Tuesday, December 31, 2013

J.C.F. Bach - Symphony In C Major W. 1/6

The family name of Bach was synonymous with music for over two hundred years in Thuringia in Central Germany, with many notable composers in the family. Johann Sebastian Bach had four sons that lived to adulthood that added to the musical reputation of the family; Wilhelm Friedrich, Carl Philip Emmanuel, Johann Cristoph Friedrich and Johann Christian. Johann Christoph Friedrich was born in 1732 and like the other brothers was taught by his father.

In 1750 he was appointed as harpsichordist to the court at Bückeburg (perhaps due to the influence of his older half-brother C.P.E. Bach) and was later appointed Kappelmeister. He stayed at this court until his death in 1795 and for this reason he has been referred to as the  Bückeburg Bach.  Of the very few trips he made away from Bückeburg, one was made in 1778 to London where he visited his younger brother J.C. Bach and absorbed some of the newest trends in music. Although the court at Bückeburg was small, Bach kept performance standards high and made the music of Haydn and Mozart known there.

C.P.E. Bach called him  the best keyboard player of the four brothers. He composed in most of the forms of his time except opera. He composed 20 symphonies of which seven have survived, and his works were cataloged by Hannsdieter Wohlfarth (hence the W. abbreviation and number of Bach's works) in the 1970's.  J.C.F. Bach was by all accounts a very prolific composer but many of his works were lost during the World War II bombing of Berlin where many of his manuscripts were kept since 1917.  He is considered a transitional composer, with some of his compositions in the High Baroque style, some on the Gallant Style and later works in the Classical style of Mozart and Haydn.

Bach's Symphony In C Major W. 1/6 was written in 1770. It is in three movements, somewhat in the style of C.P.E. Bach's symphonies. The three movement symphony of the Bach brothers was a natural development from the three-part Italian opera overture where the first movement is the longest and most involved while the other two movements are shorter and of slighter character. In this symphony J.C.F. Bach equals out the import of the three movements as they are roughly the same length and import. The symphony is for strings, continuo, pairs of flutes and horns.
I. Allegro di molto - The symphony begins with great energy. The first theme grouping continues energetically until a short secondary theme is stated in a more subdued (but still spirited) atmosphere by the strings with comments by the horns and flutes. The development section begins straight away with no repeat (a common practice in the early form of symphony). The recapitulation begins, moves towards the repeat of the second theme that has modulated to a different key when it is cut short by a brief transitional section that leads to the second movement beginning with no pause.

II. Andante - A walking theme (indicated by the tempo) begins in the strings and is commented on by the flutes. It is repeated and then expanded upon. The theme appears throughout the movement, with changes in key or details.

III. Allegro assai -  In triple time, the music has a dance-like rhythm to it and is a minuet in all but name.  The first section has two parts that are repeated, along with a short interlude that sounds like not very talented amateurs have taken over for the playing is rather crude and out of tune. I do not know whether this is actually a direction to the players that the composer wrote in the score or an interpretation by the conductor on the accompanying recording. I've heard this symphony in two other recordings, one that plays this section completely 'straight', and another that plays this section in a semi-rough manner. As the score isn't readily available, I'll have to leave the matter at that. The music then shifts to a trio section played in a minor key. The minuet is then repeated, including the crude section.

Because this Bach chose to remain in a somewhat backwater court position all of his adult life, he didn't have the influence on other composers that C.P.E. and J.C. Bach had.  He may not have had the inspiration or drive to succeed like his other two brothers, but he certainly was more than a competent composer worth an occasional listen-to.

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