The music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the second of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sons, is not only worth a detour, it is worth going back on our own’s tracks. Simply because it’s beautiful, uplifting and a perfect start into a new day. This summer, I presented Bach’s Cello Concerto in A minor (Wq. 170), an arrangement of his Keyboard Concerto in A minor (Wq. 26). The keyboard concerto will be the focal point of today’s post. As the cello version, it saw the light in 1750, ten years after Bach had joined the orchestra of the Prussian King Frederic II in Berlin. It was also the year his famous father died.
In an autobiographic note, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach wrote: “Since I never liked too much uniformity in a composition and as a sign of taste, and since I always thought that […] one should assume the good, wherever it may be, even if only small doses in a piece, this and my god-given natural talent may explain the diversity of my works […]” Specifically about his piano music he noted: “This is not so easy if you do not want to frustrate the ear and spoil the noble voice by too much noise. […] Music must first of all move the heart, and no keyboard player will succeed by simply thundering, drumming or playing arpeggios.”
One may assume that the death of Johann Sebastian Bach may have moved people all over Germany, but at this time his music was already close to forgotten. Time had moved on, and so had the musical taste of society. The close-knit Bach family – now that was a different matter. Carl Philipp Emmanuel immediately adopted his half-brother Johann Christian as an organ student. Together with another first-rate musician Johann Friedrich Agricola he wrote the obituary note of his famous father, published in 1754. He also starts to work on the publication of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Art of the Fugue” (BWV 1080).
So yes, the family mourned the great man, and at the same time, practical issues had to be dealt with. Satisfying the court’s demands, managing the heritage of Johann Sebastian Bach and supporting family members in need did not leave much time to deal with the dead. If I consider the circumstances under which Bach wrote the Keyboard Concerto in A minor, I must pay my deep respect to the composer and his work. It does not even hint at any mournful thoughts, quite to the contrary. It’s light and bright and dynamic, it sounds truly modern – especially when played on a modern piano as on the recording by Michael Rischke and the Kammersymphonie Leipzig – and it fills me with unbound joy and optimism whenever I listen to it.
© Charles Thibo