Concerto in D minor

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Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
B. March 8, 1714, in Weimar
D. Dec. 14, 1788, in Hamburg

Johann Sebastian Bach’s second surviving son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, was the god¬son of Telemann and his successor as Music Director in Hamburg.  C.P.E. was an enterprising young musician, the most innovative and idiosyncratic member of his extremely talented family.

When only seventeen, at about the time that his father’s music was being first published, he engraved one of his own minuets, selling it as his Op. 1.  His parents, not wanting him to be a musician, sent him to study law at the University at Leipzig, but he abandoned law for music.  By 1740, he became involved in Berlin with the Prussian royal family and spent twenty eight years in the service of Frederick the Great.  The Berlin court was a seat of musical conservatism; the music Bach wrote there does not generally display the idiosyncratic freedom of form and sentiment that appeared in his later Hamburg works, which became a major influence on Haydn and Mozart, but while he was in Berlin, he did compose 25 keyboard concertos.

Frederick II, a brilliant military commander as well as a patron of musicians, poets and philosophers, reigned as King of Prussia from 1740 to 1786.  Music had an important place in his life: an avid flutist, he played daily, alone in the early morning as well as in ensembles at court concerts held every evening at seven.  He also composed more than a hundred works.  C.P.E., in his role of harpsichordist to the king, accompanied him in many concerti written by Johann Quantz, a virtuoso flutist and fairly reactionary composer.

C.P. E. Bach probably composed the highly expressive Concerto in D minor in 1747-8 for one of the regular royal musical soirees.  This work, which Bach later transcribed for flute, displays features of both the Baroque and Classical periods.  The beginning of the first movement, harmonically, sounds much like a Baroque concerto, but instead of introducing the harpsichord, when it enters, with new thematic material, the orchestral material is reprised and then the solo harpsichord, in Classical fashion, ventures off independently.

The concerto’s three move¬ments follow the traditional fast slow fast sequence of the time: the first movement, Allegro, is very melodious with long solo episodes, yet it features bold contrasts with unexpected dynamic changes, fragmentations of themes, and abrupt shifts from solo to tutti sections.  The second movement, a calm Poco Andante, has some moments of drama in recitative-like sections, but overall is characterized by its sweeping melody with its distinctive delicate ornamentation; the third, Allegro assai, is spirited, intense, energetic and very challenging technically, with what some musicologists have called a “sense of menace,” perhaps because of its startling rhythmic complexities.  This “menace” derives from the influence of the short-lived Sturm und Drang movement, which takes its name from German literature; its aim was “to terrify, stupefy, and overpower with emotion.”  Here and elsewhere in his music, C.P.E. reflects these dramatic sentiments structurally with abrupt shifts in character and forward-looking harmonic uniqueness.

DSO Shop @ The Max Recommends: Bach, C.P.E. – Concerto for Clavier and Orchestra in D minor, W.23: Miklós Spányi, harpsichord, and the OPUS X Ensemble, BIS 1422.

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