Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Bach Carl Philipp Emanuel 1.jpg
Bach Carl Philipp Emanuel
March 8, 1714
Weimar, Thuringia, Germany
December 14, 1788
Hamburg, Germany

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (March 8, 1714 – December 14, 1788) was a German musician and composer, the second surviving son of five sons from Johann Sebastian Bach and his first wife, Maria Barbara Bach. His early works were the epitome of the grand Baroque style, while his later works were the foundation of the classical style, composing in the Rococo and Classical periods. Standing in the shadow of his famous father J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach is often overlooked as a composer, yet he created imaginative sonatas for keyboard, and made significant contributions to Protestant Church music in the second half of the eighteenth century. During this time, he was known as the "Great Bach," the most distinguished son of J.S. Bach. His compositions were the advocate of transition from J.S. Bach, Telemann, and Handel to Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.


Life and works

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was born in Weimar, Germany, to Maria Barbara and J.S. Bach. Two days old, Bach was baptized in the Lutheran Church with Telemann as a godfather. Three years later, in 1717, his family moved just over 200 miles to Cöthen, where J.S. Bach was appointed Kapellmeister. Three years after that, Maria Bach died, and in 1723, the family moved again to Leipzig, where C.P.E. Bach attended the Thomasschule, at the age of ten, as a day student. J.S. Bach said later that one of his reasons for accepting the post of Kantor at the Thomasschule was that his sons’ intellectual development suggested that they would benefit from a university education.

The young Bach continued his education as a student of jurisprudence at the Universities of Leipzig (1731) and of Frankfurt (Oder) (1735). During this time he was trained by his father in music on the keyboard and organ. From the age of fifteen, he participated, with his father, in church music and also in the collegium musicum. In 1738, at the age of 24, he received his law degree, but soon after, abandoned his prospects of a legal career, determined, instead, to devote himself to music.

In 1740, he obtained an appointment in the service of Frederick II of Prussia, or "Frederick the Great," the then crown prince, and he moved to Berlin. Frederick the Great, one of the greatest "scholar kings" of all time, was an accomplished flautist. His interests in music led him to assemble a musical entourage consisting of several of the greatest performers and composers of his time, like Carl Heinrich Graun, Johann Joachim Quantz, and Johann Gottlieb Naumann. He was by this time one of the foremost keyboard instrumentalists in Europe. His earliest compositions date back to 1731. Bach composed about thirty sonatas and concert pieces, which were performed on his favorite instrument, the keyboard. His reputation was established by the two sets of sonatas which he dedicated respectively to Frederick the Great and to the grand duke of Württemberg, which in 1746, led to his promotion as chamber musician.

During his residence in Berlin, he wrote a fine setting of the Magnificat (1749). This piece shows many traces of his father's influence. Bach composed an Easter cantata (1756); several symphonies and concerted works; at least three volumes of songs; and a few secular cantatas and other occasional pieces. But his main work was concentrated on the clavier, for which he composed, at this time, nearly two hundred sonatas and other solos, including the set Mit veränderten Reprisen (1760-1768) and a few of those für Kenner und Liebhaber.

Although Bach served Frederick for nearly thirty years, Frederick ignored Bach's compositions and resented the independence he expressed. Fortunately for Bach, Frederick became more involved in the Seven Years War and was freqently away. It was during this time that Bach was introduced to Italian opera seria, and it's dramatic style influenced his compositions.

Although some sources state that Bach was underpayed, compared to other musicians like Nichelmann, Quantz, and the Graun brothers, the notion that C.P.E. Bach was poorly paid for his services at the Prussian court is unfounded. His salary was 300 thalers per year from the time he took up his duties, which was equal to other court musicians. Unless they were busy with chamber music, which was initially performed daily before Frederick the Great, the court musicians were all required to take part in the performances at the Berlin Opera House. Bach’s duties were considerably reduced from 1742 onward, when Christian Friedrich Schale was appointed second harpsichordist (succeeded by Christoph Nichelmann in 1745). The harpsichordists alternated monthly, and each of them were paid a full salary. This meant that Bach could pursue other activities as a keyboard teacher and composer. His teaching in Berlin inspired the writing of his treatise Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (Vol. I: H.868, Vol. II: H.870) (Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments), the most important eighteenth century German language work on the subject. It was a systematic and masterly treatise which by 1780 had reached its third edition, and which laid the foundation for the methods of Muzio Clementi and Johann Baptist Cramer.

