Claire Meghnagi (soprano)
C. P. E. Bach: 300th Birthday Celebration
String Symphony in Bb Wq 182 no. 2 H 658
Concerto for fortepiano in d minor Wq 23 H. 427
“Erfrecht euch nur “
Aria from St. Matthew Passion W 235 for soprano, strings + bc
“Freude, du Lust der Götter (Der Frühling)”
Cantata for soprano, strings + bc
“Vor des Mittags heissen Strahlen”
Aria from “The Israelites in the Desert” for soprano, strings + bc
”Du Schöpfer meiner Freudenfeste"
Aria from the oratorio “Hebt an, ihr Chöre der Freude”, H 822a for soprano, strings + bc
Sinfonie in e minor Wq 178 H.653
In Europe in the second half of the 18th century, the name “Bach” was predominantly identified with Carl Philip Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), Johann Sebastian Bach’s second son. CPE Bach enjoyed a prominent position in Europe’s musical life, and his reputation survived into the 19th century; Mozart, Haydn and even Beethoven admired his works, and regarded them as a formative influence on their own compositions. This concert celebrates the 300th anniversary of his birth, in a program designed to present several of the various genres CPE composed in (symphony, concerto, sacred oratorio, secular cantata) as well as giving an overview of his different compositional styles.
CPE Bach was renowned as daring, innovative composer, who stretched the limits of the old style of the late Baroque and took part in shaping the new, Classical style. His daring was apparent not just in formal terms, but also in his approach to musical-emotional expression. In his celebrated treatise Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, he wrote: “A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved. He must feel all the emotions that he hopes to arouse in his audience, for the revealing of his own humor will stimulate a like mood in the listener”. This statement is aimed at performers, but has clear implication for the composer as well; and indeed, CPE Bach is regarded as a prominent representatives of the Empfindsamer Stil (the Sensitive Style), whose hallmark is a combination of emotional intensity and simplicity. According to later scholars, the Empfindsamer Stil was characterised by the frequent alternation between contrasting themes, each with its own well-defined, even exaggerated, expressive character. This contrasted with the Baroque style which allowed for greater complexity at any given moment, but retained – at least to some extent – a unity of affect within each movement. Charles Rosen, in his book The Classical Style, described CPE Bach’s style as “violent, expressive, brilliant, continuously surprising, and often incoherent”.
This ideal stood in sharp contrast with the Rococo or stile gallant, which also gained prominence at the same time and was represented, among others, by CPE’s youngest brother, Johann Christian Bach. This style was elegant, pleasing and devoid of dramatic exaggerations. However, in his quest to cover the full gamut of emotions, CPE found room in his compositions for gallant writing, which suited those moments where he sought to express carefree joy or restrained elegance. Such elements can be heard, for instance, in the cantata Der Frühling (The Spring), which rarely moves beyond the Rococo’s expressive range; yet, even here, Bach found space of small-scale dramatic contrasts, surprising harmonies and broken symmetries. The arias from his Matthäus Passion and his oratorio Die Israeliten in der Wüste are even closer to gallant simplicity – though this characterisation refers to these particular arias, not the works from which they are extracted.
The orchestra works in tonight’s program, on the other hand, demonstrate the expressive depth and range of the Empfindsamer Stil. They do not contain many of the aspects which Rosen termed “incoherent” (Rosen was probably referring here, inaccurately, to some of the composer’s solo keyboard works, which contain a prominent improvisational element). The two Sinfonias and concerto retain the traditional three-movement structure – fast-slow-fast – and contain distinctive thematic materials; these are usually presented, at first, in homophonic textures, allowing them to be etched into the listeners’ memories and serve as guiding posts as the movement continues.
The fast movements in the two Sinfonias contain moments which arguably move beyond the Empfindsamer Stil into the realm of the Sturm-und-Drang (Storm and stress), with its edgy, turbulent drama. This is particularly evident in the first movement of the E-minor Sinfonia, though other fast movements also contain sudden transitions, chromaticism and unexpected harmonic transitions. The combination of lyricism, harmonic instability and fragility in the slow movements of all three works is characteristic of the Empfindsamer Stil. The first movement of the D-minor concerto is characterised by a constant flow reminiscent of certain baroque movements – and an unremittingly dark expression, which evoked comparisons with the D-minor piano concertos by Mozart and Brahms.
Dr. Uri Golomb
Claire Meghnagi (soprano)
Avinoam Shalev (harpsichord)
Michael Alexander Willens (conductor)