Take a moment to salute the great Bach today. No, not THAT great Bach! We’re celebrating Carl Philipp Emanuel, born on March 8, 1714, the 2nd surviving son of Johann Sebastian. Mozart is quoted as saying “Bach is the father. We are the Children!” And he meant C.P.E., whose reputation overshadowed his dad’s.
Carl Philipp Emanuel’s childhood was spent in Weimar, Köthen and Leipzig, where he was a scholar at the St. Thomas School. He followed his godfather Telemann’s example by studying law before pursuing his musical career. This was a good way for a young musician to get ahead. His first major post was in Berlin, as a musician in the court of Frederick the Great. Carl Philipp Emanuel hated his time there, although he was the catalyst for a remarkable encounter between the young king and C.P.E.’s father, the great Johann Sebastian, which led to the creation of J.S. Bach’s “The Musical Offering.” (There’s a fascinating and insightful book all about this meeting, Evening in the Palace of Reason by James R. Gaines.)
C.P.E. himself wrote a book during his Berlin years: The Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, which established keyboard techniques that are still in use today. For instance, keyboard players use their thumbs today because of the influence of this book. But it also established the rationale for expressivity in music: "Since a musician cannot move others unless he himself is moved, he must of necessity feel all of the affects that he hopes to arouse in his listeners." That was something nobody had said before, and Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven took it to heart. Here’s one of the examples he included with the text, the Fantasia in C minor:
C.P.E. Bach went on to succeed Telemann as Director of Music in Hamburg, where he took on the planning and performance of 200 concerts each year at the city’s five major churches. He created his own music for these events, but also used existing historical and contemporary music in creative combinations. And he became an active publisher of his own vocal and instrumental music. But above all he sought to establish a new style of music-making, what he called the “sensitive style”, rooted in the emotional life of the musician.
The younger Bach became a musical bridge between his father and Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. But he was also a bridge to a new way of thinking about music. “Bach is the father. We are the children!”
Listen for C.P.E. Bach on the Symphony at 8 tonight: the Symphony in E-flat, Wq 183/2.