However, Bach never won recognition at court as the prominent composer and virtuoso that he truly was. Frederick would allow only Hasse, Graun, Quantz, and Agricola that status. Even the dedication to him of Bach’s first published work, the Prussian Sonatas, made no lasting impression on the King.

In 1743, an attack of the gout, which troubled Bach all his life, obliged him to visit the Bohemian spa of Teplitz for treatment. The following year, he married Johanna Maria Dannemann, the daughter of a Berlin wine merchant. Of the three children from this marriage who lived to adulthood, Johann Adam (1745–1789), Anna Carolina Philippina (1747–1804), and Johann Sebastian, also known as Johann Samuel (1748–1778), only the youngest showed any artistic inclinations. He became a painter, but died at the age of 30 in Rome. In May, 1747, the famous meeting between Emanuel's father, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Frederick II took place in Potsdam. And it was as a result of this meeting that the Musical Offering (BWV 1079) was composed by the elder Bach. However, it brought no improvement in Emanuel Bach’s position at court. Whether it was this failure or Frederick's reduced attentions to music, Bach began applying for posts in other cities. Finally in 1767, when his godfather G.P. Telemann, cantor and music director in Hamburg, died, Bach applied for the position and was chosen to succeed him. Frederick finally released Bach after repeated requests, and in March 1768, Bach took up the position in Hamburg, where he remained to the end of his life.

In consequence of his new office, Bach began to turn his attention more towards church music. The next year he produced his oratorio Die Israeliten in der Wüste, a composition remarkable not only for its great beauty, but for the resemblance of its plan to that of Felix Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah. Between 1769 and 1788, he added over twenty settings of the Passion, and some seventy cantatas, litanies, motets, and other liturgical pieces. At the same time, his genius for instrumental composition was further stimulated by the career of Joseph Haydn. He died in Hamburg on December 14, 1788.

Legacy and musical style

Through the latter half of the eighteenth century, the reputation of C.P.E. Bach stood very high. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who also had a close relationship with Johann Christian Bach, said of C.P.E. Bach, "He is the father, we are the children." The best part of Haydn's training was derived from a study of his work. Ludwig van Beethoven expressed of his genius the most cordial admiration and regard. This position he owes mainly to his klaviersonaten (piano sonatas), which mark an important epoch in the history of musical form. Lucid in style, delicate and tender in expression, they are even more notable for the freedom and variety of their structural design. They break away altogether from the exact formal antithesis which, with the composers of the Italian school, had hardened into a convention, and substituted the wider and more flexible outline which the great Viennese masters showed to be capable of almost infinite development.

The content of his work, though full of invention, lies within a somewhat narrow emotional range, but it is no less sincere in thought, than polished and felicitous in phrase. His name fell into some neglect during the nineteenth century, with Robert Schumann notoriously opining that "as a creative musician he remained very far behind his father." In contrast, Johannes Brahms held C.P.E. Bach in high regard and edited some of his music. Today, students very frequently play his Sonaten für Kenner und Liebhaber, his oratorios Die Israeliten in der Wüste and Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu, and several harpsichord concertos such as those in G major (Wq. 3) and D major (Wq. 11). Also, his Flute Concerto in D Minor (Wq. 22), due to its unparalleled mellifluous opening movement, has been performed by the greatest flautists worldwide, including Jean-Pierre Rampal. Rampal's recording features the Paris Opera orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez and was published by Harmonia Mundi, HMP 390545.

