The musical Bach family and Carl Philipp Emanuel’s composing brothers

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach – People and Places

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710–1784), stipple engraving of an unknown master craftsman (1751). (Source: Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Inventar-Nr. A 743)The Bachs were a pronouncedly musical family. Even Anna Magdalena Bach (1701–1760), Johann Sebastian Bach’s second wife, was a singer at the court in Köthen before marrying Johann Sebastian Bach there in 1721. He had assumed the direction of the court orchestra in 1717 succeeding Augustin Reinhard Strickers, who had founded the orchestra just three years earlier. The “Small Piano Book for Anna Magdalena Bach ANNO 1722”, which Bach dedicated to his wife, proves that Anna Magdalena was also a gifted instrumentalist. Of the thirteen (!) children she gave birth to in the course of their marriage – only six of them survived their mother – two of her sons, Johann Christoph Friedrich (1732–1795) and Johann Christian (1735–1782), became famous composers. The other two of Bach’s composing sons, Wilhelm Friedemann (1710-1784) and Carl Philipp Emanuel, stemmed from Bach’s first marriage. This gives an impression of the musical fertility of the Bach family.

All four of Bach’s composing sons achieved greater fame during their lifetime than their father did, whose music was only rediscovered in the 19th century. In accordance with the places they lived and worked, Wilhelm Friedmann was named “the Bach of Halle”, Carl Philipp Emanuel “the Bach of Berlin or Hamburg”, Johann Christoph Friedrich “the Bach of Bückeburg” and Johann Christian the “the Bach of Milan or London”, or “the English Bach” . Beside C. P. E. Bach himself, who, celebrated by Schubart and others as an “original genius”, usually was meant when the “Great Bach” was referred to in the 18th century, it was mostly the youngest brother, Johann Christian Bach, who made musical history. Only fifteen years old when his father died, Johann Christian came into Carl Phillip Emanuel’s custody in Berlin in 1750, who thoroughly taught him how to play the piano. But Johann Christian also lapsed into the neo-Neapolitan Italian fashion prevailing at the opera in Berlin under the influence of Johann Adolf Hasse, and after just five years he travelled to Italy, where he became a student of the eminent music theorist Giovanni Battista, also called Padre Martini (1706–1784), in Naples, and established his European reputation as an opera composer. The year he wrote his most successful opera, Allesandro nell ’Indie (1762), though, he left Italy for London, where he became composer and orchestra director at the King’s Theatre. It was there that he met musical wunderkind Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) two years later, at that time only eight years old, whose music would not have been the same had he not been exposed to the influence of the music composed by “the Bach of London”, as he was to state later. But also C. P. E. Bach, Johann Christian’s mentor in Berlin, was praised by Mozart according to the credentials of Johann Friedrich Rochlitz’: “He’s the father, we are the boys. Those of us who are skilled and able have learned from him (…)”.

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