REGISTER NOW AND GET
• 5 FREE tracks! • 101 tracks for $9.99
ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.C.: Keyboard Concertos, Op. 13, Nos. 2, 4 / BACH, J.C.F.: Keyboard Concertos, B. C29, C30 (attrib. to J.C. Bach) (The Music Collection)
Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian, made his career first in Italy and then, from 1762, in London, where he was a pioneer in the use of the fortepiano. His elegant, forward-looking concertos, written in the galant style, make a contrast with the more straightforward yet entertaining concertos by his older brother Johann Christoph Friedrich, who spent the greater part of his life at the court of Bückeburg in Lower Saxony.
By Johan van Veen
By Tim Perry
The booklet notes to this release make interesting reading. American fortepianist Susan Alexander-Max reveals that this was initially intended to be an album dedicated to the music of Johann Christian Bach. J.C. Bach was the youngest of J.S. Bach's surviving sons and was probably more famous and popularly successful than the rest of his brothers put together. After extending his education in Italy he established himself as “the London Bach”. He won fame throughout Europe as a leading exponent of the new and fashionable gallant style of music, sweeping aside the fussiness of the Baroque period with a sleek new Classicism. It helped that he was also a keyboard virtuoso – hardly surprising given that he would have heard his clan of older siblings playing the 48 while he was still in utero.
However, as The Music Collection rehearsed what had always been thought to be two of J.C. Bach's Op.7 concertos for keyboard for the recording, doubts began to set in about their provenance. Putting aside the difference in instrumentation—the addition of a viola which is absent in the Op.13 concertos—there was something about the music that “did not feel or sound like Johann Christian”. A little digging revealed that these two concertos have been recently and reliably attributed to a different Bach: to Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, three years J.C. Bach's senior and, like their older half brother Carl Philipp Emanuel, a court musician in Germany.
The Music Collection—founded by Alexander-Max for the promotion of 18th and early 19th Century fortepiano repertoire – recorded the J.C.F. Bach concertos anyway; they bookend the J.C. Bach concertos, making for an attractive program of contrasting styles. All four concertos are certainly pleasing. Much of the interest in each piece comes from the keyboard's elaboration of thematic material stated by the strings, and it is the way in which this is handled that marks the difference between the brothers' styles. When their concertos are played one after the other the greater liquidity of the London Bach's melodic invention, his lighter touch and his more winning charm are evident.
In all four pieces the scoring is very economical with only one instrument per part in the tiny, eminently practical “orchestra” that accompanies the soloist—though the J.C. Bach concertos allow for optional winds which are not employed here. To prevent textures thinning out, the fortepiano provides a continuo when not spinning the solo line.
The performances are commendable, bringing the scores to life with due observance of period performance practice. Susan Alexander-Max shapes her solo lines with grace, ease and intelligence. I enjoyed her recent Clementi disc immensely, and her playing is just as magical here. I would be interested in hearing a bit about her instrument. It sounds like a modern replica fortepiano – sweet-toned and supple. The warm and intimate Naxos recording certainly presents it and the accompanying strings in their best light. A delightful disc.
By Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
The soloist here conducts from the keyboard, in keeping with a venerable tradition, and the group is aptly named The Music Collection. I like small ensembles for this music: voices are better balanced, and clarity is the byword. The soloist plays a fine sounding instrument, and the performances are solid and precise. What I question is the order of the music on the disc, which opens with what I found the weakest piece of the four concertos. Who am I to cast aspersions on a Bach? Yet the Concerto in A by JCF overuses the same trite fanfare at the beginning of virtually each restatement of the theme, which is truly tiresome. In fact, the entire work is over-long and sounds uninspired, so why lead with it? Nor are the works of Johann Christian ("The London Bach", and the boy Mozart's mentor) representative of his best work. Other than this cavil, the execution and recording are exemplary.
Johann Christian Bach (1735–1782)
Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732–1795)
The youngest surviving son of Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Christian represents the link between the baroque and the classical worlds. His early training was with his father, Johann Sebastian, and his elder half brother, Carl Philipp Emanuel, before deciding to leave for Italy where he studied with Padre Martini. In Italy he converted to Catholicism, and became organist of Milan Cathedral. It was during this period that he composed a good deal of sacred music. In 1762 Johann Christian travelled to England, where he quickly turned to composing opera and soon became a leading figure in London’s musical world. It was not long before he was invited to become composer to the King’s Theatre in London and also music master to the Queen. Together with his colleague and fellow composer Carl Friedrich Abel he established the famous Bach-Abel concerts.
In 1764 he met the very young Mozart, who was travelling with his father in England. Johann Christian became Mozart’s mentor and lifelong friend. Mozart thought so highly of Johann Christian’s piano sonatas that he arranged some of these pieces as concertos. He was also known to have quoted him in several other of his own works, in symphonies, for example, and in The Magic Flute.
