Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (8 March 1714 – 14 December 1788) was a German Classical period musician and composer, the fifth child and second (surviving) son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach. His second name was given in honor of his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann, a friend of Johann Sebastian Bach.
C. P. E. Bach was an influential composer working at a time of transition between his father’s baroque style and the classical and romantic styles that followed it. His personal approach, an expressive and often turbulent one known as empfindsamer Stil or ‘sensitive style’, applied the principles of rhetoric and drama to musical structures. Bach’s dynamism stands in deliberate contrast to the more mannered galant style also then in vogue
He was known as the “Berlin Bach” or the “Hamburg Bach”.
Legacy and musical style
Through the later half of the 18th century, the reputation of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach stood very high. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart said of him, “He is the father, we are the children.” The best part of Joseph Haydn’s training was derived from a study of his work. Beethoven expressed for his genius the most cordial admiration and regard. His keyboard sonatas, for example, mark an important epoch in the history of musical form. Lucid in style, delicate and tender in expression, they are even more notable for the freedom and variety of their structural design; they break away altogether from both the Italian and the Viennese schools, moving instead toward the cyclical and improvisatory forms that would become common several generations later.
The content of his work is full of invention and, most importantly, extreme unpredictability, and wide emotional range even within a single work, a style that may be categorized as empfindsamer Stil. It is no less sincere in thought than polished and felicitous in phrase. He was probably the first composer of eminence who made free use of harmonic colour for its own sake since the time of Lassus, Monteverdi, and Gesualdo. In this way, he compares well with the most important representatives of the First Viennese School. In fact he exerted enormous influence on the North German School of composers, in particular Georg Anton Benda, Bernhard Joachim Hagen, Ernst Wilhelm Wolf, Johann Gottfried Müthel, Friedrich Wilhelm Rust and many others. His influence was not limited to his contemporaries, and extended to Felix Mendelssohn and Carl Maria von Weber.
His name fell into neglect during the 19th century, with Robert Schumann notoriously opining that “as a creative musician he remained very far behind his father” in contrast, Johannes Brahms held him in high regard and edited some of his music. The revival of C. P. E. Bach’s works has been underway since Helmuth Koch’s rediscovery and recording of his symphonies in the 1960s, and Hugo Ruf’s recordings of his keyboard sonatas. There is an ongoing project to record his complete works, led by Miklós Spányi (de) on the Swedish record label BIS.
The works of C. P. E. Bach are known by “Wq” numbers, from Alfred Wotquenne’s catalogue (1906) and by “H” numbers from a catalogue by Eugene Helm (1989).
He was portrayed by Wolfgang Liebeneiner in the 1941 biopic of his brother Friedemann Bach.
This article was written by Psalm Triginta