Tomb slab of C. P. E. Bach in Hamburg (Source: Hamburg, Kirchengemeinde St. Michaelis)^

Death and Posthumous Fame

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

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach died aged 74 in Hamburg, from a “sickness of the chest” that is not specified any further, and was buried five days later in the crypt at St. Michael’s church. He was held in high esteem even after his death – especially by the ensuing generation of composers such as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

His works and his musical stance – as presented in the Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments – make him the most significant representative of the period of transition between the Late Baroque and the Classical. He – and his many students in Frankfurt, Berlin and Hamburg – effectively formed the ensuing generations more than we are aware of today. Bachs dictum from his Essay, that one must “let the fingers speak from the soul or sentience to transfer that passion onto the audience that the composer intended to stir,” is of timeless validity – and it remains seminal beyond the long-disregarded period of “sensitivity” to this day. 

 

Commemorative plaque under the north gallery (“Musikempore” – the music gallery) of St. Michael’s in Hamburg. (Source: Städtenetzwerk C. P. E. Bach *1714).

I.
Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach,
Sebastians Sohn,
wurde in Weimar gebohren,
zu der Friede der Einwohner:
denn sie wußten,
daß in diesem Geschlecht
die Gabe der Musik erblich sey.
Wie die gute Vorbedeutung eintraf,
höret ihr überall
und leset es auch
an seiner Urne in Hamburg,
wo er starb.

II.
Steh hier nicht still, Nachahmer,
Denn du mußt erröthen, wenn du bleibest,
Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach,
der tiefsinnige Harmonist,
vereinte die Neuheit mit der Schönheit,
war groß
in der vom Worte geleiteten Musik
größer
in der kühnen, wortlosen,
übertraf den Erfinder der Musik:
denn er erhob die Kunst des Spiels,
durch die Lehre und Ausübung,
bis zu dem Vollendeten

Geb. 1714
Gest. 1788

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, two inscription for monuments in Weimar (I) and St. Michael’s in Hamburg (II), in: Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung 2 (1799/1800), Sp. 421 f.

Ruprecht Langer, Dr. Christine Blanken, Dr. Christiane Hausmann


The quotes used above can be found in:

Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel: Briefe und Dokumente, edited by Ernst Suchalla, vol. 1-2, Göttingen 1994

Burney, Charles: Tagebuch einer musikalischen Reise durch Frankreich und Italien, durch Flandern, die Niederlande und am Rhein bis Wien, durch Böhmen, Sachsen, Brandenburg, Hamburg und Holland 1770-1772, published in 1773.


Note from the translator: although great care has been taken to produce an English text that is very faithful to the German original, these are not certified translations of the Bach quotes and only the German text is official.