention of Johann Hohlfeld in Berlin and had been played by Bach in a concert for the Queen Mother in 1753. He mentions Hohlfeld's bowed clavier with respect in his Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, where he regrets that the instrument has not come into general use. It is natural that the opening Andantino should provide a chance for such a technical device in its sustained singing melody. The G minor slow movement is marked Adagio e sostenuto and continues to explore the possibilities of the new instrument. The sonata ends with a rhetorical final Allegro.

The Rondo in E flat major, Wq. 61/1, was written in Hamburg in 1786 and published the following year in a set of six such pieces, described as Clavier-Sonaten und Freye Fantasien nebst Einigen Rondos für Fortepiano für Kenner und Liebhaber (Keyboard Sonatas and Free Fantasies with Some Rondos for Fortepiano for Connoisseurs and Amateurs), with a dedication to Countess Maria Theresia of Leiningen-Westerburg. This was the sixth such collection and in its relatively modest list of 288 subscribers shows a decrease in interest. Carl Friedrich Cramer in the Magazin der Musik that he published in Hamburg between 1783 and 1786, deplores the inclusion of rondos, which he regards as a trivial concession to superficial contemporary fashions. Bach's new Rondo includes innovative harmonies in its second episode and is a work of full maturity, no meretricious sop to the amateur. Among the discerning subscribers was Cramer, since 1775 professor of Greek and oriental languages at the University of Kiel, Baron van Swieten in Vienna, who ordered twelve copies, and the publisher Artaria who ordered six. Subscribers in London included Dr Burney, the composer and harpsichordist Thomas Linley, Carl Friedrich Abel, former colleague of Johann Christian Bach, who died in the same year, and Johann Samuel Schroeter, husband of the heiress Rebecca Schroeter, who, as a widow, enjoyed a relationship with Haydn during his London visits. In Berlin Mendelssohn's great-aunt Sara Levy continued her patronage of the Bach family, while 44 copies were demanded in St Petersburg. The list is evidence of continued discerning and international interest in the work of one of the greatest of the Bachs.

Francois Chaplin
A Pupil of Ventsislav Yankoff and Jacqueline Robin at the Paris Conservatoire, Francois Chaplin was awarded a unanimous first prize in 1987, proceeding to further study with Jean-Claude Pennetier and work with Catherine Collard. With the award of the Mozart and Robert Casadesus prizes at the Cleveland International Competition in 1989, he embarked on a busy international career, with appearances in Japan, the United States of America and throughout Europe. His recordings of Debussy have won high critical praise, with particular appreciation of his poetic approach to the keyboard.


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