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C. P. E. Bach and the history of music.


Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach belongs among the few musicians who left a mark in the history of music well beyond his contributions as a famous virtuoso and a distinguished composer. As author of the earliest biography of his father, he significantly shaped the perception of J. S. Bach's life until the present day. Elis own autobiography of 1772 gives much insight into his art and contemporaneous musical life. His large music library and extensive collection of musician portraits opens a window on the composer's curatorial activities. Finally, the context of the double-choir Heilig Wq 217 sheds light on his promotion of religious concert music, his concern about his own posthumous legacy, and his original style with its impact on the music that would follow.


A true son of the age of reason who missed experiencing only the first and last decades of the eighteenth century, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) belongs among the very few among his contemporaries who consciously and quite regularly demonstrated clear historical awareness regarding the music of their own time as well as that of earlier periods. Bach even belonged to the very few who at the time made use of the term "musikalische Geschichte." For example, in the preface to the first volume of his influential Versuch uber die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (Berlin, 1753) he referred to learning from the exemplary role played by those "who were able to make a great name for themselves in the musical world." (1) However, this kind of general reference to the major keyboard artists of the past does not mean much beyond the simple fact that the study of exempla classica, that is, the learning from classic models of the past, had been an essential educational concept ever since Renaissance humanism. The young Bach was trained by this method at the Leipzig St. Thomas School.

The question of musical progress over time in a more general sense emerged only gradually during the eighteenth century, but eventually led to such imposing surveys as Charles Burney's A General History of Music (London, 1776-89) and Johann Nicolaus Forkel's Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik (Leipzig, 1788-1801). Bach cultivated personal connections with both authors, but he was already familiar with the more limited discussions of historical developments to be found, for instance, in some of Johann Mattheson's writings or in the more specialized Abhandlung von der Fuge (Berlin, 1753-54) (2) by Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg. In his youth, Bach may even have overheard pertinent remarks in his father's studio when the latter discussed what he eventually put into a 1731 memorandum, namely, "that the state of music is quite different from what it was, since our artistry has increased very much, and the taste has changed astonishingly, and accordingly the former style of music no longer seems to please our ears....," (3)

Emanuel Bach's 1753 book, along with the companion volume by Johann Joachim Quantz and the writings by Marpurg, Johann Friedrich Agricola, Johann Philipp Kirnberger and others, provide evidence of the unique intellectual atmosphere the young Frederick II, King of Prussia, brought to the Berlin of the 1740s, an atmosphere that had vibrant repercussions throughout the second half of the century. Living in the Prussian capital for thirty years, and forging close personal and reciprocal relationships with the intellectual elite there--notably Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Wilhelm Ludewig Gleim, and Karl Wilhelm Ramler--left a lasting impact on the composer's intellectual horizon and literary taste. It also determined the comparable makeup of his later Hamburg circle of friends: Johann Andreas Cramer, Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg, Christoph Daniel Ebeling, Johann Joachim Eschenburg, and Johann Heinrich Voss, all leading charismatic figures in the scholarly and literary world of the northern Hanseatic region, but with considerable influence beyond. No other eighteenth-century composer moved so closely and extensively in intellectual circles of such distinction.


Bach owned a leather-bound copy of Johann Mattheson's Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte (Hamburg, 1740), probably from the library of his father (see below). This first published collection of biographies of prominent musicians included a number of autobiographies, among them a rather extensive one by Georg Philipp Telemann, (4) Bach's godfather. He would also have known Mattheson's 1761 German translation of John Mainwaring's Memoirs of the Life of the Late George Frederic Handel (London, 1760), the first full-length musician biography. Hence, he was well prepared and ready in 1772 to write an autobiographical statement at the request of Charles Burney. Although the Englishman later reshaped it into a third-person biography for his book on The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Provinces (London, 1773, pp. 260-66), only the German edition included Bach's original text verbatim. (5)

This account written in 1772, however, was not Bach's first piece of biographical writing. He also had been the principal author of the obituary for his father, commissioned by Lorenz Christoph Mizler and published in the Musikalische Bibliothek 4, no. 1 (Leipzig, 1754), four years after it had actually been written and submitted. (6) Johann Friedrich Agricola, coauthor of the obituary, contributed the general assessment of his much admired teacher's accomplishments at the end, but the Bach son wrote the considerably more extensive biographical section. Eulogies, of course, invariably focus on the positive sides of the life of the deceased, and often include anecdotes. If the author happens to be a first-degree descendant, however, subjectivity is bound to reign high. Thus J. S. Bach's obituary presents a father's life seen through the lens of a son. In other words, the only historical narrative available on (he elder composer's life lacks an outsider's perspective--more or less to the same degree as an autobiography does.

Nevertheless, the son-biographer clearly avoided giving his account too noticeable a personal touch, and he tried to be an objective reporter when, for example, describing the premature death of his own mother rather matter-of-factly as a "misfortune"--with no mention whatsoever of the family's grief or his own traumatic recollection. Moreover, he curiously seems to rely predominantly on hearsay. With the sole exception of the Potsdam visit to the Prussian court in 1747 where he was an eyewitness, all other stories--from the book copied by the little boy by moonlight, to the Hamburg organ recital with the princely accolade by old Reinken, or the aborted showdown with Louis Marchand--originate from tales heard from his father, probably more than once. Strangely, he wrote virtually nothing meaningful about the crucial Leipzig period, although he himself had experienced the particularly relevant first decade firsthand, and had served, at least in part, as an assistant to his father. Disappointingly, all he wrote about the Leipzig years amounts to: "The town of Leipzig chose our Bach in the year 1723 as its Music Director and Cantor at the St. Thomas School." (7)

