⭐ BACH’S FAMOUS SONS ⭐ Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

In the service of Frederick II of Prussia from 1738, he became one of the most prominent musicians in the musical life of the court, together with Quantz and Graun. Extremely versatile composer, he obviously favored keyboard instruments in his staff choices and developed in particular the genre of the concert for harpsichord and orchestra that his father had already experimented.

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Soon of Johann Sebastian (born of his first wife Maria Barbara), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach studied with his father harpsichord and organ, instruments to which I remain tied as a performer for the rest of his life.

Of the more than 50 concerts left, many also provide for the use of other solo instruments (transverse flute, cello) as an alternative to the harpsichord, but all reveal a full adherence to the highly contrasting character that was typical of the “Empfindsamer” style developed especially by Carl Philipp Emanuel.

Seat number 46 occupied by Carl Philipp Emanuel, Johann Sebastian Bach’s second son, in the family tree (Ursprung der musicalisch-Bachischen Familie) drawn up around 1735 in order to perpetuate the traditions of this prodigious family of musicians has not prevented him, until at the end of the eighteenth century, to be unanimously considered the only and true “big Bach”.

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Acclaimed keyboard virtuoso, theorist and intellectual of vast interests not only in music, friend of philosophers and poets (from Moses Mendelssohn to Lessing), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach is ultimately a central figure in the German and European music scene of this era. Testimonies with varying degrees of truthfulness recall the great consideration in which he is held by the three giants of Viennese classicism: Haydn never tires of performing his sonatas; Beethoven recognizes the merits of a precursor and leading exponent of a musical culture in which he feels himself a participant; Mozart, certainly more attracted to Johann Christian Bach’s mild musicality than to Emanuel’s sentimental meditations, would say – and we are anecdote – “He is the father. We children “.

After his death, a series of events, very different from each other, help to blur the great fame that the composer enjoys in life. The extraordinary achievements of the Viennese classicism of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven certainly have great weight, in the light of which Emanuel’s experiments appear as attempts that have not always been successful in reaching the perfection of the great classic forms. The second is the romantic rediscovery, by Felix Mendelssohn, of the titanic work of Johann Sebastian Bach, who will regain, even if belatedly, the title of “great Bach”. Re-evaluating a perhaps imaginary baroque, that of Bach’s “absolute” music reinterpreted from a new perspective, the romantic musicians will in fact take the final blow to downgrade that “gallant” style which, precisely in opposition to the heaviness of the Baroque, seeks taste for a milder musicality.

As a result, the naturalness of the gallant style suddenly reverses into rhetorical and frivolous affectation, while the delicate impulses of the empfindsamer Stils fade early with the exposure to the new temperature of romantic passions. Finally, with the definitive and rapid affirmation of the piano and the consequent opening of new avenues for the literature of keyboard instruments, the very heart of Emanuel Bach’s production, so tied to the intimate sweetness of the clavichord, will appear inexorably démodé.

Flötenkonzert Friedrichs des Großen in Sanssouci (“Frederick the Great’s Flute Concert in Sanssouci”) by Adolph von Menzel, 1852, depicts Frederick the Great playing the flute as C. P. E. Bach accompanies on the keyboard. The audience (invented by Menzel, and not based on any actual occasion) includes Bach’s colleagues as well as nobles.

Le Württembergischen Sonaten

In his Essay on keyboard method, probably the most famous treatise on keyboard technique of the entire eighteenth century, Philipp Emanuel unambiguously reveals the poetics of the Empfindsamkeit of which he is the main exponent and which extends its ramifications on one side to the gallant style proper and on the other hand to literary currents such as the Sturm und Drang.

For almost 30 years, before replacing Telemann as musical director in Hamburg, with a position similar to that which J.S. Bach had dressed in Leipzig, Carl Philipp Emanuel is harpsichordist and teacher of the sovereign at the Berlin court of Frederick II the Great of Prussia, great protector of the arts – at the court you can listen to a concert every evening and the opera twice a week – and flute amateur. However, the king does not have particularly advanced musical tastes and does not love Emanuel excessively, whose salary remains always far from the astronomical compensation of the famous flautist Quantz and of the other musicians of the rich Berlin monarchy.

