“When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music. Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?” - Khalil Gibran
For Music Saturday, music by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714 - 1788), one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous composer sons. Born to Johann Sebastian and his first wife Maria Barbara, Emanuel followed the example of his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann by qualifying as a lawyer before pursuing a musical career. He moved from Leipzig to Berlin in 1740 to be a harpsichordist in the court of Frederick the Great.
Despite the fact that his appointment seems to have been made directly by Frederick (he was chosen to accompany the newly crowned monarch and musician for his first solo flute concert) Bach didn’t appear to make much headway in the Prussian court, never becoming credited as an official composer. Even the visit of his father to Frederick’s court in 1747 (the now legendary meeting that led to the composition of the Musical Offering) did nothing to advance the son’s career, dogged by quarrels and criticism of his unorthodox and “affected” playing style.
CPE Bach left Frederick’s service in 1767 after the death of his godfather Telemann, whom he succeeded as director of music of the five city churches of Hamburg. He was greatly respected both as a composer and as a friend of some of the most distinguished writers and thinkers of his time. In 1755 he published his influential “Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments”.
From his very considerable output his sonatas for flute and harpsichord remain an attractive part of chamber-music repertoire, and his symphonies written for Baron van Swieten, arbiter elegantiarum in Vienna, a man whose taste was generally trusted in artistic matters, are similarly notable. Music by CPE Bach is often listed with a reference number from the catalogue of his works by Wotquenne (Wq).Orchestral Music.
CPE Bach wrote a set of six String Symphonies, Wq. 182 for Baron van Swieten (diplomat, Court Librarian in Vienna and patron of Haydn and Mozart) as well as a set of four Orchestral Symphonies, Wq. 183 that include wind instruments. Four flute concertos, Wq. 166–9, are arranged from the composer’s own harpsichord concertos, as are the three cello concertos, Wq. 170–2 and the oboe concertos, Wq. 164–5.
The varied chamber music of CPE Bach includes five sonatas for flute and harpsichord, Wq. 83–7, five trio sonatas for flute, violin and basso continuo, Wq. 143–7, and an unusual Sonata for solo flute, Wq. 132.
CPE Bach wrote a great deal of music for the instruments on which he was acknowledged to be pre-eminent as a performer: The harpsichord and the gentler clavichord. These include Six Sonatas, Wq. 49 and Twelve Variations on the best known of contemporary themes for variations, “La Folie d’Espagne”, Wq.118.9.
Here are the transverse flute concertos, music which is elegant and inventive as well as pleasantly surprising and full of wonderful contrasts.