On the other hand, the two rather lengthy opening paragraphs of the obituary represent a most original account of the early history of the family, based on the family genealogy compiled in 1735 by his father. The son had inherited his father's genealogical manuscript of the Ursprung der Musicalisch-Bachischen Familie. (8) Its autograph is lost, but a copy in the hand of C. P. E. Bach's daughter and secretary Anna Carolina Philippina survived, with late additions by her father, which indicate the latter's interest in amending his own father's pertinent research. He added, for example, a remark on the Eisenach composer Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703): "this is the great and expressive composer." He made sure that some detailed information about his uncle Johann Jacob (1655-1722) did not get lost when he amended his father's entry by adding: "From Bender he journeyed to Constantinople, and there he had instruction on the flute from the famous flutist Buffardin, who had traveled to Constantinople with a French Ambassador. This information was furnished by Buffardin himself when he once visited J. S. Bach in Leipzig." (9) A third example, closer to home, pertains to the Meiningen court Kapellmeister Johann Ludwig Bach (1677-1731), with annotations on the latter's son and grandson, court organists and court painters: "Both father and son are excellent portrait painters. The latter [Johann Philipp Bach, my godchild] visited me last summer [1773] and painted my portrait, catching the likeness excellently." (10)

Emanuel Bach clearly intended to continue his father's self-styled role as family historian and archivist, as became apparent when he opened the obituary by stating emphatically: "Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common." There follows a two-paragraph summary of his ancestral background, with a revealing conclusion at the end: "... the obligation we have of establishing and keeping fresh the memory of worthy men will sufficiently excuse us to those who may have found this little excursion into the musical history of the Bach family too lengthy."

Oddly, Bach did not pick up on the extended family background in his own autobiography. At the beginning, he merely mentioned his parents and remarked that his mother's father was Johann Michael Bach, "a thorough composer." On the other hand he kept stressing the influence of his parental home when referring to the lack of foreign travel, which

   would have been more disadvantageous to me in my profession if I
   had not had the special good fortune since [my] youth to hear,
   close by, the finest of all kinds of music and to make a great many
   acquaintances among masters of the first rank, sometimes winning
   their friendship. In my youth I had this advantage already at
   Leipzig, for scarcely any master of music passed through this place
   without learning to know my father and getting heard by him. The
   greatness that distinguished this father of mine in composition and
   in organ and clavier playing was much too renowned for a musician
   of standing to let the chance go by of learning to know this great
   man better, if at all possible.

Twenty-plus years after his father's death, Bach apparently thought that he could take his reputation for granted even with an Englishman like Burney. Therefore, he focused on his own musical contributions, provided a complete list of his published works, and kept the autobiography totally devoid of anecdotes. But he did not withhold his critical views regarding recent trends in musical composition:

   Regarding all that [music] which could be heard [then,] especially
   in Berlin and Dresden, I need not say much. Who does not know the
   moment when a new phase, so to speak, started both in music as a
   whole and in its most accurate and refined performance in
   particular, whereby musical art rose to such a height that, as I
   have feared in my [own] mind, it has already lost much in certain
   respects. I believe, [along] with many perceptive men, that the
   [musical] comedy [that is] now so popular has [played] the largest
   part in this [trend]. Without citing individuals who, one might
   charge, have contributed little or nothing to comedy, I shall cite
   the greatest master of comedy now living, Signor [Baldassare]
   Galuppi, who fully agreed with me [while visiting, in 1765] in my
   house in Berlin and at that time related some very droll incidents
   that he had experienced, even in several Italian churches. I have
   had to content myself, and moreover content myself very gladly,
   with hearing, in addition to the great masters of our fatherland,
   the outstanding [music] of every sort that the foreign lands have
   sent over to us in Germany. And I do not believe any sort of music
   remains in which I have not heard some of the greatest masters.

He made three points regarding his musical experiences over at least thirty years. First, he stressed the significant advances regarding accuracy and refinement of musical performance made from the 1720s through the 1740s, and notably in Dresden and Berlin. This refers in particular to the new role that differentiated articulation and dynamics play in the fabric of musical composition, demonstrable especially in the works written for the Prussian court Kapelle by the musicians from the circle of Frederick II, but also noticeable in the keyboard works of J. S. Bach, and even in the latter's revisions of vocal pieces from the 1730s and 1740s.

Second, C. P. E. Bach took issue with and regretted an increasing popular trend that in his opinion--as shared by his crown witness Galuppi--had its origin in musical comedy, that is, comic opera, and resulted in a cheapening of the art. Third, he pontificated a bit by claiming familiarity with any kind of music written by the greatest masters from anywhere. The kind of self-confidence expressed in his capacity as a musical authority of note is similarly on display in the concluding paragraphs of his autobiography, where he stated:

   Since I have never liked excessive uniformity in composition and
   taste, since I have heard such a quantity and variety of good
   [things], since I have always been of the opinion that one could
   derive some good, whatever it may be, even if it is only a matter
   of minute details in a piece: Lit is] probably from such
   [considerations] and from my natural, God-given ability that the
   variety which has been observed in my works originated.

He then continued:

   At this point I must observe that the critics, even if they write
   without passion, as still rarely happens, very often treat the
   compositions that they review too harshly, since they do not know
   the circumstances, proscriptions, and occasions of the pieces. How
   very rarely does one encounter a critic with an appropriate degree
   of sensitivity, knowledge, fairness, and courage--four attributes
   that simply must exist to a sufficient extent in every critic.
   Hence it is very sad for the world of music that criticism, very
   useful in other respects, often is an occupation of persons such as
   are not endowed with all these attributes.

Burney, by the way, did not include this last section in his travel report, (11) but he mentioned some of the "complaints made against his [Bach's] pieces, for being long, difficult, fantastic, and far-fetched," (12) only to refute them, for he truly admired the composer.

