• ARSIS 4202 2009 | DL HU 184/2009

Three jewels of gallant appearance but of libertarian structure: quartets Wq. 93, 94 and 95; written in 1788, the last year of Carl Philipp Emanuel’s life, they constitute a kind of testament who, far from the demands of the court, enjoys total freedom to write a chamber music close to fantasy, the genre that he considered more apt to express the passions of man.

The autograph manuscript, which is preserved in the Berlin Singakademie, received from the Bach itself the title “Quartett fürs Klavier, Flöte und Bratsche” which, as a wink, is like saying “quartets for three”. The Tempest chose, indeed, the three, understanding that three interpreters give life to four lines: the two of viola and flute and the two of the key when it goes from its role of continuous bass – companion – to “forced key” – with its part written for both hands.


Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)


Cuarteto en La menor, Wq. 93 (1788)

o1. Andantino

o2. Largo e sostenuto

o3. Allegro assai


Cuarteto en Re mayor Wq.94 (1788)

04. Allegretto

05. Adagio

06. Allegro molto


Cuarteto en Sol mayor Wq.95 (1788)

07. Allegretto

08. Adagio

09. Presto


Sonata en trío en Fa mayor Wq. 163

10. Un poco andante

11. Allegretto

12. Allegro




Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, or killing the father


In 1925 North African trip, a brief and splendid account of the journeys through Morocco of an already mature Hugo von Hofmannsthal, remembered above all for the no less credit of having been the librettoist of several of Richard’s best operas Strauss. In one of its chapters, Conversation in Salé, the twin city of Rabat, one of the characters of the narrative expresses his doubts about the complication German, which would make it impossible for one to like Schumann since Wagner existed, or that makes Schumann’s taste unimaginable after Bach’s existence [1].


There is no doubt that the Bach to which the story refers is Bach, Johann Sebastian. It is not known that in that conversation they were compared father and son, but wouldn’t that same German complication have made appreciation for Carl Philipp’s music impossible after the existence of Johann Sebastian? “We have but a Bach, whose technique in the extreme original belongs only to him,” wrote the chronicler Johann Friedrich Reichardt, another German. You mean Sebastian? Well, no, the eulogy was directed at his son, for by then the father had been almost forgotten.


It is not easy to imagine that there was in Reichardt’s spirit some comparative intention, so for the forgetfulness of the father as well as by the difficulty of comparison itself, for the musical distance between father and son is certainly greater than that which goes from the medina of Fes [2] that Hof [2] visited Mannsthal almost a century ago to which today you can see, still a true inhabited medieval city.


Not without evil has Octavi Rofes recently recalled Arnold Sch’nberg’s suspicion of the authorship of the Thema Regium that the young Frederick II of Prussia offered in Postdam to Johann Sebastian for an impromptu six-voice escape. The extreme contrapuntal difficulty of his writing, which would have far surpassed the king’s abilities, led him to direct his accusatory gaze towards Carl Philipp, who in this way would have avenged the excesses of rigor and severity of the father.


Kill the father: behold, therefore, a musical rectify. But also a gozne on which two different times rotate. Sebastian himself was aware that his music closed for a time, that his style was outdated. What happened to be admired was the gallant style, the Empfindsamkeit, the rococo. The generation of his children, of course the most innovative, and first Carl Philipp, in adequate response to the environment, drove the music towards different worlds, making possible the appearance of classicism.


The tireless traveller Charles Burney saw it lucidly: “Among all the composers who have been in the service of the King of Prussia for more than thirty years, only two, C. P. E. Bach and Franz Benda, have had the courage to be original; the others are but imitators.” Nor is the well-known Arab saying that children are more like their fathers than their parents is not far from the profound truth.


Faced with the constructive vigour of the father, in contrast to the scholastic leaks and the severe counterpoint, a simpler, kinder, natural and spontaneous expression appears, steeped in the pre-romantic sentimentality of the Sturm und Drang, although without falling into the sensitiveness. Laurence Sterne’s sensitive look at the Sentimental journey through France and Italy would be a kind of literary equivalent. And so does humor. In an interview I gave him years ago [3], Bob van Asperen noted that it is clear that Carl Philipp did not take from his father the idea of emotions in music, and that what he added was something important: ‘I am the first to have expressed l’humour in music.’


Carl Philipp’s music is unstable, fragile, brittle, subjected to abrupt mood swings, always at the point of rupture, volatile and full of contrasts. Variety, virtuosity, experimental pursuit are frequent features of his compositions, and such an openness to innovation would not abandon him even in the very last stretch of his long life, as evidenced by the exuberance of the wq. 93 and 95 trios. His feverish and agitated character demands a spirit no less vehement lyre of his interpreters. But he achieves the prodigy, without losing the rigor of the construction, of being at the time a delicious and flirtatious music.


Thus the world advances: the son of the greatest master of the counterpoint denies it and surrenders to gallant music, thus becoming one of the greatest innovators of music.


