C.P.E. Bach V: The Essential C.P.E. Bach

Checking back in on the C.P.E. Bach Tricentennial, thought I’d share what the folks putting together the new Complete Works edition have deemed The Essential C.P.E. Bach : “a selection of the composer’s 25 ‘greatest hits’ of solo keyboard, chamber, and orchestral music.”

Contents of The Essential C.P.E. Bach


It’s a fascinating (and to my mind, rather obscure) list, containing several works which are utterly new to me, and will take a little further investigation. There are also a few “usual suspects,” like the Magnificat (previously discussed in this space), and some of the symphonies that get frequent spins in classical-radio-land.  Like the first of the so-called “Hamburg” Symphonies, played below in terrific recording by Andrew Manze and the English Concert.

Want to know more about the symphony?  You can read the Musical Musings entry here.

Gottschalk Encore: The Banjo on….The Banjo!

Suddenly you have a whole new understanding / appreciation of Gottschalk’s piece when you hear it “reverse engineered,” as it is here by musician / instrument builder Paul Ely Smith.

Marvel at this! And then go the “Press” section of his website to read his article in the journal Current MusicologyC titled  “Gottschalk’s “The Banjo” and the Banjo in the 19th Century.”

Fascinating stuff.


Music for Eastertide: Biber’s “Mystery” Sonatas

Passion, devotion, and a wealth of invention…at Easter time I am drawn to the remarkable set of the 15 “Mystery” (sometimes called “Rosary”) sonatas by the 17th-century composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. It’s a collection of 15 short sonatas chronicling key moments in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, organized into five “Joyful Mysteries,” five “Sorrowful Mysteries” and five “Glorious Mysteries.” And I find the final Passacaglia to be some combination of all three.

Which makes it all the cooler that uber-cool violinist Johnny Gandelsman (of Brooklyn Rider and Silk Road Ensemble fame) included this ancient marvel in his solo recital debut in NYC…at Le Poisson Rouge (“serving art and alcohol”). Go, Johnny Go!   And if you’re hooked, you can read more about the intricacies of Biber’s sonatas here.

C.P.E. Bach IV: Magnificat

One of the pieces by Carl Philipp Emmanuel that has never fallen out of favor in his native Germany is his Magnificat in D Major, a work that perhaps deliberately shares the same name – and even key signature – as one of J.S. Bach’s most famous choral works. It was composed in 1749, just a year before the death of Bach the father.

And there is some supposition that the C.P.E. wrote this expansive work originally as an audition piece to succeed J.S. as the Cantor of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.   “Originally,” that is, because despite writing this Magnificat at an early age C.P.E. Bach revived this piece on several occasions during his career…and, like his father, recycled a lot of the movements into other sacred works of his.

Regardless, it stands as one of C.P.E. Bach’s greatest works – with many touches that suggest that the son learned well from his father…starting with the sound of the joyous natural trumpets at the opening of the piece. But you’ll also hear suggestions of the great choral works yet to come by Haydn and Mozart.  And how’s this for a little piece of history, courtesy of music scholar Jason B. Grant, who happens to be working on publishing the complete works of C.P.E. Bach this tricentennial year:

That C.P.E. Bach thought highly of his Magnificat is shown by his including it in a concert of 1786, a program which included the Credo of his father’s B Minor Mass, portions of Handel’s Messiah, and his own double-choir “Heilig.” Although it was a work from much earlier in his career, Bach clearly valued the Magnificat as a composition that could stand alongside not only his later Hamburg works, but also the great choral masterpieces of the previous generation

Check out these three sections in a very spirited performance by Czech-based Visegrad Baroque Orchestra, (“Barbara Maria Willi founded in 2006 Visegrad Baroque Orchestra in order to engage in collaborative work most talented musicians in Visegrad countries: Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic”) and the Ars Brunensis Chorus,

C.P.E. Bach III: A Double Concerto at the Crossroads….

