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Hyperion Records

CDA67908 - Bach (CPE): Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 2
The Waterfall at Tivoli (1785) by Jacob-Philippe Hackert (1737-1807)
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Germany / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: January 2012
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by John Fraser
Engineered by Arne Akselberg
Release date: November 2012
Total duration: 73 minutes 36 seconds


'Driver revels in CPE Bach's idiosyncrasies, underlining the spontaneous and edgier qualities in the composer's Empfindsamer stil… an unusual and fascinating programme' (BBC Music Magazine)

'CPE Bach is the perfect embodiment of the rebellious son. His keyboard sonatas sparkle with the brilliant counterpoint learned from his father Johann Sebastian but are punctuated with passages that are decidedly his own … thrillingly played by Danny Driver … immensely rewarding listening' (The Observer)

'In this sequel to his first disc of CPE Bach Keyboard Sonatas (CDA67786), Danny Driver is intimately in touch with the fluctuations of the musical language. The E major sonata shows Bach exploiting sharp contrasts between loud and soft, aspects that Driver points up in a way that underlines the music’s energy and momentum. His feel for the harmonic explorations in the slow movement and the rhythmic mischievousness of the finale likewise echoes the music’s spirit … Driver plays with an imagination and subtlety fully equal to Bach’s own' (The Daily Telegraph)

'As with most keyboard music of the eighteenth century, in the hands of a sympathetic player the essence can be fully conveyed by means of the modern concert grand piano … Driver's musicianship here is exemplary—not only possessing a technique second to none but also a comprehensive grasp which gets to the heart of this by no means straightforward music … Driver is superb at striking exactly the right tone for this music, laying it out before us with clarity yet also subtly underpinning the slyly expressive nature of the music … the recording is consistently in accord with Hyperion's best quality and the booklet notes by Leta Miller are a model of informed scholarship' (International Record Review)

'Driver's approach is impressive in many ways. Every keystroke is perfectly sprung, with fast, detached playing sounding pristine but never clipped. The three voices in the slow movement from the Sonata in F sharp minor, Wq 52/4 are impeccably balanced, their transparency provoking a closeness of listening that creates deep engagement. The disc's fabulous engineering brings the piano up close with an attractive liveliness' (International Piano)

Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 2
Allegro  [7'16]
Poco andante  [4'40]
Allegro assai  [4'36]
Allegro  [6'02]
Andantino  [4'45]
Vivace di molto  [5'02]
Allegro  [5'38]
Allegretto  [2'39]

Hyperion presents a second volume of CPE Bach’s startlingly original and inventive keyboard sonatas. This release spans the composer’s career, taking the listener from the highly expressive manner of his early works to his mastery of the Classical style—in which he still retains the distinctive characteristics, the fantastical changes of mood and tempo which both astounded and perplexed his contemporaries.

Danny Driver proves a peerless guide to this fascinating music, performing with elegance and vigour.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Composers working in the interstices between historical periods have left us some of the most fascinating works in Western music history. Disruptive, rebellious, and often revolutionary, these transitional figures delineated the paths of change—rejecting comfortable aesthetic norms while reaching out for new ones. One thinks of Monteverdi using forbidden dissonances to illustrate dramatic texts; of Debussy rejecting the tonal language of the previous two centuries; and particularly of Beethoven casting off the Classical aesthetics of balance and clarity in favour of asymmetry, ambiguity and volcanic explosion. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was similarly iconoclastic—rejecting the Baroque aesthetic embodied in the music of his father while looking beyond Classicism to the Romantic ethos of the nineteenth century.

