Bach as a Business and Family Man

Going His Own Way – Stations in Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Life

Besides all his other talents, Bach possessed an excellent sense of business acumen, and kept meticulous record of all his income. Most of his published works were commercially successful, and it is safe to assume that Bach could discern which of his works would sell well and which would not.

Envelop of a business letter of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach to Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf in Leipzig, Hamburg, 26 July 1788. (Source: Leipzig Bach-Archiv Leipzig, Sign. Kulukundis I.3 26.07.1788)

He was as severe when negotiating finances as he was generous when it came to supporting friends and family. He would send them copies of his printed works, or autographs that he no longer required. Family seems to have been of particular importance to Bach: After the death of his father, he took in his half-brother Johann Christian (1735–1782) and provided him a musical education. Later he did the same for his nephew Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst (1759–1845). Members of the family who were in despair could count on his financial support, as was the case with his sister and her husband. However, his relationship to Wilhelm Friedemann Bach seems to have been somewhat unaffectionate. From a letter that Kirnberger wrote to Forkel: “And thus he [Wilhelm Friedemann] is in quite a wretched state. He neither wishes to compose nor to give lessons, and his brother in Hamburg wants to know nothing of him, because he puts nothing to good use, no matter how much he were to send him, which he has done often, without receiving thanks for it.” 

One also knows that Bach was quite derogatory in his criticism of the London compositions by Johann Christian, his youngest half-brother and student from the Berlin years.

A letter of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach to Johann Nikolaus Forkel in Göttingen, Hamburg, 13. Januar 1775. (Source: Leipzig, Bach-Archiv Leipzig, Sign. Kulukundis I.3 13.01.1775)

Of the Bach brothers it was Carl Philipp Emanuel to whom the tradition, remembrance and care of the Bach family heritage mattered most. He was particularly committed to his father’s musical heritage, doing what he could to prevent its dispersal, even going so far as to collect the autographs that his half-brothers Johann Christian and Johann Christoph Friedrich had inherited. He himself seems to have been dissatisfied with his efforts to keep his father’s heritage together, as he wearily wrote to Forkel: “It is irksome that my blessed father’s things flutter about so. I am too old and too busy to gather them together.” 

Many of Johann Sebastian’s works – including the Credo from the Mass in B minor – were performed in Hamburg. Bach carried on another tradition of his father’s and possessed a considerable collection of portraits of musicians, poets and theologians past and contemporary.

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