Bach never tried to draw from his father's style; he strove to create an entirely different feeling. The German term empfindsamer Stil, which can be loosely rendered as "sensitive style," is often used regarding Bach’s highly subjective music. He delighted in surprising the listener with unexpected sudden shifts in dynamics, perhaps a new pattern of note-rhythms, or an unexpected modulation. Pamela Fox stated in a Bach study, “The novel unpredictability and imaginative unorthodoxy of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s music exert a magnetic attraction upon scholars, performers, and listeners.” The opening of his Concerto for Two Harpsichords, Wq. 46 H. 408, or the first movement of his Sixth "Prussian" Sonata in A, Wq. 48/6 H. 29, are excellent examples of this aspect of Bach's talent and ability to move from one mood to another.

His father's legacy

In addition to his own substantial contributions to music, C.P.E. Bach provided an immense service in protecting the legacy of his deceased father. Prof. Eugene Helm, one of the foremost authorities on Emanuel Bach, states that he was "an honourable and effective guardian of Sebastian’s music and other Bach family treasures important to Bach research; most of the Bachiana now extant were owned by him. Philipp Spitta’s account of the disposition of J.S. Bach’s five Passions indicates the comparative respect by Emanuel and neglect by Friedemann of their paternal legacy."

After his death, his sons, Friedemann and Emanuel, divided these cantatas [i.e., Sebastian’s five yearly cycles of such works] between them, and the Passions were no doubt included. Emanuel had the original scores of the St. John and the St. Matthew Passions. He treasured them faithfully and they still exist. The original manuscript[s] of the other three fell into the hands of the dissipated Friedemann, who now grew wilder than ever; they were sold for a trifle, and two have entirely disappeared ….

It was said that Emanuel Bach "was the only one among (Bach’s sons) who would actively work to increase Johann Sebastian’s fame and make his works more generally known." C.P.E. Bach also was responsible for the only J.S. Bach publications between the Art of Fugue edition, published shortly after Sebastian’s death, and the editions of the Well-Tempered Clavier which appeared in 1801. He also brought out 371 chorales selected from his father’s vocal works. Emanuel Bach directed a performance of the Credo from Sebastian’s B Minor Mass (BWV 232) in Hamburg in 1784, at a time when this work was completely unknown, and at the end of his life, he published, anonymously, a defense of his father’s art against unfavorable comparisons with that of Handel.

At the time of the great Bach's meeting in Postdam with Frederick the Great, there were significant philosophical changes occurring in Europe as the Age of Enlightenment was beginning to have profound effects on European culture. In music, this resulted in a move away from the complex syntax of the Baroque, with its penchant for polyphony and highly ornamented affectations, and towards a simplified style with far less liturgical underpinnings. Frederick the Great, a decent musician in his own right, disdained the complexities of the Baroque, as well as the overt religious connotations attached to music favored by Baroque composers, and with the hiring of C.P.E. Bach, he encouraged greater simplicity in the music that would accompany royal functions. This would eventually lead to the evolution of homophonic music in which single melodic ideas accompanied by harmonic progressions would be preferred to the polyphonic utterances of the Baroque where as many as four or five melodic ideas would be co-existing in a linear fashion.

This famous meeting was to be the source of one of Johann Sebastian Bach's greatest contrapuntal works, The Musical Offering (BVW 1079). The king presented a theme to the elder Bach and asked him to spontaneously improvise that the keyboard a set a variations on what would;d become known as "the royal theme." The theme, with its decidedly chromatic attributes, was thought to be too convoluted and too puzzling and thus could not be easily harmonized according to conventional theoretical practice. However, within a very short period of two weeks, the great Bach presented the king with a set of ten canonic variations that fully exploited the conventional theoretical practice of the times and resulted in Bach's great masterpiece.


  • Helems, E. Eugene. Thematic Catalogue of the Works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-300-02654-4
  • Powers, Doris Bosworth. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: A Guide to Research. London: Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0-815-32179-1
  • Wade, Rachel W. The Keyboard Concertos of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1981. ISBN 0-835-571207-9

External links

All links retrieved January 12, 2017.


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