Make your own free website on Tripod.com

 

Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714-1788), German composer, one of the most influential and celebrated composers of his era. The third son of Johann Sebastian Bach, he was born in Weimar and trained under his father. He studied philosophy and law at the universities in Leipzig and Frankfurt-an-der-Oder before deciding on a musical career. It seems likely that some flute sonatas written in Frankfurt brought him to the notice of the flute-playing Frederick II, King of Prussia, who employed him as his court harpsichordist from 1740 to 1768. A progressive musical thinker, Bach seems not to have got on well with the conservative Frederick. He was paid less than other composer-musicians at court, such as J. G. and F. Benda, C. H. and J. G. Graun, and J. J. Quantz. After leaving the Berlin court, Bach became music director of the five principal churches in Hamburg, succeeding his recently deceased godfather, Telemann.

Bach, a widely cultured man who associated with writers and philosophers at least as much as with musicians, was one of the chief representatives of the empfindsamer Stil (“expressive style”), which emphasised frequent contrasts in emotion and contributed many technical features to the emerging Classical style. Empfindsamer composers like Bach tried to emulate the emotional range and sudden contrasts of an actor’s speech, which might go off at a tangent or make little asides from the main subject; which might be interrupted; and which could be violent, humorous, or intensely inward in expression, often in quick succession. These qualities are best seen in the keyboard works, starting with the groups of 6 “Prussian” and 6 “Württemberg” sonatas of 1742 and 1744 respectively, and continuing throughout his life in the six collections of sonatas “for connoisseurs and amateurs” (published between 1779 and 1787).

Bach’s large list of works includes 210 harpsichord pieces, 52 concertos, oratorios, passions, and church cantatas. They show two very different styles: a conservative turn of phrase in pieces written for Frederick II or for public occasions; and a wild, histrionic tone in works written for his own pleasure. The 10 “Hamburg” Sinfonias, Wq 182 and 183 (1773-1776) are among the most fiery of these. Among his many composition pupils, his half-brother J. C. Bach tended towards his easy-going style, and the Bohemian composer J. L. Dussek towards his more radical one.

Possibly Bach’s greatest legacy was his Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments (2 volumes: 1753, 1762), a huge influence on Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and many later composers. It is equally important nowadays for its clear and exhaustive description of how music was performed during Bach’s lifetime (the printed notes themselves do not always indicate everything the composer would expect to hear).


Home | Back