Personalities | Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach | Classical Era | Classical

(Kärl Fe’-lip E-ma’-noo-el Bakh) 1714–88
German composer

In the eighteenth century, ‘Bach’ usually meant C. P. E. Bach, not his father Johann Sebastian. Born in Weimar, he studied under his father, then read law at the university in Frankfurt an der Oder.

He took up a post in Berlin at the court of Prince Frederick, later Frederick the Great, serving there, with the flute-playing king and his orchestra, for nearly 30 years, composing keyboard sonatas, chamber music and concertos in a forward-looking, often intensely expressive style (the empfindsamer Stil).

Opportunities there were circumscribed, however, and in 1768 Bach moved to Hamburg as city music director, where he was responsible for teaching and for the music in five churches. His compositions were largely music for the church, but he also wrote symphonies of a markedly individual, dramatic and fiery character.

He was the leading north German composer of his time and an important musical thinker; his enormously influential Essay on the True Art of Keyboard Playing (1753, 1762) is widely used to establish performance style in mid-eighteenth-century music.

The Bach Family

C. P. E. Bach was one of the most eminent in a long line of musical Bachs; in his own time, he was perhaps the most famous. Great musical abilities often pass down through generations and in no family have they displayed themselves for as long or as extensively as in the Bach’s.

The earliest known musician was Veit Bach, a baker, probably from what is now Bratislava in Slovakia, who settled in the Thuringian village of Wechmar in the mid-sixteenth century (his bakery still stands): he was also a ‘Spielmann’ (fiddler or minstrel). After four generations there were 11 Bachs pursuing musical careers in the area; there were 19 in the next (including J. S.) and 25 in the one after. The last, W. F. E. Bach, J. S. Bach’s grandson, died in 1845.

Many were humble town musicians, paid by the municipality to play in bands on ceremonial and religious occasions, or to play hymns from church towers. Others were Kantors (teachers and music directors), church organists, Kapellmeisters (directors of musical establishments) or court musicians. Bachs are found across Thuringia, especially in the cluster of small towns around Eisenach, Ohrdruf, Erfurt and Amstadt, but also further afield. The family managed to sustain this position until the traditions of local Lutheranism and, in particular, the social systems that gave rise to the prevalence of family traditions through the old trade guilds dissolved.

Recommended Recording:
Magnificat, Gächinger Cantorei Stuttgart, Bach Collegium Stuttgart (dir) Helmuth Rilling (Hänssler)

Introduction | Classical Era | Classical
Personalities | Johann Christian Bach | Classical Era | Classical


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