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Bach, Carl Philipp Emanual ( 1714 - 1788 )

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788) can be classed as a unique composer in his realisation of the early-Classical galant style and what is known as Empfindsamkeit, the German music style of the mid-eighteenth century, which portrayed changing feeling and emotion in a way that was as much a reaction against the High Baroque period as the simplicity and directness of the galant style. Bach was born in Weimar, a great cultural city, and one that particularly came under the influence of the intelligentsia of the German Enlightenment. Bach cultivated a very individual compositional technique, combining the prevailing trends in galant musical fashion, Empfindsamkeit and his own intellectualism.

C. P. E. Bach’s reputation as a writer of keyboard music was established by the two sets of sonatas that were published in 1742 and 1744: the Prussian and Württemberg sonatas, respectively. Both are fine sets, containing much innovation for their time, although the later Württemberg sonatas are arguably the more interesting, featuring a wider variety of musical textures and compositional techniques. The latter set also includes more sonatas in minor keys (the Prussian sonatas contain only one sonata in a minor key, as opposed to the three written in minor keys in the Württemberg sonatas), which prove to be a more effective vehicle for expressing the emotion and feeling of Empfindsamkeit. Both sets are faithful to Bach’s style of composition, in which his true compositional genius shines through: they are more virtuosic, in general, than his other sonatas and less simplistically galant, containing more weight reflecting an intellectual approach.

C. P. E. Bach’s compositional style was greatly admired by his contemporaries and subsequent masters of the Classical period, such as Haydn and Mozart, and his influence is particularly evident in the early keyboard sonatas of Haydn, which display a pleasingly vocal, two-part texture. C. P. E. Bach was instrumental in the development of sonata form and his keyboard sonatas are the forerunners of the “true” sonata form works of the mature Classical period, which reached their zenith in the hands of Beethoven.

-- Mark Hopwood (more on the author...)



  1. Miscellanous
  2. Prussian Sonatas
Jan 5, 2016
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