Bach, in turn, seems to have shown great respect for Dr. Burney as well, but he later had to take issue with a statement in Burney's report on the 1784 Handel commemoration in London. The pamphlet was published in a German translation by Bach's friend Johann Joachim Eschenburg, and prompted Bach to react in an anonymous letter published in the academic journal Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek (1788). Burney had written "that in his full, masterly, and excellent organ-fugues, upon the most natural and pleasing subjects, he [Handel] has surpassed Frescobaldi, and even Sebastian Bach and other of his countrymen, (he most renowned for abilities in this difficult and elaborate species of composition." (13) Bach clearly could not let this stand, and went out of his way to elaborate in a multipage comparison between the two composers. His central point is actually made in only two sentences: "Handel's fugues are good," he. writes, "but he often abandons a voice. Bach's clavier fugues can be set out for as many instruments as they have voices; no voice fails to receive its proper share, and every one is carried through properly." (11)

By 1788, J. S. Bach as composer of fugues hardly needed a defender, so it is difficult to understand why the son, without revealing his identity, felt the need to react with such forcefulness. Burney's comparison probably struck a nerve, and it happened at a time when C. P. E. Bach was in the process of furnishing Johann Nicolaus Forkel with first-hand information for a projected full-scale biography of his father. Throughout the son's life the Herculean figure of a father continued to be both overpowering and a source of great pride.

Bach's commitments vis-a-vis the family's material and in particular the legacy of his father began with the 1750 obituary project, and indicated that his historical views were on the whole quite confined, with a strong focus on the family tradition and an obvious perception of its special qualities, even uniqueness. But he didn't find himself without company when it came to assessing his father's compositional art. Agricola joined him from the beginning, and Marpurg, Kirnberger, and others quickly and effectively chimed in. After the Thomaskantor's death and without delay, this strong Berlin constituency of C. P. E. Bach's musician friends and former Leipzig Bach students engaged in a seemingly synchronous effort, yet individually and largely independent from one another, with the firm goal of establishing the musical legacy of J. S. Bach as significant cultural capital.


Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was a methodical and responsible man, well organized and reliable. If anyone deserves primary credit for keeping memorable objects and important information pertaining to the Bach family together and saving them for posterity, it is he. Ever since his father's death, much of his pastime and resources were devoted to the task of handling Bachiana of all sorts. This included preserving and complementing his paternal inheritance, helping his youngest half-brother Johann Christian to make his way, supporting his sisters and stepsisters in Leipzig, maintaining and providing access to a major music collection in his house, making commercial copies of major works by his father for interested parties, and establishing at his house a steadily expanding music museum assembled around some core family portraits.

When in 1768 Bach relocated to the Kantor's office at the Hamburg Johanneum, its general character, outlook, and probably physical surroundings must have reminded him of his father's office at the 14 St. Thomas School. Although we are much less informed about the Johanneum's music library than we are about the extensive collection at the St. Thomas School, C. P. E. Bach seems to have relied more on his own collection than on that of the school. The same had also been true of his father, whose practical use of the old library right next to the Kantor's office appears to have been very limited. Nevertheless, the Thomaskantor seems to have assisted his cousin Johann Gottfried Walther in compiling for the latter's music dictionary project some repertoire information about older materials apparently available only in Leipzig. (15)

A full-scale comparison between C. P. E. Bach's and his father's music libraries and particularly their historical components is not really possible, since the information on J. S. Bach's holdings is far more incomplete, and no inventory is available. But some general conclusions can be drawn not only about their known contents but also about their quite different utilization. C. P. E. Bach's music collection is documented primarily by the estate catalog (Nachlass Verzeichnis) published by his widow in 1790--a well-organized and detailed listing of all of the late composer's published and unpublished instrumental and vocal works, as well as of compositions by his father and brothers, their ancestors, and other older but mainly contemporary composers (see fig. 1). (16) The bulk of the repertoire consisted in C. P. E. Bach's own large output, as well as music by his contemporaries. The historical components, however, were for the most part related to his paternal inheritance: (1) a substantial part of his father's music, (2) the Alt-Bachisches Archiv with vocal compositions by his ancestors, and (3) music by various composers of different generations going back all the way to Palestrina that J. S. Bach had assembled for study and performance.

Emanuel Bach, however, did not inherit much of his father's extensive and varied holdings of early keyboard music, like Buxtehude, Frescobaldi, Froberger, French clavecinistes, etc. The Bach son apparently did not acquire this kind of retrospective material on his own, and relied entirely on what he had once learned at home. He probably had no interest in, and certainly no need for it, because unlike his father he never maintained an active studio for teaching advanced and professional-level keyboard students. Also, his keyboard treatise is an entirely forward-looking, pragmatic work with no need for historical references. He mentions his father five times and Francois Couperin once; curiously, only a single Couperin manuscript can be traced to his library (one that he obtained in Leipzig), (17) whereas his father is known to have possessed several.

The estate catalog of 1790 does not present a complete picture of Bach's library. In order to complement the information it is necessary to also consult the sales catalog of the "Bachsche Auction" of 1789, which contains a larger portion of C. P. E. Bach's original holdings that were separately put up for sale by the widow in the year immediately following her husband's death. (18) There we find, for example, scores and performing parts of several works by Handel (including his Funeral Anthem HWV 264), and notably music books, a category completely absent from the estate catalog. Since we have so little knowledge about Bach's bookshelves, the 1789 auction catalog provides some useful information. Of historical items, it contains, for example, all three volumes of Michael Praetorius's Syntagma musicum (1614-20), Martin Geier's Herrn Heinrich Schutzens ... Lebens-Lauff (1672), Johann David Heinichen's Der General-Bass in der Composition (1728), and Mattheson's Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte (1740)--these older items presumably all stemming from his father's library. Incidentally, in 1772 Bach presented Charles Burney with a gift of two very old books from his father's collection: the Ammerbach organ tablature of 1571, and Michael Weisse's hymnal of 1538. (19) He may also have given away other books originally from J. S. Bach's library as souvenirs, as for example Fux, Gradus ad Parnassum (1724). (20)

At any rate, a certain pattern of use can be established, at least for the vocal performing materials. For his duties at the five main churches in Hamburg, Bach drew extensively from his rich collection of contemporary sacred music by Homilius, Graun, Benda, and others. They play a dominating role in his numerous sacred music arrangements and pasticcios, but he also made use of music by his father, Telemann, Stolzel, and composers of the older generation. In a very few instances he even included one or two pieces by Johann Christoph Bach of Eisenach from his Old Bach Archive, the only time he dipped into seventeenth-century music.

