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8.572217 - BACH, J.C.F.: Symphonies, W. I/6, 10, 20 (Leipzig Chamber Orchestra, Schuldt-Jensen)
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Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732–1795)
Symphonies HW I/6, I/10 and I/20

 

The ninth child and second surviving son of Johann Sebastian Bach and his second wife Anna Magdalena, Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach was born in 1732 in Leipzig, where his father had served for the previous ten years as Thomaskantor. His first lessons were with his father, and when he completed his academic studies at the Latin School in Leipzig he is said to have gone on to the university, to study law. In 1750, however, perhaps in view of his father’s state of health, he seized the chance of a position as chamber harpsichordist in the musical establishment of Count Wilhelm zu Schaumburg-Lippe at Bückeburg, with a salary of 200 Taler, possibly helped by the influence of his half-brother Carl Philipp Emanuel, harpsichordist to the King of Prussia, who had met and dedicated works to the Count. On the departure from Bückeburg in 1756 of the Italian musicians Angelo Colonna and Giambattista Serini, concert-master and Kapellmeister, respectively, Johann Christoph Friedrich took over their duties, with a subsequent doubling of his salary. In 1755 he married Lucia Elisabeth Münchhausen, the daughter of the court organist, Ludolf Münchhausen, employed at court as a singer, briefly taking refuge with his patron Count Wilhelm in the winter of 1757–58 at the latter’s country estate at Niensteden during the French occupation of Bückeburg in the course of the Seven Years War. In 1759 Bach’s only son, Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst, was born, later to serve as court harpsichordist to Queen Luise in Berlin, where he remained until his death in 1845, the last of the Bach musical dynasty.

Count Wilhelm’s musical tastes tended towards Italian vocal music and chamber music that suggests that he may also have played the flute. In 1765 the Count married Marie Barbara Eleonore zur Lippe-Biesterfeld, who encouraged the performance of Protestant sacred music. Johann Gottfried Herder’s appointment in 1771 as court preacher at Bückeburg led to friendship and collaboration with Johann Christoph Friedrich in oratorios and sacred cantatas, although Herder was to move five years later to Goethe’s Weimar. Nevertheless Herder’s association with the German Enlightenment and the Sturm und Drang and his interest in the relationship between speech and music had a lasting influence. 1776 also brought the death of Countess Marie Barbara, followed, in 1777, by the death of Count Wilhelm. His successor, Count Philipp Ernst, brought a reduction in the Bückeburg musical establishment, but no diminution of Bach’s salary. In May 1778 he was able to take leave of absence for three months in order to travel, with his son Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst, to see his younger brother Johann Christian in London, an opportunity to experience the musical influences prevalent there, not least that of his brother, to acquire a new English fortepiano and embark on what he himself described as the latest style. In 1780 Count Philipp Ernst had married Princess Juliane zu Hessen-Philippsthal, a woman with a strong interest in the arts, who, in 1787, after the Count’s death, took over the rule of Bückeburg, its musical activities owing much to her enthusiasm and tastes. Bach gave daily lessons on the fortepiano to the Princess, who held him in great respect, but his final years brought some vexation. A young musician from Bohemia, Franz Christoph Neubauer, was admitted to the court at Bückeburg after the disbandment in 1792 of the musical establishment at Weilburg, where he had served as Kapellmeister. He was allowed to work with the court orchestra and seemed, through his aggressive ambitions, to challenge Johann Christoph Friedrich. The death of the latter in 1795 was followed by the appointment of Neubauer in his place, only for Neubauer to die later in the same year, apparently as the result of dissipation.

The Bückeburg Bach, as he is generally known, left some twenty symphonies and seventeen or so concertos for various solo instruments, together with a quantity of chamber music and works for keyboard, in addition to his vocal compositions, sacred and secular cantatas, the latter including settings of texts by Metastasio, of Brutus and Philoktetes by Herder and of Herder’s correspondent Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg’s Ariadne auf Naxos, among other works. In 1917 Georg Schünemann published a Thematisches Verzeichnis der Werke von Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (Denkmäler deutscher Tonkunst, Vol. LVI), listing the fourteen symphonies then known to him, with incipits, and this was followed in 1971 by Hannsdieter Wohlfarth’s definitive Neues Verzeichnis of the composer’s works, which includes six more symphonies that had since been discovered. Ewald V. Nolte, in his Catalog and Thematic Index: The Sinfonias by J.C.F. Bach was able to offer a list of the twenty known symphonies by the composer, together with incipits, and to publish scores of the eight symphonies that survived war-time destruction¹. In his Preface to his edition of the present symphonies he explains something of the circumstances of their composition. It seems that the Bückeburg Bach wrote his first ten symphonies in a period from about 1765 to about 1772 and his second ten, under the challenge to his position brought about by Neubauer, between 1792 and 1794. The symphonies themselves reflect the dates of their composition and to some extent the taste of Bach’s employers.

The Sinfonia in C major, HW I/6, belongs to the earlier group and survives in an autograph set of parts dated to 1770. It is classified by Nolte as belonging to a later sub-group of the early group of symphonies. The symphony is scored for pairs of horns and flutes, with strings and continuo, and is very much in the current style of orchestral writing, its pattern broadly that of the Italian sinfonia, with an extension of the second and third movements. The energetic first movement ends with a brief linking passage, leading to a G major Andante in which the horns are silent and a final Allegro assai in 3/8 that includes a C minor trio section for strings and continuo.

The Sinfonia in E flat major, HW I/10, is scored for pairs of horns and oboes, strings and continuo, and is dated by Nolte to a period between 1770 and 1772, the last of the first group of Bach’s symphonies. It starts with a sonata-form Allegro in which the wind instruments acquire some independence. The C minor slow movement, for strings and continuo, is in the spirit of its time, making particular use of contrasting dynamics. The original key returns, with the wind instruments, for the final sonata-form Allegro assai.

The only surviving symphony of the second set of ten, Bach’s Sinfonia in B flat major, HW I/20, written twenty years or so later, reflects something of the changes that had taken place in the form, largely through the work of Bach’s exact contemporary, Joseph Haydn, whose symphonies were known at Bückeburg, and of Mozart. The new symphony is scored for two horns, flute, bassoon, two clarinets, and strings, and is in four movements. The first of these starts with a slow introduction, leading to a sonata-form Allegro. The wind instruments are retained for the E flat major Andante con moto in rondo form, followed by a Minuet and Trio, in which the wind instruments also enjoy the independence of the new age. The symphony ends with a cheerful Rondo allegretto scherzando ending a work that crowns Bach’s achievement in this form.


Keith Anderson

 

¹ Recent Researches in the Music of the Classical Era, Vol. XV: Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach: Four Early Sinfonias, ed. Ewald V. Nolte and Recent Researches in the Music of the Classical Era, Vol. XXVII: Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach: Four Late Sinfonias, ed. Ewald V. Nolte. A–R Editions, Inc. Madison, 1982 and 1988.

 


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