Yeah, sometimes it gets complicated.
Especially when your name is Bach and your father is Johann Sebastian Bach.
Last month I was listening to NPR and a piece about the music of CPE Bach, JS Bach’s second eldest son. I came home and bookmarked the article to save it for a later time. And what better than Fathers day.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was born in 1714, educated by his dad, then spent nearly 30 years in Berlin as the harpsichordist to Frederick the Great before decamping to Hamburg to become the city’s director of church music. As a composer, Bach charted his own startling, original path and was a principal proponent of a trend called Empfindsamer Stil, or loosely translated, “sensitive style.” In Versuch über die wahre Art das Klavier zu spielen, his 1753 treatise on how to play the keyboard, Bach emphasizes music’s ability to touch the heart and trigger emotions, saying that musicians should play “aus der Seele,” from the soul.
In his music, Bach zigs and zags, suddenly slams on the breaks, punches the gas or, in the Allegretto from the E minor concerto from 1748, dares to interrupt the piano with stentorian outbursts of strings.
Bach’s restless and quirky game plan is perhaps a rebellion against his father, whom he considered old-fashioned. C.P.E. is often thought of as a bridge from the baroque era to the new age of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. But I think he also foreshadows the freewheeling romantics.
The article recommends several selections and over the last month I have listened to several other selections and found Emanuel Bach’s music very enjoyable and often very different from either his fathers or those like Mozart who followed. Some of the shifts in tempo and volume are more reminiscent of the early 20th century than the mid 18th century.