The Old Bach Archive, a separate category in the estate catalog of 1790 (see listing in fig. 1), represents an impressive sampling of vocal works by composers from the older Bach generation, beginning with Johann Bach (1604-1673), the first by whom compositions are known. The collection had been put together from previous owners by J. S. Bach as a complementary documentation to the family genealogy he researched, compiled, and wrote up in 1735. Like the heading of that project, Ursprung der musicalisch-Bachischen Familie, the title Alt-Bachisches Archiv seems to go back to him, the first archivist in the family, who wanted to save material from oblivion, and apparently felt obligated to pass it on to the younger generation.

Emanuel Bach certainly knew what he had there and shared it, for example, with Forkel. He wrote to him on 20 September 1775: "I have the pleasure of sending you herewith something from my old Bach archive, namely 2 pieces by the worthy Johann Christoph and 1 by his worthy brother Johann Michael Bach, my late grandfather on my mother's side. ... The 22-voice piece [by J. C. Bach] is a masterpiece. My late father once performed it in Leipzig in the church; everyone was astonished by the effect. I do not have enough singers here, otherwise I would gladly perform it some time." (21)

As far as one can tell, beyond the Old Bach Archive C. P. E. Bach never expressed any interest in the older music his father knew well, cultivated, and performed to a certain extent, Buxtehude or Palestrina to name but two. Thus, while still in the service of the Prussian court in Berlin, J. P. Kirnberger--at the request of Princess Anna Amalia, who had employed him in 1758--started to build up a music study collection with a strong emphasis on historical materials, reaching far into the sixteenth century with Palestrina, Lassus, and Hassler. (22) Bach contributed to the project by making copies available from his father's library, but apparently had no interest in, nor need for, expanding his own collection in such direction. Instead, he began early on to focus with much energy on collecting images of musicians. There is no evidence that he started this activity before 1750, so inheriting a nucleus of family portraits, notably the two large oil portraits of his father and paternal grandfather, plus some likenesses of other older musicians, nonfamily members, seems to have been the starting point for his collection. It also nourished his view of the Bach family of musicians as his centerpiece of musical history.

The estate catalog of 1790 includes detailed information about Bach's remarkable and significant collection of musicians' portraits that represents, as far as one can tell, the largest such specialized collection ever assembled before 1800. Even though it did not survive as a collection, substantial portions of the original collection survived and, as Annette Richards has shown in her two-volume edition, most of the remainder can be reconstructed. (23) The heading in the estate catalog offers a pretty broad range: "Portrait Collection of Composers, Musicians, Writers on Music, Lyrical Poets, and Other Eminent Music Connoisseurs." So it includes pictures from mythological figures like Apollo as "inventor musicae," and Bacchus the wine god and "benefactor of musical schools" (sense of humor), to contemporaries like Haydn, the young Mozart, and even Benjamin Franklin.

This collection policy permitted Bach to eventually assemble a total of 378 portraits (painting, drawings, and engravings) and an additional 37 silhouettes, bringing the total well above 400. He probably received much inspiration from the writer Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleirn (1719-1803), whom he met in Berlin during the 1740s, whose poems he set, and for whom he named the character piece La Gleim Wq 117/19. Gleim founded the literary circle of the so-called Anacreontics, who fostered a culture of friendship, and included poets like Lessing, Kleist, Ramler, Klopstock, Voss, and other intelligentsia--all people of Bach's social and intellectual world in Berlin and later in Hamburg. In 1751 Bach spent a few days with Gleim at his house in Halberstadt where he could see the Freandschaftstempel, a portrait gallery with about 120 pictures of his literati friends--all oils, (24) but altogether fewer pictures than Bach was able to put on display later in his Hamburg music room.

Charles Burney reported about his 1772 visit to Bach's house: "The instant I entered, he conducted me up stairs, into a large and elegant music room, furnished with pictures, drawings, and prints of more than a hundred and fifty eminent musicians: among whom, there are many Englishmen, and original portraits, in oil, of his father and grandfather." (25) Like Gleim, Bach did not intend to keep his collection privately under wraps, but put it on public exhibit in gallery style to anyone entering his house. That turned the music room into a kind of historical museum and a true conversation piece for the guests of the jovial entertainer Bach. It is, of course, not possible to reconstruct how the pictures were hung, but the estate catalog lists quite a number of items expressly as "framed" and with measurements. Nevertheless, as Burney's description indicates, the good-sized portraits of Johann Ambrosios and J. S. Bach clearly assumed particularly prominent places, a statement about his view of the history of music. It remains unknown whether he exhibited his own portrait as well, and if so where he put it. Regardless, the show as such would speak for itself.

In spite of its conspicuous and prominent though limited family focus, Bach's private musical portrait gallery reflected anything but a parochial view of music history. His intention to gather and--if possible--display images in an all-inclusive fashion without national, period, species, and genre limits is as obvious as his purpose of assembling a collection as complete as possible. He appears to have simply acquired whatever he could reach.