Far from having it for a diluted Bach, you have to estimate it for what it really is, a modern composer in the best sense, a precursor to the artist’s expressive freedom. And, together with this, precisely for this reason, a reference point for uncertain times and for the world in disarray. Enjoy yourself in homeopathic doses.


Ambrosio Lacosta

[1] I quote from the Alba edition (2001).

[2] Whose description occupies one of the best stories in the book.

[3] It was published in the first issue of Goldberg magazine, along with the powerful images captured by Koldo Chamorro’s Leicas.


Quartets for three


In December 1788 Carl Philip Emanuel Bach died a true spiritual guide to the great masters of Classicism. “He was the father; we, the little ones,” wrote Mozart, who that same summer had composed his spectacular final symphonic trilogy, with which he seemed to open himself to a world of new sensations and emotions. But 1788 was also the year of the Quartets. 54/55 by Haydn, crucial works in the development of cameristic music, which thus took the path of brilliance, drama, expanding at par its color palette by hosting a wider variety of shades within it. A crucial moment in the development of European musical creation, which heralds the advent of a new style, the romantic one (whose starting point many current authors place in 1789, the decisive year of the Revolution), that romanticism that was already throbbing in the empfindsamer style or in the turbulence of the Sturm und Drang, which Emanuel Bach had frequented so much.


And that he frequented until his last breath, as demonstrated by the three Quartets which this record collects and which were also written in 1788 as masterful culmination of his author’s dedication to chamber music. The autograph manuscript is preserved in the Singakademie in Berlin, and in it he writes Bach himself: “Quartett f’rs Klavier, Fl’te und Bratsche”, although later, on the cover, Carl Friedrich Zelter, that close friend of Goethe, one of the few men who would have the privilege of tutoring the great author of Faust, will note: Drey Quartette f’r Fortepiano, Flute und Bratsche”, which is very interesting, because it reveals the aesthetic and social circumstances of the finisecular situation (there is no record of the date Of Zelter’s annotation) which, as a historical hinge, was to mean the progressive cornering of the aristocratic for the benefit of the bourgeois piano (hence the change of the generic klavier, which at the time referred to any keyboard instrument, by the specific fortepiano).


The fact that despite its title, the score includes only three instruments (in the autograph parts are named in Italian: flauto, viola, clavicembalo), despite bach’s addition to its catalogue “und bass” staff. One of the first surprises must have been Johann Heinrich Westphal, a pupil and great admirer of the composer, who had ordered the works with the intention of copying them (and in fact, his copy is the second source in which these pieces have been preserved). When he wrote to the family asking about the bass part, the response of one of Bach’s daughters was clear: “There is no more bass than that of the keyboard; If not, His Excellency would have received it with the rest.” It is clear that at the time the genres were classified not by the number of performers, but by that of musical voices, but does here justify the writing for the key the four parts of the quartet? Certainly, from time to time in the left hand of the keyboard appear subtle traces of what could be a continuous bass, but overall the brilliance and modernity of writing, without discontinuities between both hands, points most of the time to a texture in three parts. Does that mean that Bach assumed that a fourth instrumentalist (a cellist, perhaps) should have enough capacity to improvise the bass line, or perhaps the composer did not consider it appropriate to part entirely with the conventions of that venerable support of the continuum, even if his aesthetic imagination was already anchored, not only in spirit, but also formally, in the present and even pointed decisively towards the future of his art?


The interpretive option chosen here is perfectly consistent with the nature of the works and offers the added interest of showing the possibilities of the key in such a late music, including its faculties for the contrast of dynamics, a challenge that Bach constantly raises. The language of writing for instruments stands out equally in all kinds of textures – and the Quartets present all possible combinations –, confronting and melting their sonorities with similar artistic prominentness. If in extreme movements dominate the formal principles of sonata and round (which sets the music to the purest Classicism), the rapodic and expressive character of the slow times touches the more dreamy romantic tone at times such as the Adagio of the Quartet in G major sun, with very special keyboard prominence. Traces of a strongly expressive will are also found for example in Bach’s use of the silences in the first half of the Quartet in D major, which suspends the listener’s spirits on numerous occasions, or in the final three bars of that same movement, an unexpected slow transition to the Adagio, as well as in a bold planning of modulations, which surprise especially in the sweetly nostalgic first movement of the Quartet in the minor. The ability to weave extensive developments from small melodic cards that Bach demonstrates in the extreme movements of the Quartet in Greater Sun also reserve undoubtedly a place of honor among the great architects of sound.


The Sonata in F major Wq. 163, dated around 1755, belongs instead to the very very gender of the trio sonata, although it has a somewhat unique structure, since it does not respond to the scheme in four or more Corelli movements, but also not to the typical vivaldiana tripartite form (fast/slow/fast), as the piece is accelerating progressively (A bit walking – Allegretto – Allegro). The work was originally written for bass, viola and continuous bass flute, although here the flute’s voice is assumed by a traversal, which gives a greater presence to its part and makes its dialogue with the viola win in agility and brilliance. The double cadence (viola and flute) included at the end of the first movement is an excerpt of which Emanuel Bach himself published as an example for his piano concertos.


Pablo J. Vayón


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