Select a Date

May 2016
« Apr    

Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach

Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach
b Weimar, Germany, March 8, 1714
d Hamburg, Germany, December 14, 1788, aged 74

The sons of Bach are much less familiar to us today than their illustrious father. Carl Philipp Emmanuel – musicians abbreviate him as CPE Bach – was the second surviving son of Johann Sebastian. Like his older brother, Wilhelm Friedemann, he was trained in music by his father, but unlike WF, he established a successful and influential career on his own as a composer, keyboard artist, teacher, and author. (Friedemann was a brilliant keyboard artist but had a fits-and-starts kind of career.)

Carl Philipp Emmanuel’s godfather was Georg Philipp Telemann, a friend of Johann Sebastian’s, and CPE would eventually (in 1768) succeed his godfather as general music director for the city of Hamburg. Before that, however, he obtained a post in the court of Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, better known to history as Frederick the Great. He stayed with Frederick for 30 years – 1738 to 1768 – performing as a keyboard soloist and chamber musician, and writing copious quantities of music. Frederick was an enthusiastic amateur flutist and sometime composer; he maintained a highly talented group of musicians to entertain him and his distinguished guests.

CPE was the author of an important textbook whose English title is An Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments. The teaching styles and methods laid out in this work influenced major piano teachers of the succeeding generation, including Muzio Clementi and Johann Baptist Cramer. His compositional style influenced Haydn, Mozart – who especially admired him – Beethoven, Weber, and Mendelssohn. With his wide-ranging interests, not just in music but also in other arts and in philosophy, CPE became friends with poets, playwrights, and philosophers including Moses Mendelssohn (composer Felix’s grandfather).

Piano students past and present have probably encountered some of CPE’s works, but in general, his music is not anywhere near as well known as that of Johann Sebastian. But his full catalogue includes solo pieces, chamber sonatas, concertos, symphonies, and choral works. To somewhat remedy this neglect of a major musician, and to honor the 300th anniversary of his birth, WFMT will feature the works of Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach all through the month of March.

Friday: Bach to Basics


A Bach birthday celebration: on Friday, March 21, WFMT presents an entire day of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, a composer beloved by audiences, and especially by musicians. J.S. Bach was born on March 21, 1685. WFMT offers a daylong celebration, including a concert at 8:00 PM recorded in the church where Bach served as organist and choirmaster, St. Thomas Church in Leipzig