Emanuel Bach’s works evince the restlessness of music on the borderline. Instead of maintaining the coherent Baroque principle of a single affect per movement, his music typically veers from one emotion to another. He juxtaposes moments of introspection with outbursts of anger, sets off contrasting short motifs with abrupt silences, explores widely divergent rhythmic figures, and indulges in melodic and harmonic surprises. These traits are most apparent in the passionate slow movements, which at times sound like written-out improvisations; indeed, Bach was renowned for his spontaneous inventions at the keyboard. His music is filled with humour as well, which the insightful performer must tease out from the scantily marked scores. At the same time, C P E Bach’s compositional style clearly shows its lineage. Although he de-emphasized the complex contrapuntal edifices of his father’s generation, for instance (preferring the more transparent textures that would become crystallized in the works of Mozart and Haydn), counterpoint does figure as a structural component in many of his works.

Some of Bach’s most radical works are his earliest ones, which exemplify the so-called empfindsamer (or ‘sensitive’) style, characterized by dramatic melodic leaps, sighing motifs, irregular phrase structures, deceptive cadences and rhetorical harmonic interjections. Not surprisingly, his late works are more Classical. Many of them appear to be less revolutionary—the expression of an old man taming the excesses of his youth. Nevertheless, in some of these late works—such as the Rondo in D minor on this recording—Bach combined a Classical spirit with the quirks so prominent in his earlier works, creating highly unusual compositions of singular and remarkable distinction.

Emanuel Bach (1714–1788) was the second son of Johann Sebastian and his first wife, Maria Barbara. In 1738, while he was pursuing a law degree in Frankfurt an der Oder, Emanuel received ‘a gracious summons’ from crown prince Frederick of Prussia. The prince, a flautist, may have been attracted by Bach’s early compositions, including two solo flute sonatas and six trio sonatas for flute, violin, and basso continuo.

For the next two years Bach worked unofficially for the prince. When Frederick the Great became king in 1740, Bach was appointed court accompanist, a post he retained for more than a quarter century. He was not content in this position, however. Frederick did not appreciate his experimental style, favouring instead the more traditional (and less inspired) compositions of Johann Joachim Quantz (the king’s flute teacher). Frederick kept Bach’s salary remarkably low relative to that of other court musicians. So, when Bach’s godfather Georg Philipp Telemann died in 1767, Bach was happy to assume his prestigious position in Hamburg. He remained there until his death in 1788.

C P E Bach wrote more than three hundred works for keyboard—mostly sonatas in three movements, but also single-movement fantasies, rondos, minuets and other short works. The pieces on this recording not only show this diversity in form, but also span the composer’s creative life, thus chronicling his musical evolution.

The earliest works on this recording are the Sonata in F sharp minor H37 (Wq52/4) and the Sonata in E major H39 (Wq62/5), which both date from 1744 (H numbers refer to the Thematic Catalogue of the Works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach by Eugene Helm (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). Wq references to the older catalogue of Bach’s works (Wotquenne: Thematisches Verzeichnis der Werke von Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, 1905) are also given, since many editions use these numbers). The most remarkable movement of H37 is the opening Allegro, built on a contrast between fantasia and lyric passages. The movement opens with rapid passagework in semiquaver triplets. After the first four bars, which are grounded by irregularly spaced accented notes in the bass, Bach confuses the rhythm through metric displacement of the lowest notes within rising scalic or arpeggiated passages. Rather than reinforcing the beat, these low notes are often placed on the second semiquaver of a triplet. The result is rhythmic instability, resolved only by the ultimate arrival on a long note at the end of the phrase. Bach follows this fanciful opening with a contrasting galant theme accompanied by steady repeated quavers. Although the movement as a whole is in a standard rounded binary form, within each section the fantasia and lyrical elements alternate, sometimes in short fragmentary phrases.

In comparison to this unusual opening movement, the following Poco andante, in D major, is a study in restrained elegance. Here Bach evokes a trio sonata, with two treble voices in imitative texture set over a steady bass in quavers. The finale is again in binary form featuring dotted rhythms and occasional sudden rests setting off dramatic harmonic progressions. In one case, the rest lasts for an entire bar, placing in relief a diminished third in the bass, soon followed by still another silence preceding a diminished triad. More restrained than some of his other early finales, this movement balances continuity with rhetorical irregularities.

