About this Recording
8.573177 - BACH, W.F.: Keyboard Works, Vol. 5 - Keyboard Sonatas, Fk. 6a, 7, 8, 200, 201 and 204 (J. Brown)
English  German 

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710–1784)
Keyboard Works • 5


Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was born on 22 November 1710, the second child and eldest son of Johann Sebastian and Maria Barbara Bach. He spent his early childhood in Weimar, and then went with his family to Köthen in 1717. After the Bach family moved to Leipzig in 1723 he became a student at the Thomasschule and later studied law, philosophy and mathematics at the university of Leipzig. By the age of ten Friedemann and his father began work on the Clavierbüchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. He was a violin student of Johann Gottlieb Graun. By 1730 Friedemann was one of the best known keyboard players of his time. His skills are directly linked to the thorough training he received from his father. In 1733 he was appointed organist at the Sophienkirche in Dresden. His first publication appeared in 1745, the keyboard Sonata in D (F.3). Beginning in 1746 he was appointed organist and music director at the Halle Liebfrauenkirche. In addition to his duties as organist he also supplied cantatas for the three main churches in Halle. He accompanied his father on the famous “Musical Offering” visit to Frederick II in 1747. He married Dorothea Elisabeth Georgi in 1751. Friedemann resigned from this post in Halle in 1764 and never again held a permanent job. For the next several years he applied for posts throughout Germany, spending a few years in Braunschweig then moving to Berlin in 1774, where he taught and gave public concerts until his death in 1784. A Berlin account of one of his public concerts describes his music as having “just the right ingredients to set the pulse racing, fresh ideas, striking changes of key, dissonant movements…”

Friedemann lived at a time of rapidly changing tastes and demands; his music is characterized by the struggles between high artistic ambitions and the need to make concessions. These apparently contrasting characteristics create the charm and individuality of his music and place Friedemann in a spot of great historical significance. What has survived is a fraction of his complete oeuvre. His output consists mainly of keyboard music, but also includes chamber music, harpsichord concertos, symphonies and cantatas. Friedemann’s major contribution is in the realm of keyboard music, where he anticipated future developments and explored romantic expressiveness. His bold ideas were far ahead of his times, and his music demanded great technical ability, all of which failed to earn the understanding of his contemporaries. He addressed the connoisseur while other composers during his time increasingly wrote to please a wider audience.

Friedemann’s keyboard sonatas are examples of great expressiveness and virtuosity within the order and well-planned structure of a new form. The keyboard sonata in northern Germany had gained high artistic pretensions toward the end of Friedemann’s life, and his sonatas display the compositional and conceptual intricacies of the form. In general the first movements of these sonatas are the most substantial and magnificent. Within the structure of the three-movement sonata, Friedemann’s melodies “have a different turn from those of other composers, and yet they are not only extremely natural, but, at the same time, uncommonly fine and elegant” (Forkel, 1802). Friedemann writes real display pieces, incorporating original concepts within conventional formal designs.

Unlike Carl Philip Emmanuel, Friedemann did not list his compositions in a catalogue or Werk list; he also did not date his sonata autographs and in several cases did not even sign them. Most of the Sonatas, indeed the majority of his output, was never published. Because of this and the high technical demands of his pieces, Friedemann’s music was not widely distributed or performed in his time and in ours. His music however, is full of charm and original ideas, and a delight to both performer and listener, as exemplified by these Sonatas.

Possibly a late work, the Sonata in G major (F.7), is notably contrapuntal in texture and covers a wide range on the keyboard, from low G to high f#. The first movement is unusual among Friedemann’s sonatas, with alternations between slow (Andantino) and quick (Allegro di molto) passages. The improvisatory character reminds us of Friedemann’s Fantasias. Also of note is the highly refined harmonic language and the wide leaps in the fast sections. The beautiful Lamento, with the expressive melody incorporating leaps of minor sixths, uses material similar to his Polonaise in D minor. The advanced harmonic chromaticism creates a highly lyrical and heartfelt movement. The melodic material in the concluding Presto resembles that of the Flute Duo in F (F.57, movement 3). Written in gigue rhythm marked by humorous syncopations, the two-part canonic writing creates a great contrast to the other two movements.

Wilhelm Friedemann wrote two flute sonatas, both of which are also preserved as keyboard sonatas. The Sonata in E minor (BR A 9), is one of these, and the extensive passage work of the outer movements is suited to the flute, with figurations that exploit the virtuoso capabilities of that instrument in the eighteenth century. These include wide leaps between registers and rapid broken chords, which adapt well to the keyboard and make for virtuosic displays. The middle movement, Siciliano, an old dance form, originates from another keyboard sonata and is transposed from F to G with minor variants.

The opening theme of the Sonata in C major (BR A 1), with its bright, forthright character and melodic contour, has striking similarities to the Sonata in E flat major (F.5) [Naxos 8.572814]. It is written in two-part texture creating fewer demands on the player and is stylistically similar to some of Carl Philip Emmanuel’s music. The Andante in A minor is orchestral in nature with its repeated notes in the left hand in octaves. The writing in the right hand seems to imitate two melody instruments. The closing Presto is through-composed and includes interesting writing with unison passages at the end of each of the three major sections.

The Sonata in F major (F.6) went through substantial revisions. There are three versions of this sonata, each with a different slow movement. Version 6A in the present recording is probably the final of the three versions. The fast movements of versions B and C are almost identical. Version A replaces the brief Larghettos of the previous version with a Minuet/Trio. Version A also displays significant variants in the two outer movements, especially the first. Melody, harmony and ornamentation are refined.

In the brilliant A Major Sonata (F.8), Friedemann takes liberties in the improvisatory nature of theme statements and slight variations that add his individual mark on the sonata form. The opening theme is characterized by syncopations, and the recapitulation is greatly shortened. The second movement, Largo con tenerezza is sublimely lyrical, leading into the Allegro assai, the final movement of which employs virtuosic keyboard techniques in an opening theme that is treated like a ritornello.

The Sonata in E flat major (BR A 8), is reminiscent of the graceful, easy style cultivated by Johann Christian Bach. The opening Allegro is written in two-part texture with the opening theme stated by the right hand. The constant sixteenth-note motion includes little interruptions typical of Friedemann’s style. The Andante begins in C minor and closes with a half cadence that leads directly into the final Vivace.

The expressive language that Friedemann developed together with his German contemporaries is eloquent, poetic and persuasive. Friedemann’s keyboard sonatas clearly demonstrate these characteristics as well as his other attributes: his compositions are dense, intricate and artistic and they demand great virtuosity of the player. These are compositions from a highly creative man who was unable to fit into the career paths available in his time.

Julia Brown

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