Sunday, March 8, 8714

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) - Piano

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)


Sonata in A Major

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (March 8, 1714, Weimar, Germany - December 14, 1788) was a German musician and composer, the second of five surviving sons of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach -- the most famous and prolific of the offspring. He was one of the founders of the Classical style.

When he was ten years old he entered the St. Thomas School at Leipzig, where his father had become cantor in 1723, and continued his education as a student of jurisprudence at the universities of Leipzig (1731) and of Frankfurt (Oder) (1735). In 1738, at the age of 24, he took his degree, but at once abandoned his prospects of a legal career and determined to devote himself to music.

A few months later (armed with a recommendation by Sylvius Leopold Weiss) he obtained an appointment in the service of

Frederick ("The Great") II of Prussia, the then crown prince, and, upon Frederick's accession in 1740, Carl Philipp became a member of the royal orchestra. He was by this time one of the foremost clavier-players in Europe, and his compositions, which date from 1731, include about 30 sonatas and concert pieces for harpsichord and clavichord.

In Berlin he continued to write numerous musical pieces for solo keyboard, including a series of character pieces- the so-called Berlin Portraits including La Caroline.

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; in 1746 he was promoted to the post of chamber musician, and for twenty-two years shared with Carl Heinrich Graun, Johann Joachim Quantz, and Johann Gottlieb Naumann the continued favour of the king.

During his residence in Berlin, he wrote a fine setting of the Magnificat (1749), in which he shows more traces than usual of his father's influence; 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.

Meanwhile he placed himself in the forefront of European music critics by his Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (1733 -- issued a year after J.J. Quantz's related Versuch), 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.

In 1768 Bach succeeded Georg Philipp Telemann (his godfather) as Kapellmeister at Hamburg, and in consequence of his new office began to turn his attention more towards church music.

The next year he produced his oratorio Die Israeliten in der Wüste (The Israelites in the Desert), a composition remarkable not only for its great beauty but for the anticipation in its plan to that of Felix Mendelssohn's Elijah, and between 1768 and 1788 wrote 21 settings of the Passion, and around 70 liturgical pieces including cantatas, litanies, and motets. 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.

Through the latter half of the 18th century, the reputation of C.P.E. Bach stood very high. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart said of him, "He is the father, we are the children."

The best part of Joseph Haydn's training was derived from a study of his work. Ludwig van Beethoven expressed for his genius the most cordial admiration and regard.

This position he owes mainly to his keyboard 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 both the Italian and the Viennese schools, moving instead toward the cyclical and improvisatory forms that would become common several generations later.

The content of his work is full of invention and, most importantly, extreme unpredictability, and wide emotional range even within a single work. It is no less sincere in thought than polished and felicitous in phrase. He was probably the first composer of eminence who made free use of harmonic colour for its own sake since the time of Lassus, Monteverdi, and Gesualdo.[citation needed] In this way, he compares well with the most important representatives of the First Viennese School. He exerted enormous influence on the North German School of composers, in particular Georg Anton Benda, Bernhard Joachim Hagen, Ernst Wilhelm Wolff, Johann Gottfried Müthel, and Friedrich Wilhelm Russ. His influence was not limited to his contemporaries, and extended to Carl Mari von Weber and Felix Mendelssohn.

His name fell into neglect during the 19th century, with Robert Schumann notoriously opining that "as a creative musician he remained very far behind his father" in contrast, Johannes Brahms held him in high regard and edited some of his music. The revival of C.P.E. Bach's works has been underway since Helmuth Koch's rediscovery and recording of his symphonies in the 1960s, and Hugo Ruf's recordings of his keyboard sonatas. There is an ongoing effort to record his complete works, led by Miklos Spanyi on the Swedish record label BIS.

