Concert Notes: The Brothers Bach

MCO’s The Brothers Bach can be heard on Thursday 29 April 7:30pm & Sunday 2 May 2:30pm at Melbourne Recital Centre; Saturday 1 May 2:30pm at Alexander Theatre, Monash University; and 29 April 7:30 streamed live on Melbourne Digital Concert Hall.


Sinfonia No 6 in G minor WC12
I. Allegro
II. Andante più tosto adagio
III. Allegro molto
Piano Concerto in C minor Wq43/4
I. Allegro assai
II. Poco adagio – Tempo di Minuetto
III. Allegro assai
Sinfonia in F Major F67
I. Vivace
II. Andante
III. Allegro
IV. Menuets I & II
Piano Concerto in E flat major Op 7 No 5 W59
I. Allegro di molto
II. Andante
III. Allegro

In the extensive article in Grove Music Online, Christoph Wolff et al., writing on the Bach family talk about the:

German family of musicians. From the 16th century to the 19th the extensive Saxon-Thuringian Bach family produced an unparalleled and almost incalculable number of musicians of every kind, from fiddlers and town musicians to organists, Kantors, court musicians and Kapellmeisters. The outstanding figure among them was Johann Sebastian Bach, but a great many other well-known and distinguished musicians were born into earlier, contemporary and later generations of the family.

Following JS Bach his sons carried on the musical traditions of the family throughout Europe, evolving styles and tastes of the times and places where they lived and worked.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788), the second surviving son of JS Bach and his first wife Maria Barbara, was an important and influential composer of the second half of the eighteenth century, composing more than 1000 works including songs, oratorios, keyboard dance movements and sonatas, concertos and symphonies.
CPE Bach wrote more than 50 concertos for solo harpsichord as well as numerous works for keyboard and orchestra that were not designated as concertos. The set of six concertos Wq43 were written in Hamburg between 1771 and 1772. They were dedicated to Pietro, Duca Regnante di Curlandia.
These concertos follow the pattern of fast-slow-fast movements. The outer movements of the C minor concerto are designated Allegro assai and frame the delightfully contrasting Poco adagio – Tempo di Minuetto. The movements are composed as a whole without a break between them, giving a sense of immediacy and drive to the work.
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710–1784) was the eldest son of Johann Sebastian and Maria Barbara Bach and, like his siblings, taught by his father. Michael Kennedy in the Oxford Dictionary of Music states that Wilhelm Friedemann was “Possibly also the favourite son, but one who sadly failed to justify parental hopes”. He was regarded as one of the greatest organists of his day and renowned for his improvisatory skills. His compositions include many church cantatas and instrumental works, particularly for keyboard. He wrote ten sinfonias (symphonies), the F major being the first of five published during his time in Dresden where he lived between 1733 and 1746. The work has the nickname “Dissonant”. The opening Vivace, in the style of a French overture, is marked by shifts in tempo and tonality. The Andante is a calm and tender aria. This is followed by a lively Allegro and concludes with a graceful Menuetto.
Johann Christian Bach (1735–1782), the youngest son of JS Bach and Anna Magdalena Bach, was born in Leipzig and on his father’s death moved to Berlin to live with CPE Bach. He studied with Padre Martini in Bologna before taking up an appointment in Milan. It was here that he wrote the first of his operas. In 1762 he moved to London on an initial invitation to write two operas for the King’s Theatre and was later appointed Music Master to Queen Charlotte. He stayed for most of the remainder of his life in London and was often referred to as the ‘English’ or the ‘London’ Bach.
The Six Sinfonias were composed in the 1760s and published in Amsterdam in 1770 as Op 6. Sinfonia No 6 in G minor, the only one in a minor key, is considered one of his greatest works. Tom Service, writing in The Guardian, described this work as “arguably the darkest and most dramatic he composed”. It represents Bach’s venture into the realm of Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) that was to dominate so much music in the years to come. The three short movements are packed with contrast and tension, and all are in a minor key. The opening Allegro is wildly energetic. This is contrasted with the emotional and sombre Andante più tosto adagio. The Allegro molto finale returns to the intensity of the opening movement.
JC Bach’s Concerto in E flat Op 7 No 5 is one of six concertos first published in 1770. The title-page of this set is designated for ‘Harpsichord or Piano Forte’. Although many of Bach’s concertos are in two movements, the Concerto in E flat is in three movements and displays a developing style with an expansion of the scope of the movements. The writing for the keyboard is brilliant and intricate without being over-powering.
After a tempered introduction, the Allegro di molto presents some lovely and intriguing interplay between the soloist and the orchestra. The invention and display lead to the cadenza composed by Bach. The Andante is gracefully lilting and followed by the cheerful and rollicking Allegro finale.
David Forrest
A note about catalogue numbers
CPE Bach’s works were first catalogued by Alfred Wotquenne in 1906, which led to the Wq numbers being used. A revised catalogue was produced in 1989 by E. Eugene Helm resulting in an H numbering system. Both systems are used.
WF Bach’s works were catalogued by Martin Falck in 1913. The catalogue was published as Friedemann Bach: Sein leben und seine werke, mit thematischem vel’Zeichnis seiner kompositionen und zwei bildem and we see the use of the F catalogue numbers.
JC Bach’s works were most recently catalogued by E. Warburton: The Collected Works of Johann Christian Bach 1735–1782, xlviii/1: Thematic Catalogue (New York, 1999) with the letter W used; a number of his works are also designated with opus numbers.