Debates on musical aesthetics, musicians as authors and authors as musicians

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach – People and Places

Denis Diderot (1713–1784), portrait by Louis-Michel van Loo (1767). (Source: Wikipedia)Among the intellectuals C. P. E. Bach was friendly or acquainted with there were at least as many poets and authors as there were musicians. Around the mid-eighteenth century a lively debate regarding musical aesthetics emerged, bringing forth an array of treatises on the subject; the relation of music and literature was characterised by a more intense exchange of ideas than it had been in other ages. Even such an influential man as Jean Jacques Rousseau was a prodigy in both fields, music and literature, publishing his Dictionnaire de musique in 1765, while as a proponent of the Enlightenment Denis Diderot, known for his encyclopedia, saw his own musical attitudes realised in the music of C. P. E. Bach. Of all the musical authors and writing musicians among Bach’s friends, Johann Friedrich Reichardt (1752–1814), Johann Nikolaus Forkel (1749–1818), Johann Friedrich Agricola (1720–1774), Christoph Daniel Ebeling (1741–1817), Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg (1737–1823) as well as Englishman Dr. Charles Burney (1726–1814) need special mention.

The widespread interest in musical aesthetics to be registered during the Enlightenment was part of a general interest in aesthetics, in the observance of beauty and grandeur in art and nature, leading to the introduction of aesthetics as an independent discipline of philosophy by Alexander Baumgarten (Aesthetica, 1750–58) and eventually reaching its zenith two years after C. P. E. Bach’s death in Kant’s Critique of Judgement (Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790).

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