Further Reading:

Piero Weiss and Richard Taruskin
Music in the Western World: A History in Documents
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Versuch uber die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (Berlin, 1753) (Pages 268-272)


Early piano replica by the modern builder Paul McNulty, after Walter & Sohn, 1805

The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard that produces sound by striking steel strings with felt hammers. The hammers immediately rebound allowing the strings to continue vibrating at their resonant frequency.

These vibrations are transmitted through a bridge to a soundboard that amplifies them.

The piano is widely used in Western music for solo performance, ensemble use, chamber music, and accompaniment. It is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal. Although not portable and often expensive, the piano's versatility and ubiquity have made it one of the most familiar musical instruments. It is sometimes classified as both a percussion and a stringed instrument. According to the Hornbostel-Sachs method of music classification, it is grouped with Chordophones.

The word piano is a shortened form of the word pianoforte, which is seldom used except in formal language and derived from the original Italian name for the instrument, clavicembalo [or gravicembalo] col piano e forte (literally harpsichord with soft and loud). This refers to the instrument's responsiveness to keyboard touch, which allows the pianist to produce notes at different dynamic levels by controlling the speed with which the hammers hit the strings.

Although there were earlier attempts to make stringed keyboard instruments with struck strings, most notably hammered dulcimers such as the santur and santoor, the invention of the modern piano is credited to

Bartolomeo Cristofori of

Padua, Italy, who was employed by Prince Ferdinand de Medici as the Keeper of the Instruments. It is not known exactly when Cristofori first built a piano. An inventory made by his employers, the Medici family, indicates the existence of a piano by the year 1700; another document of doubtful authenticity indicates a date of 1698.

The three Cristofori pianos that survive today date from the 1720's.

Like many other inventions, the piano was founded on earlier technological innovations. The mechanisms of keyboard instruments such as the clavichord and the harpsichord were well known. In a clavichord the strings are struck by tangents, while in a harpsichord they are plucked by quills. Centuries of work on the mechanism of the harpsichord in particular had shown the most effective ways to construct the case, soundboard, bridge, and keyboard. Cristofori, himself an expert harpsichord maker, was well acquainted with this body of knowledge.

Cristofori's great success was in solving, without any prior example, the fundamental mechanical problem of piano design: the hammers must strike the string, but not remain in contact with the string (as a tangent remains in contact with a clavichord string) because this would damp the sound. Moreover, the hammers must return to their rest position without bouncing violently, and it must be possible to repeat a note rapidly. Cristofori's piano action served as a model for the many different approaches to piano actions that followed. While Cristofori's early instruments were made with thin strings and were much quieter than the modern piano, compared to the clavichord (the only previous keyboard instrument capable of minutely controlled dynamic nuance through the keyboard) they were considerably louder and had more sustaining power.

Cristofori's new instrument remained relatively unknown until an Italian writer, Scipione Maffei, wrote an enthusiastic article about it (1711), including a diagram of the mechanism. This article was widely distributed, and most of the next generation of piano builders started their work because of reading it. One of these builders was Gottfried Silbermann, better known as an organ builder. Silbermann's pianos were virtually direct copies of Cristofori's, with one important addition: Silbermann invented the forerunner of the modern damper pedal, which lifts all the dampers from the strings at once.

Silbermann showed Johann Sebastian 'Bach one of his early instruments in the 1730's, but Bach did not like it at that time, claiming that the higher notes were too soft to allow a full dynamic range. Although this earned him some animosity from Silbermann, the criticism was apparently heeded. Bach did approve of a later instrument he saw in 1747, and even served as an agent in selling Silbermann's pianos.

Piano making flourished during the late 18th century in the Viennese school, which included Johann Andreas Stein (who worked in Augsburg, Germany) and the Viennese makers Nannette Streicher (daughter of Johann Andreas Stein) and Anton Walter. Viennese-style pianos were built with wood frames, two strings per note, and had leather-covered hammers. Some of these Viennese pianos had the opposite coloring of modern-day pianos; the natural keys were black and the accidental keys white.

[8714 Gluck / 8714 C.P.E. Bach / 8710 Arne]