Tuesday, January 31, 2017

In the Name of BACH

No. 239 of the ongoing  ITYWLTMT series series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast239

Author’s Note: This is the first of what I hope will be a new tradition on the Tuesday Blog – an original montage part of my ongoing series of podcasts, presented here first rather than on my own website. I plan to do this on the “fifth Tuesday” of the month, so once a quarter.

For our first “Fifth Tuesday” Blog and Podcast, I want to turn my attention to composers of the Bach family other than the Thomaskantor himself.

A quick peek at the Bach family tree allows us to pick out most of the composers on today’s line-up.

Johann Bernhard Bach (1676 –1749) was a second cousin of J. S. Bach. He received his early musical education by his father, Johann Aegidius Bach. He took up his position as organist in Erfurt in 1695, and then took a similar position in Magdeburg. He replaced Johann Christoph Bach as organist in Eisenach, and also as harpsichordist in the court orchestra in 1703. His musical style has been described as being similar to that of Telemann. Most of his musical output has been lost, but amongst his surviving music there are four orchestral suites. It is known that J.S. Bach had individual parts prepared for performance by his orchestra. One of J.B. Bach’s suites opens this week’s montage.

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710 –1784) is the second child and eldest son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach. Despite his acknowledged genius as an organist, improviser and composer, his income and employment were unstable and he died in poverty. On today's montage, a performance of a sonata for two keyboards by W.F. Bach.

Johann Christian Bach (1735 –1782) is the eleventh surviving child and youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. He is sometimes referred to as "the London Bach" or "the English Bach", due to his time spent living in the British capital, where he came to be known as John Bach. He is noted for influencing the symphonies of Mozart. We think of the symphony in the 20th and 21st centuries as the apogee of radicalism and experimentation in the form. But back in the mid-18th century, when this self-sustaining species of public instrumental music was still forming itself in the minds of composers and the ears of listeners, J.C. Bach arguably did more to cultivate an appetite and an audience for instrumental music than anyone else of his time.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714 –1788) is the fifth child and second (surviving) son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach. His second name was given in honor of his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann, a friend of Johann Sebastian Bach. He was known simply as Emanuel to his contemporaries. To distinguish him from his brother Johann Christian, the "London Bach," C.P.E. Bach was known as the "Berlin Bach" during his residence in that city, and later as the "Hamburg Bach" when he succeeded Telemann as Kapellmeister there. Whereas his brother J. C. can be credited with exploring the Symphony as a musical genre, C.P.E. took to the keyboard concerto. According to him, his finest keyboard concertos were the Sei concerti per il cembalo concertato, Wq. 43, which were written to be somewhat more appealing, and somewhat easier to play. His other concertos were written for oboe, flute, and organ. Bach also wrote for more unusual combinations, including an E-flat major concerto for both harpsichord and piano. Additionally, he wrote several sonatinas for one or more keyboards and orchestra.

To conclude this brief survey of the Bach family, we turn to the runt of the litter, P. D. Q. Bach. The twenty-first of Johann Sebastian's twenty children was born in Leipzig on March 31, 1742 and died May 5, 1807. According to the foremost authority on the “lost Bach son”, Professor Peter Schickele, P. D. Q. "possessed the originality of Johann Christian, the arrogance of Carl Philipp Emanuel, and the obscurity of Johann Christoph Friedrich." Schickele divides P. D. Q. Bach's musical output into three periods: the Initial Plunge, the Soused (or Brown-Bag) Period, and Contrition. I believe his Pockelbuchlein (in English: Little Pickle Book) was written in the middle period, though nobody is ever sure…

I think you will love this music too!