1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bach, Karl Philipp Emanuel

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BACH, KARL PHILIPP EMANUEL (1714–1788), German musician and composer, the third son of Johann Sebastian Bach, was born at Weimar on the 14th of March 1714. When he was ten years old he entered the Thomasschule at Leipzig, of which in 1723 his father had become cantor, and continued his education as a student of jurisprudence at the universities of Leipzig (1731) and of Frankfort on the Oder (1735). In 1738 he took his degree, but at once abandoned all prospects of a legal career and determined to devote himself to music. A few months later he obtained an appointment in the service of the crown prince of Prussia, on whose accession in 1740 he became a member of the royal household. He was by this time one of the first clavier-players in Europe, and his compositions, which date from 1731, included about thirty sonatas and concerted pieces for his favourite instrument. His reputation was established by the two sets of sonatas which he dedicated respectively to Frederick the Great (1742) and to the grand duke of Württemberg (1744); in 1746 he was promoted to the post of Kammermusikus, and for twenty-two years shared with Karl Heinrich, Graun, Johann Joachim, Quantz and Johann Gottlieb Naumann the continued favour of the king. During his residence at Berlin he wrote a fine setting of the Magnificat (1749), in which he shows more traces than usual of his father’s influence, an Easter cantata (1756), several symphonies and concerted works, at least three volumes of songs,—Geistliche Oden und Lieder, to words by Gellert (1758), Oden mit Melodien (1762) and Sing-Oden (1766), and a few secular cantatas and other pièces d’occasion. But his main work was concentrated on the clavier, for which he composed, at this time, nearly two hundred sonatas and other solos, including the set mit veränderten Reprisen (1760–1768) and a few of those für Kenner und Liebhaber. Meanwhile he placed himself in the forefront of European critics by his Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (first part 1753, second, with the first reprinted, 1762), a systematic and masterly treatise which by 1780 had reached its third edition, and which laid the foundation for the methods of Clementi and Cramer. In 1768 Bach succeeded Georg Philipp Telemann as Kapellmeister at Hamburg, and in consequence of his new office began to turn his attention more towards church music. Next year he produced his oratorio Die Israeliten in der Wüste, a composition remarkable not only for its great beauty but for the resemblance of its plan to that of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and between 1769 and 1788 added over twenty settings of the Passion, a second oratorio Der Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu (1777), and some seventy cantatas, litanies, motets and other liturgical pieces. At the same time his genius for instrumental composition was further stimulated by the career of Haydn, to whom he sent a letter of high appreciation, and the climax of his art was reached in the six volumes of sonatas für Kenner und Liebhaber, to which he devoted the best work of his last ten years. He died at Hamburg on the 14th of December 1788.

Through the latter half of the 18th century the reputation of K. P. E. Bach stood very high. Mozart said of him, “He is the father, we are the children”; the best part of Haydn’s training was derived from a study of his work; Beethoven expressed for his genius the most cordial admiration and regard. This position he owes mainly to his clavier sonatas, which mark an important epoch in the history of musical form. Lucid in style, delicate and tender in expression, they are even more notable for the freedom and variety of their structural design; they break away altogether from the exact formal antithesis which, with the composers of the Italian school, had hardened into a convention, and substitute the wider and more flexible outline which the great Viennese masters showed to be capable of almost infinite development. The content of his work, though full of invention, lies within a somewhat narrow emotional range, but it is not less sincere in thought than polished and felicitous in phrase. Again he was probably the first composer of eminence who made free use of harmonic colour for its own sake, apart from the movement of contrapuntal parts, and in this way also he takes rank among the most important pioneers of the school of Vienna. His name has now fallen into undue neglect, but no student of music can afford to disregard his Sonaten für Kenner und Liebhaber, his oratorio Die Israeliten in der Wüste, and the two concertos (in G major and D major) which have been republished by Dr Hugo Riemann.

A list of his voluminous compositions may be found in Eitner’s Quellen Lexikon, and a critical account of them is given in Bitter’s C. P. E. und W. F. Bach und deren Brüder (2 vols., Berlin, 1868), a mine of valuable though ill-arranged information.

Four more of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sons grew to manhood and became musicians. The eldest of them, Wilhelm Friedermann Bach (1710–1784) was by common repute the most gifted; a famous organist, a famous improvisor and a complete master of counterpoint. But, unlike the rest of the family, he was a man of idle and dissolute habits, whose career was little more than a series of wasted opportunities. Educated at Leipzig, he was appointed in 1733 organist of the Sophienkirche at Dresden, and in 1747 became musical director of the Liebfrauenkirche at Halle. The latter office he was compelled to resign in 1764, and thenceforward he led a wandering life until, on the 1st of July 1784, he died in great poverty at Berlin. His compositions, very few of which were printed, include many church cantatas and instrumental works, of which the most notable are the fugues, polonaises and fantasias for clavier, and an interesting sestet for strings, clarinet and horns. Several of his manuscripts are preserved in the Royal library at Berlin; and a complete list of his works, so far as they are known, may be found in Eitner’s Quellen Lexikon.

The fourth son, Johann Gottfried Bernhard Bach (1715–1739) was, like his elder brothers, born at Weimar and educated at Leipzig. From 1735 to 1738 he held successively the organistships at Mühlhausen and Sangerhausen; in 1738 he threw up his appointment and went to study law at Jena; in 1739 he died, aged 24.

Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732–1795), the ninth son, was born at Leipzig, studied at the Thomasschule and the university, and in 1750 was appointed Kapellmeister at Bückeburg. He was an industrious composer, especially of church-music and opera, whose work reflects no discredit on the family name.

Johann Christian Bach (1735–1782), the eleventh son, was born at Leipzig, and on the death of his father in 1750 became the pupil of his brother Emanuel at Berlin. In 1754 he went to Italy where he studied under Padre Martini, and from 1760 to 1762 held the post of organist at Milan cathedral, for which he wrote two Masses, a Requiem, a Te Deum and other works. Having also gained some reputation as a composer of opera, he was in 1762 invited to London and there spent the rest of his life. For twenty years he was the most popular musician in England, his dramatic works, produced at the King’s theatre, were received with great cordiality, he was appointed music-master to the queen, and his concerts, given in partnership with Abel at the Hanover Square rooms, soon became the most fashionable of public entertainments. He is of some historical interest as the first composer who preferred the pianoforte to the older keyed-instruments; but his works, though elegant and pleasing, were ephemeral in character and have been deservedly forgotten.

A full account of J. C. Bach’s career is given in the fourth volume of Burney’s History of Music, and a catalogue of his compositions in an article by Max Schwarz, published in the Sammelbände of the Internationale Musik-Gesellschaft, Jhrg. ii. p. 401.  (W. H. Ha.)