On the year of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s 300th anniversary, Wiener Urtext has released a new edition of the complete works for violin and obbligato harpsichord. Its editor Jochen Reutter considers the works’ place in the repertoire (click on links below for printable pdfs)
With his epoch-making works Opp 1 to 4, Arcangelo Corelli had established, at the end of the 17th century, the trio sonata as the central genre of chamber music for the next 100 years. But already in the first decades of the 18th century a special form emerged in which the voice of one of the treble instruments was taken over by the right hand of the now obbligato harpsichord. Exponents of this variety include the six sonatas for violin and obbligato harpsichord BWV 1014-1019 by Johann Sebastian Bach. Throughout his life, Bach’s second-oldest son Carl Philipp Emanuel also regularly turned to composing for obbligato keyboard instrument and violin. His earliest works, like the Sonata in D minor still numbered BWV 1036, date back to the years of study with his father in Leipzig. The latest work, the Fantasia CPE Bachs Empfindungen in F sharp minor Wq 80 was composed in Hamburg in 1787. The complete repertoire presented in the new Wiener Urtext edition comprises not only the sonatas Wq 71-78, the Arioso Wq 79 and the Fantasia Wq 80 but also the arrangements of the Trios Wq 143-147 for violin and harpsichord.
The sonata BWV 1036 and the early version of the sonata Wq 71, which has been published in this edition for the first time, provide an insight into the compositional development of CPE Bach. With their four movements both works stand squarely in the tradition of the Baroque trio sonata. Stylistically, however, they display characteristic features that not only bespeak the style of a young experimentor, but also the beginning of a new era: sighing motifs, bold harmonies, pseudo-canonic voice-leading instead of contrapunctually sophisticated interweaving; swift changes of different affects and patterns in very quick succession, an as yet awkward organisation of the movement as a whole as well as a somewhat naive mixing of formal elements from different genres.
The four sonatas Wq 75-78 composed in 1763 represent the focus of CPE Bach’s oeuvre for violin and obbligato keyboard instrument. Even though certain compositional details still reveal the connection to the trio sonata, the two parts have freed themselves more decidedly in terms of their respective instrumental idiom. These progressive traits, the sensible musical language and abruptly contrasting emotions must have fascinated the young Johannes Brahms, when he discovered the pieces in 1855. In November 1858 he began a lengthy correspondence with his publisher Rieter-Biedermann, which reveals that he wishes to publish ‘two sonatas with violin by Philipp Emanuel’, the sonatas in B minor and C minor (Wq 76 and 78). The two sonatas finally appeared in print in 1864. Already before their publication Brahms had performed the sonata in C minor in concert together with Joseph Hellmesberger in Vienna.
The two works of CPE Bach’s Hamburg period, the Arioso Wq 79 and the Fantasia CPE Bachs Empfindungen Wq 80, concern the genres variation and free fantasia. Both were originally works for solo keyboard. It was only later that a violin part was added, without diminishing the primacy of the keyboard. In this sense they are closely related to the genre of the ‘keyboard sonata with the accompaniment of a violin’ of the early classic period. Wq 80, written in the year before CPE Bach’s death, testifies to the composer’s highly expressive late style. The approaching end of the composer’s life is not only foreshadowed in the trembling handwriting of the autograph score, but also in the music, where in the Largo section the contours of Bach’s song Andenken an den Tod appear. The work summarises CPE Bach’s musical legacy which he leaves to the reader of his Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments: ‘You have to make music from the soul, not like a trained bird.’
English translation by Matthias Müller
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