As in H37, the first movement of the Sonata in E major H39 is in rounded binary form (ABA’). Sudden contrasts between forte and piano, often bracketed by rests, form an essential thematic component of the movement. Although one can certainly realize these contrasts on a two-manual harpsichord (with the forte sections played on coupled keyboards and the piano sections using only a single keyboard), it is also possible that Bach envisioned this sonata for the fortepiano. During the 1740s Frederick commissioned several pianos from builder Gottfried Silbermann; we know that J S Bach tried one when he visited his son at Frederick’s court in 1747. This movement, like the opening one of H37, contains two rhythmically contrasting motifs, but in this case the contrast comes in the form of a brief, dramatic interruption right before the end of each of the A, B and A’ sections. In these places, the rhythm slows dramatically and the dynamic drops to piano. All three subsections also feature passages with large forte chords that suggest the music of Domenico Scarlatti.

H39’s slow movement, in the tonic minor, comprises two sections, nearly identical in length. It begins like a simple air, but with characteristic harmonic surprises. As in the opening movement, Bach here indulges in dramatic interjections at the end of each half—in this case consisting of dotted figures, played fortissimo, that suggest the accompanied recitatives of Baroque opera. In this movement, as in many others, the interjections could conceivably be removed entirely, creating a more continuous series of symmetrical phrases, but this would rob the piece of its most dramatic moments.

H39 ends with a Vivace di molto movement in 3/4 metre. At the time Vivace indicated a slower tempo than Allegro and Bach frequently chose to end his sonatas with galant movements in moderate tempi. Finales marked Cantabile, Vivace, Allegretto, Andantino, or Minuetto occur in more than forty of his keyboard sonatas, spread throughout his career, as well as in ten sonatas for flute, oboe, or viola da gamba from the 1730s and 1740s. Most of these movements are in triple metre and even those not specifically designated as ‘minuets’ often make reference to this prevalent dance form. H39’s finale opens with a rhythmic figure found frequently in Bach’s Vivace finales (dotted quaver and two demisemiquavers, followed by a minim). Any link to the minuet, however, soon proves illusory as heavy chords, surprising harmonic progressions, and rhythmic interruptions create an ironic parody of the old aristocratic dance. As in the opening movement, Bach inserts a slower section near the end of each half of the movement.

The Sonata in C minor H121 (Wq65/31) dates from 1757, more than a decade after H37 and H39. In this dark work the contrasts between forte and piano phrases that were so important in H39 are further amplified and extended. All three movements contain such contrasts—creating a unifying theme within the sonata as a whole. However, the dialogue created through continuous dynamic oscillation is most poignant in the slow middle movement, marked Andantino pathetico. Here Bach sets up a rhetorical interchange between extroverted forte exclamations that suggest large orchestral tuttis and introspective quiet passages that evoke the reflections of a lone solo voice. The movement consists of an alternation between these two elements, much like the slow movement of Beethoven’s fourth Piano Concerto. H121 was published posthumously in 1792. Might Beethoven, who acknowledged his indebtedness to C P E Bach (and whose concerto movement has often been compared to Orfeo’s battle with the furies in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice), perhaps have known Bach’s sonata? The orchestral character of the forte passages in this movement is reinforced in the outer movements of the sonata—particularly in several strong declamatory passages in octaves.

