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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, C.P.E.: Flute Concertos (Complete)
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C. P. E. Bach (1714-1788):
Complete Flute Concertos
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was born in Weimar, the second son by his first wife of Johann Sebastian Bach, then newly appointed Konzertmeister to the Grand Duke Wilhelm Ernst. He attended the Latin School in Cöthen, where his father became Court Kapellmeister in 1717, and in 1723 moved with the family to Leipzig, where he became a pupil at the Thomasschule, on the staff of which his father had become Cantor. In 1731 he matriculated as a law student at the University of Leipzig, embarking on a course of study that had been denied his father. He continued these studies at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, and in 1738, rejecting the chance of accompanying a young gentleman on a tour abroad, entered the service of the Crown Prince of Prussia at Ruppin as harpsichordist. He moved with the court to Berlin in 1740, on the accession to the throne of the Prince, better known subsequently as Frederick the Great.
In Berlin and at Potsdam, Bach, confirmed as Court Harpsichordist, had the unenviable task of accompanying evening concerts at which the King, an able enough amateur flautist, was a frequent performer. His colleagues, generally of a more conservative bent, included the distinguished flautist and theorist Quantz, the Benda and Graun brothers and other musicians of similar reputation, while men of letters at the court included Lessing. In 1755 he applied for his father’s old position at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, but was unsuccessful, his father’s former pupil Doles being appointed in succession to Johann Sebastian’s immediate successor, Gottlob Harrer. It was not until 1768 that Carl Philipp Emanuel was able to escape from a position that he had found increasingly uncongenial, succeeding his godfather Telemann as Cantor at the Johanneum in Hamburg, a city that offered much wider opportunities than Leipzig had ever done. He spent the last twenty years of his life there. In Berlin he had won a wider reputation with his Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (Essay on the True Art of Clavier Playing) and was regarded as the leading keyboard-player of his day. In Hamburg he continued to enjoy his established position as a man of wide general education, able to mix on equal terms with the leading writers of his generation and no mere working musician. He died in 1788, his death mourned by a generation that thought of him as more important than his father, the latter disrespectfully dubbed ‘the old periwig’ by his sons.
As a composer Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was prolific, writing a considerable quantity of music for the harpsichord and for the instrument he much favoured, the clavichord. His music exemplifies the theories expounded in his Versuch, with a tendency to use dramatic and rhetorical devices, a fine command of melody and a relatively sparing use of contrapuntal elements that had by now come to seem merely academic. In musical terms he is associated with Lessing’s theories of sentiment, Empfindsamkeit, the complement of Enlightenment rationalism.
It was perhaps through the exigencies of his position in Berlin that Bach came to arrange some of his harpsichord concertos for other instruments, particularly for flute, for cello and, in some cases, for oboe. The Concerto in A minor, Wq.166, is a version of a harpsichord concerto of 1750, the arrangement for flute and for cello made seemingly in the same year. The cello versions of Wq.166-168 for flute are listed as Wq.170-172 in the Wotquenne thematic index (Naxos 8.553298). The first movement opens with an exciting and dramatic orchestral ritornello, before the gentler solo entry of the flute, with successive solo passages increasing in elaboration and in the technical demands made on the soloist. There is something of the vocal solo about the slow movement, with its cadenza, and the concerto ends with a strongly rhythmic final movement, with dialogue between the soloist and orchestra, the latter also providing the framework for solo passages.
The Concerto in B flat major, Wq.167, opens with a movement that makes much use of triplets and of dotted rhythms. It is followed by a slow movement in which the intensity of feeling is apparent on the entry of the solo flute, with its occasional suggestions of recitative, as in the composer’s keyboard sonatas. Dotted rhythms are again a feature of the writing, and there is a solo cadenza before the final section of the movement. The mood changes at once in the lively final Allegro assai, its busy activity at first restrained by the solo flute before going on to rapider passage-work, a process later repeated, as the soloist continues with virtuoso elaboration of the material.
Carl Philipp Emanuel’s Sonata in A minor for solo flute, Wq.132, of 1747 invites inevitable comparison with his father’s Partita in A minor for the same solo instrument, written some quarter of a century earlier. The sonata starts with a movement marked Poco adagio in which, as Johann Sebastian’s works for unaccompanied instruments, the harmonies are always clearly implied. The two sections of the second movement are repeated with further ornamentation, with the main theme derived from the notes of the tonic triad and of the dominant. A similar procedure is followed in the final Allegro, where descending intervals are largely replaced by rising, the lower notes, as before, reached by wide leaps, suggesting a bass line.
The Concerto in A major, Wq.168, is a version of a harpsichord concerto of 1753, the arrangement for flute and for cello made seemingly in the same year. The energetic first movement soon leads to the entry of the solo flute, with its contrasts of rhythm, brilliant arpeggios and passage-work and exchanges with the orchestra. The A minor slow movement, imbued with melancholy, opens with marked dynamic contrasts, before the entry of the solo flute, with its version of the principal theme. There is a solo cadenza, as the movement nears its close. Sadness is banished at once in the spirited final Allegro assai, with its triplet rhythms, and, as always, understanding of the solo instrument.
The Concerto in G major, Wq.169, has been dated to 1755, the date of the original version for organ or harpsichord and orchestra. It opens with an energetic orchestral introduction worthy of contemporary Mannheim, marked by its dotted rhythms and arpeggio patterns. As often, solo passages increase in length and virtuosity as the relatively extended movement proceeds, leading to a solo cadenza. The E minor Largo breathes an air of melancholy in the descending melodic contours of its orchestral opening, a mood in which the flute joins, adding a brief cadenza before the movement ends. The lively final Presto dispels sorrow with its bright optimism and the brilliance of its solo writing.
It has been suggested that Carl Philipp Emanuel’s Concerto in D minor, H. 426, written in 1747, is the original version of what then became the Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, Wq.22. The work, which survives in a manuscript once in the possession of the King’s sister, Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia, was perhaps written for the King himself, as the solo part might at first suggest. The opening Allegro, with its arpeggio patterns and lesser demands for virtuosity, is followed by a serene D major movement that brings brief moments of drama in hints of recitative, and a short cadenza. The original key is restored in the vigorous and exciting final Allegro di molto, with its immediate sense of menace, leading to more challenging solo writing.
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BACH, C.P.E.: Flute Concertos (Complete)