There are all kinds of terms to describe the period of history in between the Baroque era of Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel, and the dawning of the so-called “Classical Era” personified by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.   “Rococo,”  “Style Galant,”  or to get really German-geeky about it, Emfindsamer Stil:

A musical aesthetic associated with north Germany during the middle of the 18th century, and embodied in what was called the ‘Empfindsamer Stil’. Its aims were to achieve an intimate, sensitive and subjective expression; gentle tears of melancholy were one of its most desired responses.

The above is taken from a surprisingly entertaining site I discovered called Musical Inclinations –  “an online resource examining the differences between the pre-classical and classical style.”

Or you could just listen to this wonderful example of a C.P.E. Bach concerto that sits at this crossroads of history: A Double Concerto for the new-fangled fortepiano, and the old-fangled harpsichord.   And, as it turns out, the very last of the 50-odd concertos he composed between 1733 and 1788.  And, as pianist Danny Driver mused in the NPR story the other day, “It’s literally, from the very first movement, one bar piano, one bar harpsichord, a little bit of orchestra, then something else. The exchange of ideas is so quick….it’s not postmodern, but it almost feels postmodern in the sense that there’s this sort of collation of different ideas and different feelings all sort of rolled into one. I think it’s of today as it was of its time.”



The Original Dynamic Duo?


Another many-hands-on-the-keyboard post as I research my next Concert Preview for the La Jolla Music Society, mentioned yesterday: “Two Pianos, Three Composers, and Four Hands,“   I came across the following quote:

It could be said that the history of the four-hand recital began on May 13, 1765 in Hickford’s Great Room in London.  That was when and where 9-year-old Wolfgang Mozart and his sister, Maria Anna (“Nannerl”) played together.  And musicologists think this a four-hand Sonata in C (K. 19d) was probably written for this occasion. This was the first public duet recital on record and precedes by three years the first piano solo recital, which Johann Christian Bach presented in 1768. 


“Fresh, fluent, and imaginative” says one author; others are less convinced.  In his book “Mozart’s Piano Music,”  William Kinderman writes, “…we shall not regard K. 19d as a piece that probably does not stem from Mozart, despite its longstanding association with his oeuvre.  The piece still merits consideration as an early example of the piano-duet idiom.”


Though publication of this particular sonata came much later.   The credit for that, surprisingly, goes to Charles Burney…”a minor composer whose music is forgotten today. However, he is indispensable to eighteenth century music history as a writer about music and the music scene of his time,” as says the All Music Guide.   Burney’s  Four Sonatas or Due, for Two Performers on One Piano Forte or Harpsichord, was published in London in 1777.   In this case, what’s far more important than the music is the preface that Burney writes, wherein he lays out the case for piano four-hands versus two keyboards.  (Bearing in mind of course his goal is to sell more copies of his music “for two performers on One Piano Forte”).   But here Burney pretty much lays out the case for the piano duet that will later prove to be so financially viable for Messrs Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak et al:

As the following pieces are the first to have appeared in print, of this kind, it may be necessary to say something concerning their utility, and the manner of performing them.

Burney goes on:

That great and varied effects may be produced by Duets Upon Two keyed-Instruments has been proved by several ingenious compositions, some of which have been published in Germany; but the inconvenience of having Two Harpsichords, or Two Piano-Fortes, and the short time they remain exactly in tune together, have prevented frequent trials, and even the cultivation of this species of music, notwithstanding all of the other advantages, which, in other respects, it offers to musical students.  The playing Duets by two persons upon One instrument, however, is attended with nearly as many advantages, without the inconvenience of crowding a room, or of frequent or double-tuning…

And though, at first, the near approach of the hands of the different performers may seem awkward and embarrassing, a little use and contrivance with respect to placing them, and the choice of the fingers, will soon remove that difficulty.


The whole preface is worth reading.   Check it out here. So, Mozart made the music; Burney made the case. Smart.  Very Smart.    Check out a couple of videos below of the history-making K. 19d.   I love the randomness of the Toronto shopping mall food court in the former, and the Mozartean ages of the Japanese tykes in the latter….