2007-03-08

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

Raise your stein to the birthday of celebrated composer Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

*Sinfonia 4, movement 3: Allegro assai

Celebrated, that is, in his own era. Emanuel Bach was more famous in his own day than his father, Johann Sebastian, and did much to preserve and encourage greater appreciation for his father's music. Inspired as he was by his father's genius, he cultivated a style that was uniquely his own. His music influenced Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and many others.

In the years since, though, this composer has been frequently overlooked. Interest in his contemporaries--either his elders, like his father or Handel, or the younger generation, like Haydn and Mozart--led people to regard this Bach as a transitional species. He has been seen as a figure who stands between the recognized 'mature' styles we call baroque and classical. His own style wears no easy labels.

Still, if CPE Bach defies easy pigeon holies now, he did so even more in his own time. His voice was unique. Emanuel, like his father, was a virtuoso keyboardist. More than his father, though, he took an interest in a wide range of artistic media. Prominent among these interests was the spoken word. His musical style was deeply influenced not only by the art of musical improvisation but the art of spoken rhetoric. His contemporaries heard his music as eccentric, wild, romantic, and unpredictable.

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.

Charles K Moss

Our appreciation of CPE Bach has been growing in recent years thanks to the efforts of musicologists. Performances of his music will get a further boost with the completion of a complete critical edition of the composer's works. This is under way in earnest after a frustrating series of starts and stops in the 1990s. Editors hope to finish Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Complete Works by 2014, the composer's tricentennial birth year.

This process has been aided by a dramatic discovery. A huge library of music from the eighteenth century had been missing since World War 2 and presumed destroyed. The library belonged to the Berlin Singakademie, a choral group that had already been active for decades in Bach's lifetime. Its loss was bemoaned by music lovers the world over--until the library turned up intact in Kiev, Ukraine. Scholars are all over it, of course, finding all kinds of music once thought lost. John Finney tells the full detective story about the Singakademie library in 'Finding the Lost Manuscripts,' an article hosted by Greater Boston Arts.

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Herr Bach!


Charles K Moss: Composer Biography at Carolina Classical.

Answers.com: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

T L Hubeart, Jr: 'A Tribute to C P E Bach'

*Werner Icking Music Archive: CPE Bach Scores and Sound

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