Keyboard method test

A musician moves others only if he is moved: it is essential that he try all the moods he wants to arouse in his listeners, because in this way he will make them understand his feelings and make them participate in his emotions. In languid and sad places it will become languid and sad; this will have to be heard and seen. Even by performing lively and joyful sentences, etc. the performer must put himself in the appropriate mood. Calm will be followed by excitement and vice versa with continuous variety of expression. The performer must be sure to experience the same emotions that the author felt in composing especially in the very expressive pieces.

Wq 49, 1 is the first of the second cycle of sonatas composed by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach during this Berlin period. The six sonatas “per harpsichord”, which are of particular importance within Bach’s production, are dedicated to the “Serene height of Carlo Eugenio, Duke of Wirtemberg [sic] and Teckh” and are composed between 1742 and 1744, year in which they are published in Nuremberg.

The destination “for harpsichord” must not, however, be taken literally; in those years, even if Bartolomeo Cristofori has already invented his “harpsichord with the forte and the piano”, the main keyboard instrument is surely the harpsichord. However, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s almost total preference goes to the clavichord, whose intimate sound has a particular link with the style of the Empfindsamkeit. This predilection, shared by Brother Friedemann Bach, is largely due to the delay with which the fortepiano / piano is introduced in northern Germany and to which the Seven Years’ War is certainly not foreign. Unlike what happens with the harpsichord and the piano, in which the plectrum or the hammer do not remain in contact with the string during the emission of sound, in the clavichord, a decidedly more Spartan construction instrument intended for domestic performances, the tangent metal placed at the end of the key remains in contact with the string during the emission of sound and allows you to directly control its emission until a particular vibrato effect (Bebung) is achieved. The insufficient sound volume makes the instrument unsuitable for concert performances and also for the realization of the continuo, but its intimate charm gives it a sensitivity that is very close to the taste of Emanuel Bach, inexhausted and kidnapped keyboard player whose Burney describes the inspired improvisations . The affordable costs also make this instrument particularly grateful to those “connoisseurs and amateurs” (Kenner und Liebhaber) for whom Bach will publish various sonatas in the second part of his career.


Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (Weimar, 22 November 1710 – Berlin, 1 July 1784) was a German composer and organist, the eldest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. Nicknamed the Bach of Halle, Johann Sebastian’s eldest son and lastly, chapel master of the Prince of Hesse-Darmstadt; he was born in Weimar in 1710, learned the principles of music both on the harpsichord and on the organ and was instructed in the art of composition by his illustrious father, showing, early on, that he was not unworthy of being his son. He continued his studies in 1725 with the lessons that Graun, then a concert master in Merseburg and later in Berlin, gave him on the violin. At the same time he applied himself to the school of St. Thomas, to the other sciences with equal ardor and studied jurisprudence and mathematical sciences at the University of Leipzig. In 1733 he was called to Dresden as organist of the church of Santa Sofia, continuing his study of mathematics, under the guidance of the wise Walz, practicing mainly in algebra. He moved from there, in 1747, as director of music and organist, to the church of Our Lady of Halle, but left this position in 1767, staying for some time in Leipzig. He later lived in Braunschweig from 1771 and in Göttingen from 1773, then went to Berlin, where he lived the last years of his life, with the title of chapel master but without employment. He died in extreme misery on July 1, 1784.

Johann Christian Musician (Leipzig 1735 – London 1782), called the Bach of Milan or London. Last son of J. Sebastian, he studied with his brother Karl Philip Emanuel and with G. B. Martini. Converted to Catholicism, in 1760 he was appointed organist at the Milan Cathedral. He then moved (1763) to London, where he composed for the theater.

Bach, Johann Christoph Friedrich Musician (Leipzig 1732 – Bückeburg 1795). Son of J. Sebastian, he was a concert master in Bückeburg at the count of Schaumburg-Lippe. He composed oratories, singings and ensemble and solo music.

Following my personal photo collage on most Bach’s famous sons.

The most famous soon of J. S. Bach
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