The tradition of sacred music written for church services throughout the liturgical year had flourished in Hamburg for a century under the Kantors and music directors Christoph Bernhard (1663-1674), Joachim Gerstenbuttel (1675-1721), and notably Telemann (1721-1767). Toward the middle of the eighteenth century, however, Hamburg appears to have played a leading role among German cities in moving large-scale sacred music from the churches into the concert hall, a direction with its origins primarily in Paris and London. Telemann as well as the Hamburg clergy definitely supported this trend, though for very different reasons. The composer clearly saw major benefits in freeing the music from liturgical constraints, and this is reflected in a number of his works from the 1750s and 1760s such as Der Messias (1759) or Der Tag des Gerichts (1762)--all performed outside the church.

When Bach took over Telemann's post with its responsibility for the city's five main churches, the well-established trend continued and reached a kind of rock bottom in 1789, a year after his death, when the clergy required that church music with choir and orchestra be reduced annually from 120 to 30 services. (26) Although Bach could not really anticipate this development, he made the basic and, in retrospect, wise decision at the beginning of his tenure, namely, not to work himself into the ground by spending his creative energies on sacred music for the churches. He very diligently fulfilled his assigned duties as music director and, in consideration of his fairly advanced age of fifty-four, took on a very heavy workload in comparison to the much more leisurely commitments of a Prussian court musician. He "administered" his church music office, however, by making much use of music by other composers. Thus, for example, none of the twenty Passions he wrote and performed from 1769 were original compositions. All of them incorporated music by Telemann or his father, by the brothers Graun, Georg Benda, Gottfried August Homilius, Gottfried Heinrich Stolzel, and others; in many works his own contribution in terms of newly composed music was rather minimal.

Not only the full scale but also many details of Bach's church music production in Hamburg became known only after the 1999 recovery of the musical archive of the Berlin Sing-Akademie. (27) As this windfall of materials gave a major boost to the new edition--Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, The Complete Works as its sacred music pieces will eventually fill nearly forty volumes. For the purpose of the critical edition and for the newly published thematic catalog of Bach's vocal works in the Bach-Repertorium series, (28) it makes sense to assemble and organize the pertinent repertoire in a systematic fashion. This presents, nevertheless, a misleading picture insofar as Bach himself apparently thought about his choral output in a different way.

The numerous sacred works Bach prepared for the Hamburg main churches were deliberately designed as liturgical Gebrauchsmusik (utility music) and, therefore, consist largely of arrangements and pasticcios. The composer had no interest in giving them the status of original works, because their usefulness was local, that is, confined to the Hamburg churches, their liturgical calendar and structure, as well as their performance conditions. The same is more or less true of the often more elaborate works for special occasions, inaugurations and funerals of dignitaries, festivities of the so-called Burger-Kapitane (citizen captains), and other major festivities--commissioned from the music director Bach for extra pay.

The estate catalog of 1790, prepared on the basis of Bach's own records, reveals a discriminating approach that reflects a radical change in the view and practice of sacred music. First of all, he does not divide his vocal output into sacred and secular categories, but covers everything under "Singcompositionen," and presents them in two subsections, namely published and unpublished pieces (fig. 1). Second, in the group of published vocal works the catalog departs from the prevailing principle of listing works in chronological order, and puts the four published works of sacred character, but composed for public concerts, at the top: the two oratorios Die Israeliten in der Waste Wq 238 (1769, published 1775), Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu Wq 240 (1774/78, published 1787); followed by two smaller works: the double-choir Heilig Wq 217 (1778, published 1779) and Klopstocks Morgengesang am Schopfungsfeste Wq 239 (1783, published 1784).

Widely known as a distinguished virtuoso performer, Bach from the very beginning used the two principal venues for public concerts in Hamburg--the hall "auf dent Kamp" (known also as Drillhaus) and the Kramer Amtshaus--for presenting himself at the keyboard, by playing concertos and other instrumental music. In 1769, however, and before the end of his first year in office, he conducted at the Konzertsaal auf dem Kamp his first oratorio Die Israeliten in der Wuste, and continued to present large-scale vocal works by various composers throughout the 1770s and 1780s. Most of these concerts were sponsored by the four united Masonic Lodges of Hamburg, and as a Hamburg newspaper reported: "Our Bach conducted them [the concerts]. The expenses were born by a few Freemasons and non-Masons were admitted upon making a voluntary donation for the poor." (29)

Compelling and original compositions through and through, the four published choral works mentioned above, each one in its own right, represent milestones in the development of religious concert music in later eighteenth-century Germany. Firmly integrated in Christian traditions, yet in line with Enlightenment aesthetics and philosophy as well as Masonic ideals, their librettos are free of Lutheran chorales and strict biblical narrative. Their religious and spiritual message in text and music is designed to address an audience not confined to congregational cohorts, and independent of confessional boundaries. It speaks for itself that the last-published of the four works, Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu of 1778, was performed still during the composer's lifetime, and just a few months after it became available in print, at two public concerts in February and March 1788 in Roman Catholic Vienna under the baton of none other than Mozart. (30) Bach's Hamburg pulpit, as it were, his visibility in Germany's largest city, his personal reputation, and last but not least the wide circulation of his published works made him a principal proponent and promoter of religious music for the concert hall. That it happened at the expense of sacred music for liturgical use in church services, however, in no way suggests the composer's disregard for the latter. He kept music in the Hamburg churches very much alive, but his personal creative investment went along with the run of events and the course of history.

The transformative character of his influential role in this regard is particularly well reflected in a unique and in every respect innovative program that Bach prepared for a special fundraising event in April 1786 to benefit a public charity, the Medizinische Armeninstitut, an association of Hamburg physicians who treated impoverished people free of charge (see fig. 2). A little more than half a century prior to the 1835 series of "historical concerts" initiated by Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Hamburg public could witness an unusual concert. In the first half, Bach conducted his father's Symbolum Nicenum (Credo), the earliest documented performance of the major second part of the B-Minor Mass, (31) along with two famous excerpts from Handel's Messiah. the aria "I know that my Redeemer liveth" sung in German, and the "Hallelujah" chorus. After the intermission he turned to his own works, beginning with a symphony, (32) a revised version of his Magnificat Wq 215, (33) and concluding, if not culminating in the Heilig (Holy) for double choir accompanied by two orchestras, each with three trumpets and timpani, two oboes, strings, and organ.

