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Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714 - 1788)

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (or C. P. E. Bach or even CPE Bach as his name is often abbreviated), was the second surviving son of the great Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach, Bach's first wife. Indeed during his lifetime CPE Bach was almost as well-known as his father, though that is in part because the younger man became the musical director for Frederick the Great of Prussia, a post he was to hold for nearly 30 years. JS Bach taught CPE Bach (indeed all his children) keyboard playing and composition, including Baroque techniques such as counterpoint, so CPE Bach's early musical life was steeped in the Baroque traditions. However in composition terms he was to go off in different directions. He became instrumental in laying the groundwork for Sonata Form, which was to become so important during the Classical Period and beyond, and the 3 movement sonata in particular, before composers such as Haydn and Mozart refined them into the form we know today. CPE Bach was therefore highly influential in the development of classical music, and his music was much admired by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and others.

Johann Christian Bach (from Gainsborough portrait) As a musician CPE Bach concentrated on playing keyboard instruments such as the harpsichord, clavichord and fortepiano. He was certainly familiar with other instruments such as the violin, but his left-handedness was an obstacle to him becoming a virtuoso string player. He did however write a treatise on keyboard playing techniques, which also served to spread his fame, since it became something of a standard text for keyboard students. His own music was of course heavily influenced by his father, but also by his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann, Handel and other near contemporaries including the young Haydn. It is worth noting that Bach had 11 sons in total and among these was his youngest son (by his 2nd wife Anna Magdalena Bach) called Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), who was also musically talented and was later to become known as the "London Bach". JC Bach also played an important role in the development of the Sonata Form and the Concerto in particular, so was also an important influence on Haydn and Mozart. There was a 21 year gap in their ages, and the young Johann Christian lived and worked with his older brother Carl Philipp Emanuel when their father died in 1750.

When CPE Bach first went to work for Frederick the Great in Berlin, Frederick was still the Crown Prince but he became King of Prussia within 2 years. Being the musical director for an important monarch based in Berlin meant that CPE Bach was exposed to a rich musical and cultural environment, meeting and interacting with important and talented people, including artists, musicians and composers. As well as composing, teaching, accompanying and giving performances, it was during this time that he was to publish his Essay on Keyboard Technique. However there were more mundane aspects of his role there, such as accompanying the King (who was a flautist) while the monarch practiced flute concertos and sonatas. When CPE Bach finally left his post in 1768 having worked for Frederick for close to 30 years, he went on to succeed his godfather Telemann as director of music at Hamburg. This role required the creation of music for the churches in Hamburg, so the pendulum of his musical output was to swing more towards religious works during this period including oratorios, cantatas and other works of a religious nature.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Perhaps it's a universal that people often rebel in some way against the teachings of their parents. While CPE Bach clearly absorbed the teachings of his father and was respectful of his accomplishments, his music differs in many respects. This is not just in his exploration of sonata form, but also in terms of his innovations or quirks depending on how you view them. Although he lived several decades before classical music's Romantic Era, he nevertheless anticipated it's greater emphasis on the emotional possibilities of music. Many of his pieces demonstrate the "Empfindsamer Stil" (or sensitive style) which emerged in Germany at this time, concentrating on the expessive aspects of music with lots of contrast, unexpected textural shifts and a degree of chromaticism. Some of his more stormy works also demonstrate another artistic movement emerging in Germany at this time called "Sturm und Drang" (Storm and Stress), which meant music that leans more towards the passionate emotions. Other quirks of CPE Bach's music may be related to his skills as an improviser, giving him freedom of expression and allowing his music to head unapologetically in unexpected directions. You could sum all this up by saying that Carl Philipp Emanuel enhanced the expressive and dramatic aspects of music, taking it away from the Baroque and aiming in new directions towards the Classical and Romantic Eras.

Music by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Solfeggietto Like many composers CPE Bach was prodigious in his output and many of his works have identical or similar names, so a system to catalogue his works and give them unique identifiers is essential to avoid confusion. For CPE Bach's music the most recent and comprehensive catalogue was created by E. Eugene Helm in 1989 giving his works "H numbers". However many earlier published works use the "Wq identifiers" from an earlier catalogue created by Alfred Wotquenne in 1905. We have used both identifiers when listing certain specific works below:

  • Many Keyboard Concertos (mostly Harpsichord or Organ)
  • Some Concertos for other instruments including Cello, Oboe and Flute
  • A huge number of Keyboard Sonatas, including many grouped into sets e.g. Sonata in F minor (H 75, Wq 63:6) - here's the 1st movement of this Sonata
  • Other keyboard works and collections including:


    Various Rondos, Fantasias, Fugues, Variations, etc.
    Marches e.g. his March in D (H1/1) is included in the "A. M. Bach Notebook"
    Various Dances including Polonaises, Minuets, etc.
    A number of Solfeggios including the one in C minor known as Solfeggietto (H 220, Wq 117:2)
    Various "character pieces" with desciptive names such as La Caroline in A minor (H 98, Wq 117:39)

  • Other Sonatas/Chamber Music including Trio Sonatas, Solo Sonatas, Accompanied Sonatas, Quartets and Duets
  • Several Symphonies including String Symphonies
  • Many Songs and Arias
  • Religious works including Cantatas, Passions, Oratorios, Motets and the Macnificat in D minor

Examples of CPE Bach's Music on mfiles

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach - Recommendations

There are lots of recordings of CPE Bach's music, including much on Youtube and Spotify. In terms of music on CD or download albums, we suggest looking at the following items on Amazon: