Ten Facts About Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

by Jacy Burroughs

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1. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was the second surviving son of Johann Sebastian and Maria Barbara Bach (Sebastian’s first wife). This year we celebrate the 300th anniversary of his birth. He was born on March 8, 2014.

2. Emanuel never had any music teacher besides his father. There is no evidence that he studied any instrument other than keyboard.

3. Between 1731 and 1738, Emanuel studied law, first at the University of Leipzig and then at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder. At this time, law was a very typical subject of study for university students. Unlike today, the study of law was considered to be more of a general education than a vocational course of study. Sebastian Bach was determined to give all his sons the university education that he lacked to defend them against society’s prejudices that musicians were simple servants.

While enrolled in school at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, Emanuel supported himself by teaching keyboard lessons, and composing for or directing public concerts and ceremonies. It was during his years at university that Emanuel’s compositional career accelerated.

4. In 1740, he was appointed harpsichordist to Frederick II of Prussia, who was an accomplished flutist, and served as court accompanist for nearly 30 years. Although the accompanist often had to act as soloist, teacher, coach, Kapellmeister, composer and arranger, Emanuel was the least paid musician in the court.

5. Georg Philipp Telemann was Emanuel’s godfather and Kantor and director of music in Hamburg, Germany. Telemann passed away in 1767 and Emanuel left the court of Frederick II to take over Telemann’s post in early 1768.

6. Emanuel was the foremost composer in the empfindsamer Stil or “sensitive style.” It is characterized by abrupt changes of mood with melodies and rhythms patterned after speech.   The style was largely associated with solo keyboard works, particularly for the clavichord and early fortepiano. These instruments were more capable of subtle changes in tone and dynamics than the harpsichord.

7. Emanuel wrote Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, which is one of the most important writings on the subject. C. G. Neefe, Beethoven’s teacher before he moved to Vienna, often used Emanuel’s compositions and his Essay when teaching young Beethoven. Today, it is an important guide to 18th-century keyboard fingering, ornamentation, continuo playing and improvisation.

8. Emanuel was the most prolific of the Bach sons. He composed in every genre, with the exception of opera. His output consists of symphonies, concerti, chamber music, songs, church music and solo keyboard music, the latter being central to his compositional career.

9. While his music is not terribly well known today, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach played an essential role in the development of classical music. His symphonies, concerti and keyboard sonatas were influential in the evolution of the classical sonata-allegro form. Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, who have come to be known as the big three composers in the Classcial period, all cited Emanuel as an influence.

10. To celebrate the 300th birth year of C.P.E. Bach, all six German Bach cities, Hamburg, Potsdam, Berlin, Frankfurt (Oder), Leipzig, and Weimar are hosting a variety of concerts and events.

Click here for Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach sheet music.

Jacy Burroughs is the Online Merchandiser and Social Media Manager at Sheet Music Plus. She is a freelance horn player in the Bay Area.

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