Charles Burney writes of him in his General History of Music: Mr. Bach’s first opera in England, called ‘Orione, O sia Diana vendicata,’ was honoured with the presence of their Majesties on the first night, February the 19th, 1763, and extremely applauded. Every judge of Music perceived the emanations of genius throughout the whole performance; but were chiefly struck with the richness of the harmony, the ingenious texture of the parts, and, above all, with the new and happy use he had made of wind-instruments: this being the first time that clarinets had admission in our opera orchestra. Their Majesties honoured the second representation likewise with their presence, and no other serious opera was wanting for near three months.
Johann Christian’s music was widely heard in London and his position as the English Bach won increasing recognition, ensuring him the greatest success of the musical Bach family during his lifetime. Greatly influenced by his studies in Italy and in Italian style, he became known as the master of the galant. This was a term applied to the style that developed in the latter half of the eighteenth century, suggesting a return to classical simplicity after the complexity of the late Baroque era. In very simple terms, it meant simpler music, with less ornamentation, more importance placed on the melody, and less on the bass line. The phrases tended to be of regular length, and the harmonic vocabulary emphasized principally the tonic and dominant. It was, in many ways, a reaction against the more elaborate and pretentious Baroque style.
Johann Christian’s ability to make the new fortepiano his own won even more favour in public circles. Indeed, whilst Clementi was still performing on the old harpsichord in London, Johann Christian was charming his audiences with the new keyboard. Composed in the 1770s, his keyboard concertos represent some of the best examples of all his keyboard works and incorporate all that was admired in their day. All in three movements, the traditional fast – slow – fast, they are stylish and elegant, graceful and galant. Johann Christian wooed his audiences using the grace and charm of the Italian style whilst involving and intertwining the folk elements of his adoptive country. How better to please the Queen!
The Concerto in D major, Op.13, No.2, is the second of a set of six piano concertos published in 1777, under the title: “A Third Sett of Six Concertos for the Harpsichord, or PianoForte. With Accompaniments for two Violins and a Bass, two Hautboys and two French Horns ad Libitum. Humbly Dedicated to Mrs. Pelham and composed by John Christian Bach Music Master to Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain”. It was the custom in all of his concertos for the pianoforte to play the figured bass in orchestral pasages. This means that the piano is playing throughout: it plays the figured bass to accompany the orchestra as well as its own solo part.
The Concerto in B flat, Op.13, No.4, is the fourth of the same group. In its time it was the favourite one of the set and was made all the more special when Haydn arranged it for solo piano, ten years after Bach’s death. This piece had great public appeal; it was not only the charm of the galant and the song-like tenderness of the slow movement, but the set of variations that Johann Christian composed for the third movement which he based on the Scottish song, The Yellow-haired Laddie.
The other two concertos on this disc have been attributed to Johann Christian Bach and were always believed to have been composed by him about the years 1770/1771 as part of the Opus 7 set of keyboard concertos. They are both very different in character to the concertos of Opus 13, and while rehearsing these pieces, we took it in turns to try to decide who the composer might be, because they did not feel or sound like Johann Christian. Both concertos sound like the work of C.P.E. Bach or like Johann Christoph Friedrich’s Sinfonias, with a brilliance and a melodic buoyancy that prevails. Straightforward, if not a little old-fashioned, they are certainly entertaining concertos. It made me realise that, whilst, by today’s modern piano standards, the work of Johann Christian may seem over-simple, it was, in its day, quite forward looking. The differences between Opus 13 and these concertos became more and more distinct. One other difference that springs to mind is the scoring. These concertos include a viola as part of the orchestra, whereas Opus 13 is scored only for two violins and cello, with optional wind. After a little research, I discovered that it is now thought that both these concertos are considered to have been composed by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, who made his career at the cultured court of Count Wilhelm of Schaumburg-Lippe in Bückeburg, thus unravelling the mystery for us (see Collected Works of J.C. Bach, ed. Ernest Warburton). These concertos were published by Hartknoch of Riga in the 1770s. In his catalogue Warburton informs us that “Ulrich Leisinger has now shown beyond reasonable doubt that the Concerto in E flat’s true composer is J.C.F. Bach”, and the Concerto in A, the second of the two Hartknoch concertos, is also now known to be by Johann Christoph Friedrich.
What evolved from the exercise was just how innovative Johann Christian’s music was, and how clearly one could see why he continued to gain favour as a composer. His music marked the liaison between baroque and classical; it established the foundation upon which classicism would flourish, and, of notable importance was that it was music that was especially suited for its social purpose. This, in the eighteenth century, was a recipe for success.
© 2008 Susan Alexander-Max
Last Albums Viewed
BACH, J.C.: Keyboard Concertos, Op. 13, Nos. 2, 4 ...