In what may seem a less than modest statement, Bach presented his own works in the context of music that mattered for him the most. Curiously, the Magnificat in its first version of 1749 was written for a liturgical performance in Leipzig, to which his father had invited him. Moreover, as Bach surely knew, his father had composed it at about the same time as he was putting the finishing touches on the Symbolum Nicenum of the B-Minor Mass. Now in 1786, a sign of the times, both Magnificat and Mass were moved from the realm of liturgical sacred music into that of religious concert music.


There is little question that the concert program of 1786 served at least in part as a demonstration of how the seventy-two-year-old C. P. E. Bach intended to define his own place in the history of music. This son of a "world-famous" father, (34) however, had started early to think about posthumous reputation, and quite consciously took concrete steps toward cultivating his public image and legacy in the 1770s at the very latest. Before reaching age sixty, he compiled in 1772 a thematic catalog of his keyboard compositions, actually a manuscript that later served as a model for the 1790 estate catalog. At the bottom of the first page he noted, "All works before the year 1733 I have discarded because they were too youthful." (35) Almost fifteen years later, on 21 January 1786, he writes to his friend J. Joachim Eschenburg, who had just translated Burney's "Sketch of the Life of Handel" (with which C. P. E. Bach took issue, see above) the following passage: "The most comical thing of all is the gracious precaution of the King, whereby Handel's youthful works are being preserved to the utmost. I do not compare myself at all with Handel, but I recently burned a ream and more of old works of mine and am glad that they are no more." (36) In other words, he burned more than 500 sheets of music we shall never know since the composer willfully destroyed it. Bach deliberately wanted to withhold these compositions from posterity because they would no longer meet his artistic and aesthetic standards.

About halfway between these dates, in 1778, he corresponded with his friend and publisher Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf about the publication of his recently composed double-choir Heilig. The first letter contains a most revealing remark about the piece: "I have put the greatest and boldest effort in it to have an exceptional impact. This should (perhaps) be the last of this type, so that I may not so soon be forgotten in the future." (37) In a second letter he re-emphasizes this notion when he writes: "It is to be my swan song of this type, and thereby serve the purpose that I may not be forgotten too soon after my death." (38) Depressed and grieving about the untimely death of his son Johann Sebastian Jr. in September 1778 in Rome, and aware of his own mortality as he was about to turn sixty-five (the age his father died), he decided to let this very special piece of sacred music be his final word in that category--and he actually stuck to it. Besides, due to its compact if lavish format it was suitable for both concert hall and interfaith liturgical service.

Considering the various details, from destroying manuscripts to anticipating his posthumous renown ("not too soon be forgotten"), it is very clear that Bach started relatively early with not so much worrying about, but actively shaping his posthumous reputation. Seen in this light, the numerous revisions of works undertaken in the 1740s demonstrate a highly developed self-critical attitude toward his own music. Aware of and probably encouraged by similar habits of his father, as well as confronted with the taste-setting diktat of the young, artistically inclined and philosophically minded Frederick II of Prussia, he felt compelled to rewrite many of his early works. Thus, virtually all compositions originating 1731-38 listed in the estate catalog are marked "E[rneuert]. B[erlin]" with a specific date, that is, they were revised in the sense of "made new" during the Berlin years 1743-47. Yet, for about thirty years he apparently still held on to the older versions until he finally decided to throw them out, most likely in anticipation of Burney's upcoming visit of 1772. What Bach then burnt later in the mid 1780s, however, will forever remain unknown, but he thoroughly cleaned his house of earlier works of which he was no longer proud, and those with potentially embarrassing evidence of substandard musical quality.

Like no other work from the last decade in the composer's life, the double-choir Heilig Wq 217 signifies the kind of technical flawlessness and musical effect the composer was striving at and could be proud of. (39) His words to Breitkopf quoted above, that he had "put the greatest and boldest effort in it to have an exceptional impact," is impressively reflected in the concept of this extraordinary work, a bold musical statement of the ancient Trisagion in an emphatically nonbiblical version. It begins by presenting the Tersanctus (heilig, holy) in the form of a mysterious atmosphere created by a combination of extreme dynamics from pianissimo to fortissimo, and harmonic extremes with chromatic modulations oscillating between major and minor modes and moving in a startling manner from sharp to flat key areas: E major-C-sharp major-D major-B major-F-sharp major-G major-F minor-B major. The first section represents a dialogue between a choir of angels and a choir of the nations (Volker). The longer second section, beginning and ending in C major, then unfolds in a masterful and extended fugue on the text "alie Lande sind seiner Ehre voll" (all countries are full of his glory). (40) At the culmination point of its development, the complex score becomes superelevated by text and melody of the medieval Te Deum, concluding an ingenious, artful, magnificent hymn of praise with a purposefully universal claim--the angels unite with the peoples of all nations. Through this piece as a whole, Bach aims in an immediately perceptible way at nothing less than a genuine musical projection of the idea of the sublime, a key notion in later eighteenth-century aesthetics that the philosopher Kant defined as "the noble, the splendid, and the terrifying."

In a prepublication announcement of the 1779 edition, Georg Benda provides a detailed description of the work and sums up its character as a composition that "unites greatest simplicity with deepest art." (41) And in his 16 September 1778 letter to Breitkopf, Bach himself formulates in rather specific terms what he had in mind when designing the unusual opening of the piece (see fig. 3): "This Heilig is an attempt to inspire far greater attention and sentiment through entirely natural and ordinary harmonic progressions than one can attain with any amount of nervous chromaticism." Indeed, the vocal setting shows how the voice leading of each individual part is as simple and straightforward as the total effect of the chromatic modulation is stunning.

