Wednesday, February 13, 2013

C.P.E. Bach - Württemberg Sonata No. 1 In A Minor

The music of C.P.E. Bach had a profound effect on the younger composers of his time, namely Mozart and Haydn. It is one of the ironies of art that in the early 19th century the younger Bach's music came to be appreciated less and less as his father's music came to be appreciated more and more. The elder Bach's music never was completely forgotten, especially his keyboard music. Beethoven studied The Well Temper Clavier as did many other composers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, sometimes in hand-written copies that passed from teacher to pupil.

But the younger Bach continued to have a great influence on the art of keyboard playing because of his book Essay On The True Art Of Playing Keyboard Instruments (written in 1753).  The book is a valuable reference to anyone wishing to play the music of the younger Bach and some of his contemporaries. The music of this era continued the musical shorthand of figures written over certain notes that signified trills (and other ornaments of the basic melody) from the music of the previous generation. The meaning and execution of these ornaments can be quite puzzling, even with Bach's book. Different composers in different countries had their own interpretations of the ornaments. What is good for the music of Bach (elder and younger) is not always good for other composers.  Bach states in the book that there is a certain amount of flexibility with what a performer did with an ornament in a specific piece of music, that the overall effect of the piece should be enhanced by the ornamentation which should be a result of the 'good taste' of the performer.

Bach wrote a large amount of music for solo keyboard and his reputation was made with the publication of two sets of sonatas, the  'Prussian' sonatas were dedicated to Frederick The Great and the 'Württemberg' sonatas were dedicated to the grand duke of Württemberg.  The six Württemberg sonatas were written in 1742 while Bach was court musician for Frederick The Great in Berlin.  The sonatas are expressive, chromatic and dramatic, fitting the 'new' style of composition that Bach helped to create. C.P.E. Bach has been called one of the first composers of the classical era.

The first sonata in the set is in A minor and is in three movements:
I. Moderato - This short movement creates tension with its rolled chords and is punctuated by triplets that add a restlessness to the music. The movement consists of two sections that are both repeated, as is the case with early classical era sonatas.  The first section is an early example of sonata form, as there are two themes, with the secondary theme appearing shortly after the first. The second section begins in the relative major (C major) and makes its way back to the original key of A minor.

II. Andante - The gentle opening mood of the andante (in the parallel key of A major)  lasts for 19 bars and is brought to an expressive close by a tempo change to adagio for the 20th bar. The opening theme begins again and the music works its way to an ending of but two 'A' notes, one in the treble and one in the bass.

III. Allegro assai - The last movement returns to the minor key and is highlighted by runs in the right hand as the left hand changes the harmony. This movement is also in two sections that are to be repeated.

C.P.E. Bach readily gave praise to his father as a great musician and teacher (the only teacher he ever had) but that didn't prevent the younger Bach from calling his father's music old-fashioned. C.P.E. Bach was a fine performer and was an innovator and influential composer. His music is no longer forgotten, but it still is rare to hear some of it. To my ears, there is something different about his music, something that is very attractive, even quirky. With more of it being made available on recordings, there is still much I want to listen to and explore.


1 comment:

  1. Great post here. CPE is indeed underrated. His music was very experimental and often erratic so I think people tend to forget how instrumental he was in establishing the use of dynamics as a dominant expressive elements in musical performance and composition. He was the first real classicist as far as I'm concerned and without his wild experiments, Mozart and Beethoven wouldn't be what they were, I believe.



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