In contrast, the Sonata in A major H135 (Wq65/32) takes us into a Classical sound world. The piece also exists in a version for organ (H133); but in both fast movements of the harpsichord adaptation Bach inserted varied reprises for each section of the binary form. As in his collection of six Reprisen-Sonaten published in 1760 (two years after this sonata was composed), the alterations to each reprise are not simply ornamental, but more like variations over a fixed harmonic scheme. In the introduction of his 1760 collection, Bach explained that his aim in publishing such varied reprises was to provide performers ‘with a simple means of gaining the satisfaction of adding some alterations to the pieces they perform, without needing to invent such alterations themselves or rely on others to write something that they will learn only after a great deal of effort’. The parenthetical interjections so typical of Bach’s earlier sonatas are lacking in this work, although the sonata shows his characteristic (and now finely developed) harmonic invention. The opening movement also features a wonderful written-out cadenza that recalls some of the startling excursions for which Bach had become renowned. In contrast to his early works, all of the movements of this sonata flow in continuous and balanced phrases. In fact, both the slow movement and the finale are based on a series of eight-bar units. In the Andante con tenerezza, the opening theme (four bars leading to a deceptive cadence balanced by a further four to a full cadence) is immediately repeated with variation and later reappears two more times, subjected to Bach’s imaginative variation writing. The finale is based on a reverse dotted, or so-called Scotch snap, rhythm.

The Rondo in D minor H290 (Wq61/4) dates from 1785, nearly two decades after C P E Bach moved to Hamburg. At this point in his life the composer was concerned not only with securing his legacy (he drafted a catalogue of his works that was published after his death) but also with appearing up to date, presumably in part to enhance the sales of his published music. Light, carefree movements such as rondos were à la mode. In fact, in some of his late sonatas Bach curtailed his slow movements, or even omitted them entirely, because, as he noted in a letter to his publisher Breitkopf, Adagio movements were ‘no longer fashionable’. Nevertheless, this particular rondo contains the type of instability and irregular phrase structure that marked many of Bach’s early pieces. The opening theme, ending with a strong cadence on the tonic, is eleven bars long. It returns in full only at the end. In the middle, Bach inserts hints of it, and, during the second developmental interlude, he brings back its opening part several times in the wrong key. (One is again reminded of Beethoven, who frequently used the same device—as in, to cite one example, the finale of his string quartet Op 18 No 6.) The Rondo in D minor is full of Bach’s characteristic sudden rests and changes of mood. Thus he succeeded, in this late work, in recalling some of the most delightful elements of a personal style he had developed over the previous forty years, but at the same time embedding these traits in a thoroughly Classical aesthetic.

The latest work on the recording is the free Fantasie in F sharp minor H300 (Wq67), composed only a year before Bach’s death. The composer was renowned for his extemporizations at the keyboard, often favouring for them the very soft but expressive clavichord. The English music historian Charles Burney visited Bach in Hamburg in the early 1770s and penned a famous portrait of the composer improvising fantasies at the clavichord for several hours after dinner. ‘He played with little intermission, until near 11 o’clock at night’, wrote Burney. ‘During this time, he grew so animated and possessed, that he not only played but looked like one inspired. His eyes were fixed, his under lip fell, and drops of effervescence distilled from his countenance’ (Dr Burney’s Musical Tours in Europe, vol. ii, ed. P A Scholes (London, 1959), p.219). The Fantasie in F sharp minor is one of Bach’s longest works in this genre, but it is typical in containing a series of contrasting sections in different tempos and textures. In the last chapter of his Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, Bach deals specifically with the fantasy as a compositional form. He remarks that an ability to improvise is the most important indicator of a musician’s potential as a composer. ‘A good future in composition can be assuredly predicted for anyone who can improvise’, he wrote (C P E Bach: Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, translated by William J Mitchell (New York, 1949), p.430). At the same time, however, Bach cautions that free fantasies, though by nature improvisatory, must be built on lucid frameworks. He even provides in his treatise an example of such a fantasy with its skeletal reduction. Such coherence is readily apparent in H300. Three distinctive motivic elements recur throughout the work: an Adagio characterized by a chord in the left hand answered by three repeated notes in the right; an Allegretto section with virtuosic figuration; and a Largo in 12/8 with gently oscillating quavers. This late work, indeed, shows the culmination of Bach’s invention, combining the imagination of his youth with the consummate skill of a senior statesman.

Leta Miller © 2012
University of California, Santa Cruz

Other albums in this series
'Bach (CPE): Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 1' (CDA67786)
Bach (CPE): Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 1
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