Peter M. Knapp
, June 2006
Second son of Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) did things his way in a distinguished career as court harpsichordist in Berlin and Potsdam to Frederick the Great of Prussia.
Live-in pupil of Mozart, successor to Haydn, friend of Goethe, teacher of Mendelssohn, Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) in his day was one of Europe’s most admired musicians.
Both Bach and Hummel were considered the greatest keyboard virtuosos of their time. Both wrote important treatises on the art of playing keyboard instruments. And both were biographically linked to the German city of Weimar: Bach was born there; Hummel died there. Although the fame of both men has undeservedly faded, their worth is demonstrated on new recordings.
After serving the Prussian king for nearly 30 years, C.P.E. Bach spent the last 20 years of his life in Hamburg, succeeding his illustrious godfather Georg Philipp Telemann as cantor of the Johanneum. No one else wrote like this boldly original composer. Moving away from his father’s baroque style, Emanuel was an exponent of the so-called ‘‘emfindsamer Stil’’ (very sensitive style). Instead of the harpsichord, he preferred the clavichord, which gave the player greater control over tone and volume.
Among his many works, Emanuel Bach wrote about 150 keyboard sonatas, five of which, along with two rondos, are admirably performed by Austrian pianist Christopher Hinterhuber on a Naxos CD.
Bach’s highly (if not occasionally hyper) expressive style included violent contrasts in material, speed and volume, dramatic pauses, exploratory harmonies, sometimes bizarre excursions. For example, in the first movement of the Sonata in F-sharp minor, Wq.52/4, a plaintive, soft-voiced melody is continually interrupted by stern, agitated outbursts, like Orpheus confronted by the Furies. The CD ends serenely with the beautiful Cantabile in B minor from the Sonata Wq.55/3.
Hummel is perhaps best known today for the greatest of all trumpet concertos and the brilliant Septet in D minor. Born in Pressburg (now Bratislava, Slovakia), he was a child prodigy who began studies with Mozart in Vienna at age seven. A few years later, after a European tour, Hummel studied with Haydn and Salieri before becoming Prince Esterhazy’s konzertmeister, more or less assuming Haydn’s duties. Moving on, he took charge of the opera in Weimar, becoming about as much a local celebrity as Goethe. Hummel also became a star teacher with such pupils as Felix Mendelssohn and Adolph Henselt.
Hummel’s creativity as a composer is amply demonstrated on excellent recordings by Warner Classics and Naxos featuring his piano trios and other works. Classical in nature while looking forward to the romantic period, these poised, tuneful, well-fashioned pieces provide very enjoyable listening.
. . . On the Naxos CD, New York City native Susan Alexander-Max is the fortepianist for the unnamed group of international musicians that includes the famous English violinist Simon Standage.