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German composer and theorist.

Career Summary

The second surviving son of J. S. Bach and his first wife Maria Barbara Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel was trained in music by his father and, at the age of 24, entered the service of Crown Prince Frederick (later King Frederick the Great) at the Court of Berlin, where he spent nearly thirty years. In 1768 he was made director of sacred music in Hamburg and remained in that city for the rest of his life; for this reason he is sometimes referred to as the "Hamburg" Bach.

Bach was a prolific composer; more than 1,000 works are attributed to him, of which the vast majority are solo and chamber works for or involving keyboard instruments; his output also includes concertos and symphonies, and some sacred and secular vocal music. He is perhaps best known for his solo keyboard music, which includes important early published sets, for the King of Prussia (1742–43) and the Duke of Württemberg (1744); but the collections that Schenker knew best are his six volumes of sonatas, rondos, and free fanatasies für Kenner und Liebhaber, published between 1779 and 1787.

While renewed interest in his music among performers and critics has grown steadily in recent times, he is still best remembered for his two-volume theoretical treatise written in Berlin, the Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments (1753–62), often referred to by the first word of its German title, Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, which covers not only playing technique and figured bass realization but also matters of composition and improvisation.

C. P. E. Bach and Schenker

For Schenker, Carl Philipp Emanuel was the only son of J. S. Bach worthy of serious study; he was also the only composer whom the theorist elevated to a higher rank than posterity had previously accorded him, admitting him into his highly selective circle of musical geniuses. His engagement with C. P. E. Bach may be divided into three phases, the first of which begins with his edition of ten selected works "for connoisseurs and amateurs." This was published in a single volume in 1902, entitled Phil. Em. Bach: Klavierwerke (kritische Ausgabe) , and subsequently issued in two half-volumes. Two years later Schenker completed a comprehensive study of ornamentation in mid- and late 18th-century keyboard music, Ein Beitrag zur Ornamentik , whose subtitle, however, explains its origins as "An Introduction to the Keyboard Works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach ...."

In the second phase, which dates from the mid-1920s, Schenker analyzed three works by Bach: the sonata that inaugurated the "connoisseurs and amateurs" series and Schenker's 1902 edition, a didactic piece from a collection that his pupil Otto Vrieslander had edited, and the "free fantasy" in D major which Bach had used in the Versuch to exemplify improvisation from a harmonic-contrapuntal plan. (It hardly needs stressing that Bach's presentation of such a plan alongside the finished work resonates strongly with Schenker's notion of Auskomponierung and with his later analytical practice: the Urlinie-Tafeln, or "analyses in sketchform.")

Finally, in 1930, Schenker lent his support to a project to bring out a collected edition of Bach's works under the auspices of the Photogram Archive at the Austrian National Library. Plans for this undertaking loom large in his diary entries, and an editorial assistant (Ernst Friitz Schmid) was engaged for the project; Schmid was later to achieve renown as a C. P. E. Bach scholar in his own right. But the edition was ultimately abandoned, partly because the Archive's patron, Anthony van Hoboken, was unwilling to invest sufficient financial resources and partly because Schenker, in declining health and desperate to complete Free Composition , was reluctant to take on a heavy editorial responsibility.

In spite of backing away from the collected edition, Schenker continued to express his admiration for Bach. In correspondence with Moriz Violin from the 1920s and '30s, he often remarked how their spiritual union was reinforced by his friend's residence in the German city most closely associated with Bach. And in a letter to the physicist Albert Einstein from the early 1930s (drafted but never sent), he described Free Composition as the most important treatise on music since the Versuch. One of his pupils, Otto Vrieslander, took up the C. P. E. Bach cause with great enthusiasm. Later, largely through the influence of Hans Weisse in the 1930s, William J. Mitchell in New York developed an avid interest in the Versuch and published the first complete English translation in 1949.

In the course of his career, Schenker accumulated three copies of the Versuch, all of which existed in his library at his death in 1935: his annotated copy of the 1787-98 edition (Leipzig: Schwickert ‒ acquired by Felix Salzer from Jeanette Schenker in 1936, now in the Felix Salzer Papers, New York Public Library, Series II Heinrich Schenker Nachlass, b.57/f.2, 6/156); the 1856 edition of both parts by G. Schilling (Berlin: Stage); and the 1906 abbreviated edition by W. Niemann (Leipzig: Kahnt), which Schenker refers to in the Preface to the second edition of his Beitrag zur Ornamentik , 1908. The latter two items were sold in c.1936. Schenker's lessonbooks demonstrate that the Versuch was a valuable tool in his teaching.

Schenker's Publications

  • (ed.) Phil. Em. Bach: Klavierwerke (kritische Ausgabe) (Vienna: Universal Edition, [1903])
  • Ein Beitrag zur Ornamentik. Als Einführung zu Ph. Em. Bachs Klavierwerken mitumfassend auch die Ornamentik Haydns Mozarts u. Beethovens etc. (Vienna: Universal Edition, 1903, 2/1908); Eng. trans. as "A Contribution to the Study of Ornamentation," by Hedi Siegel in The Music Forum IV, ed. F. Salzer (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976), pp. 1–139
  • "C. P. E. Bach's Allegro in G Major" and "C. P. E. Bach's Keyboard Sonata in C Major," Der Tonwille, vol. 1, pp. 148–52; Ger. orig. in Tonwille 4 (1923), 8–11
  • "The Art of Improvisation," The Masterwork in Music I, pp. 2–19; Ger. orig. in Meisterwerk I, 11–40

Vrieslander's Publications

  • (ed.) C. P. E. Bach: Kurze und leichte Clavierstücke: Neue kritische Ausgabe mit erläuterndem Nachwort (Vienna: Universal Edition, 1914; 2d edn rev. Oswald Jonas, 1962)
  • (ed.) C. P. E. Bach: Lieder und Gesänge (Munich: Drei Masken Verlag, 1922)
  • Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (Munich: Piper, 1923)
  • "Philipp Emanuel Bach als Theoretiker," in Von neuer Musik, ed. H. Grues, vol. 1 (Cologne, 1925), pp. 222–79
  • (ed.) C. P. E. Bach: Vier leichte Sonaten (Hannover: Nagel, 1932)

Salzer's Publication

  • "Über die Bedeutung der Ornamente in Philipp Emanuel Bachs Klavierwerken," Zeitschrift für Musikwissenschaft 12/7 (1930), 398‒418


  • The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Grove Music Online)
  • E. Eugene Helm, Thematic Catalogue of the Works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989)


  • William Drabkin

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