The score reveals at the same time what Bach used for a model, namely the opening section of the last movement of his father's Symbolum Nicenum: "Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum." The similarities are obvious (prevailing half-note motion in the vocal lines, tremolo-style quarter-notes in the bass), but the father's chromaticism is far more complex by means of a polyhonic texture with uncompromising and difficult-to-sing intervals. Curiously, the autograph of the very page of this movement in the B-Minor Mass '2 shows the son's hand trying to edit and smooth the father's voice leading, but ultimately failing to achieve results in the direction of "natural and ordinary harmonic progressions."

In turn, C. P. E. Bach's opening of Wq 215 apparently served as a model for the "Oro supplex" section (mm. 25-40) of the Confutatis movement in Mozart's Requiem, immediately preceding the Lacrymosa movement. Bach's piece circulated widely in Europe as the long list of subscribers printed on a separate page in the original Breitkopf edition of 1779 indicates. Thirty-seven copies went to Vienna alone, with twelve exemplars to the music dealer Artaria, and twenty-five to the music lover Baron van Swieten, Mozart's most important patron. Although no performances in Vienna are documented, it would be hard to imagine that Mozart would not have seen this score of the composer whose oratorio Wq 240 he conducted in 1788, and of whom he reportedly said, "He is the father, we are the boys." (43) At any rate, the pertinent passage in the Requiem displays how Mozart transforms the idea of intense chromatic-enharmonic modulation scored for four choral voices in yet another way, that is, in descending steps from A minor via A-flat (turned G-sharp), G minor, and G-flat (turned F-sharp) to F major. (44) In the basso continuo part, too, he follows the model even though he draws the violins into the tremolo pattern and intensifies its pulsating rhythms by making them play sixteenth-notes.

This example exposes, in a nutshell, the influential historical double role assumed and actively pursued by the Hamburg Bach throughout his career. On the one hand, he served conscientiously as a knowledgeable and authoritative guardian of traditions that mattered to him and his circle; on the other, he worked tirelessly in a forward looking way as educator, stimulator, and innovator. Neither an epigone nor a precursor, he had a truly original musical mind that could take and give in an exemplary fashion.

A discussion of C. P. E. Bach and the history of music in whatever general form must not exclude from consideration the composer's treatment and positioning in the historiography of music. The problem of properly defining bis role arose primarily from a firmly established conventional schematic periodization of music that more often than not runs counter to the actual course of history. Baroque and classical represent distinct epochs, each with its own heroic representatives. What connects the epochs, however, tends to fall between the cracks even though it must be apparent that for Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven in their formative years and beyond, a composer like C. P. E. Bach mattered infinitely more than any earlier figure. This pertains in particular to Bach's vast repertoire of keyboard and other instrumental music with which they were better familiar than any later generation of musicians and scholars.

Fortunately, as we celebrate Bach's 300th anniversary, his complete works edition is well underway, in fact almost two-thirds completed. A steadily increasing availability of his entire output for study and performance will make a crucial difference in many ways. First and foremost, it will add a lot of unfamiliar repertoire to the musical life of the present. Then the complete works will eventually help to define C. P. E. Bach's proper place in history. Moreover, they will contribute significantly to a better understanding of the eighteenth century in its entirety, not to perceive its first half as the end of an old period and the second as the beginning of a new one. In actuality there is no lack of high points throughout the century as a whole. It is for that reason that the eighteenth century, more than any other era, very much shapes the way we listen to, think about, perform, and even compose music today.

(1.) Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Versuch uber die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, ed. Tobias Plebuch, 3 vols., in The Complete Works, ser. VII, Theoretical Writings, vols. 1-3 (Los Altos, CA: The Packard Humanities Institute, 2011) [hereinafter, CPEB:CW], 1:4. Translation here and elsewhere my own if not indicated otherwise.

(2.) Dedicated by the author to Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

(3.) The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents, ed. Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel, revised and enlarged by Christoph Wolff (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), 149.

(4.) He had also written two earlier autobiographies, in 1718 and 1729.

(5.) Carl Burney's der Musik Doctors Tagebuch seiner Musikalischen Reisen, vol. 3: Dutch Bohmen, Sachsen, Brandenburg, Hamburg und Holland (Hamburg: Bode, 1773), 199-209; reprint of vols.1-3 in 1 vol., ed. Richard Schaal (Kassel: Barenreiter, 1959). Burney's text was translated by Bach's friend Daniel Ebeling. For the full text of the German autobiography in modern typography, see the "Resources" link at the CPEBrCW Web page: (accessed 27 August 2014). For an annotated English translation, see William S. Newman, "Emanuel Bach's Autobiography," Musical Qiiarterly 51, no. 2 (April 1965): 363-72.

(6.) English translation included in The. New Bach Reader, 297-307.

(7.) Ibid., 302.

(8.) Ibid., 283-94.

(9.) Ibid., 290. Confirming, and further archival details about Johann Jacob Bach in Constantinople around 1710 have recently been brought to light by Rashid-S. Pegah, "Begegnungen in Konstantinopel und Leipzig: Pierre Gabriel Buffardin und Johann Jacob Bach," Bach-Jahrbuch 97 (2011): 287-92.

(10.) The New Bach Reader, 286.

(11.) It is available only in the German edition.

(12.) Burney, The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, and United Provinces, 2 vols. (London, 1773), 2:265 (emphasis in the original); modern edition, edited by Percy A. Scholes (London; New York: Oxford University Press, 1959).

(13.) The New Bach Reader, 402.

(14.) Ibid., 403.

(15.) Konrad Kuster, "Bach als Mitarbeiter am 'Walther-Lexikon'?" Bach-Jahrbuch 77 (1991): 187-92.

(16.) Links to a facsimile and a transcription of the estate catalog are on the CPEB:CW Web site:

(17.) Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin--Preussischer Kulterbesitz, Mus. ms. 4222; see Peter Wollny, "Zur Rezeption franzosischer Cembalo-Musik im Hause Bach in den 1730er Jahren: Zwei neu aufgefundene Quellen," in In organo pleno: Festschrift fur Jean-Claude Zehnder zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Luigi Collarile and Alexandra Nigito, Publicationen der Schweizerischen Musikforschenden Gesellschaft, Ser. II, Bd. 48 (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007), 265-75.

(18.) Ulrich Leisinger, "Die 'Bachsche Auction' von 1789," Bach-Jahrbuch 77 (1991): 97-126 (includes complete facsimile).

(19.) Bach-Dokumente, Bd. 3: Dokumente zum Nachwirken Johann Sebastian Bachs, 1750-1800, ed. Hans-Joachim Schulze (Kassel: Barenreiter, 1972), 239. Burney made notes in both books about about their provenance. The entry in the tablature reads: "This Book, wch. formerly belonged to Sebastian Bach was a present from my honoured Friend Mr. C. P. E. Bach, Musick director at Hambro 1772."

(20.) Bach-Dokumente, Bd. 1: Schriftstucke von der Hand Johann Sebastian Bachs, ed. Werner Neumann and Hans-Joachim Schulze (Kassel: Barenreiter, 1963), 270. Bach's exemplar is today in the University Library, Hamburg.

(21.) The Letters of C. P. E. Bach, trans. and ed. Stephen L. Clark (Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 84.

(22.) Eva Renate Wutta, Quellen der Bach-Tradition in der Berliner Amalien-Bibliolhek (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1989), 37-46.

(23.) Portrait Collection, ed. Annette Richards, appendices ed. Paul Cornellson, 2 vols., CPEB.CW, VIII/4:1-2 (2012). Catalog is in vol. 1, plates in vol. 2.

(24.) See the Gleimhaus Web site: (accessed 27 August 2014).

(25.) Burney, The Present State of Music, 2:268

(26.) Reginald L. Sanders, "Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Liturgical Music at the Hamburg Principal Churches from 1768 to 1788" (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2001), 140-45.

(27.) Christoph Wolff, "Recovered in Kiev: Bach et al.: A Preliminary Report on the Music Collection of the Berlin Sing-Akademie," Notes 58, no. 2 (December 2001): 259-71.

(28.) Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Thematisch-sytematisches Verzeichnis der musikalischen Werke, BachReportorium, 3, Teil 2: Vokalwerke, ed. Wolfram Ensslin and Uwe Wolf (Stuttgart: Cams, 2014).

(29.) Barbara Wiermann, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Dokumente zu Leben und Wvrken aus der zeitgenossischen Hamburgischen Presse (1767-1790), Leipziger Beitrage zur Bach-Forschung, 4 (Hildesheim: Olms, 2000), 450.

(30.) Mozart: Die Dokumente seines Lebens, ed. Otto Erich Deutsch, Neue Ausgabe samtlicher Werke / Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ser. 10, Suppl., Wg. 34 (Kassel: Barenreiter, 1961), 273; Christoph Wolff, Mozait at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788-1791 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2012), 60, 90, and 102.

(31.) With a brief instrumental introduction newly composed by C. P. E. Bach, published inj. S. Bach, Messe in h-Moll = Mass in B minor, BWV 232, ed. Christoph Wolff (Frankfurt; New York: C. F. Peters, 1997), 397.

(32.) Most likely the D-major Symphony, the first of the Orchester-Sinfonien mil zwolf obligaten Stimmen, Wq 183/1.

(33.) CPEB:CW, V/1.2 (ed. Christine Blanken, 2012).

(34.) The attribute "welt-beruhmt" appears in the title of the obituary (The New Bach Reader, 297).

(35.) Christoph Wolff, "Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs Verzeichnis seiner Clavierwerke von 1733 bis 1772," in Uber Ixben, Kunst und Kunstwerke: Aspekte musikalischer Biographic---Johann Sebastian Bach im Zentrum, ed. Christoph Wolff (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1999), 217-34; with facsimile.

(36.) The Letters of C. P. E. Bach, 244.

(37.) Ibid., 124 (letter of 28 July 1778).

(38.) Ibid., 125 (letter of 16 September 1778; emphasis in the original).

(39.) Digital images of the complete Breitkopf edition of 1779 are available on the CPEB:CW Web site:

(40.) Deliberately departing from words of the biblical and liturgical Sanctus: "caeli et terra" (heaven and earth).

(41.) "... vereinigt groBte Simplizitat mit der tiefsten Kunst." Wiermann, C. P. E. Bach: Dokumente, 224.

(42.) Johann Sebastian Bach, Messe in h-Moll, BWV 232: Mil Sanctus in D-Dur (1724), BWV 232III: Autograph Slaatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preufiischer-Kulturbesitz, commentary by Christoph Wolff, Faksimile-Reihe Bachscher Werk und Schriftstucke, neue Folge, Bd. 2 (Kassel: Barenreiter, 2007), 133.

(43.) Johann Friedrich Rochlitz, "Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach," in his Fur Freunde der Tonkunst, 3d ed. (Leipzig: Cnobloch, 1830), 202.

(44.) The discussion and analysis of this passage in my book, Mozart's Requiem: Historical and Analytical Studies, Documents, Score (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 102-3, does not yet consider the connection with C. P. E. Bach.

Christoph Wolff, Adams University Research Professor at Harvard University, is on the graduate faculty of the Juilliard School, and on the board of directors of the Packard Humanities Institute. He served as president and director of the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, 2001-13, and as president of the Repertoire international des sources musicales, 2004-13. This essay is based on the keynote address of the same title delivered at the meeting of the American Bach Society, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, 1-3 May 2014.
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