The opening movement of the Sonata in E flat major H50 of 1747 has a galant character that sets it apart. Here Bach’s language at times becomes almost Mozartian, showing his mastery of the late eighteenth-century aesthetic. Most notable in this sonata, however, is the poignant slow movement, the most stunning example of the empfindsamer style on this recording. Fragmented phrases interspersed with rests and underlaid with frequent contrasts of dynamics characterize the introspective opening eight-bar phrase. The second phrase, in contrast, becomes more continuous, until a melody in dotted-rhythm octaves in the left hand intrudes. These three thematic ideas recur throughout the movement, which ends with an improvisatory flourish leading to a fermata, elaborated on this recording by an extensive cadenza mirroring Bach’s own improvisational inspirations. The sonata then concludes with a virtuosic Presto in 3/8—a perpetual motion corrente recalling the Baroque suite, but filled with Emanuel Bach’s eccentricities.
The slow movement of H50—and similar movements with notated dynamic contrasts—raises the question of the instrument for which Bach’s sonatas were intended. Clearly, much of his work at Frederick’s court involved harpsichord-playing, but the harpsichord could only effect quick dynamic contrasts through the use of a double manual. On the clavichord—an instrument Bach loved and which he used throughout his life—the player could create dynamic changes by variations in finger pressure, but the overall range was restricted to piano or softer. By the late 1740s, however, Frederick had still another keyboard instrument at his court: the fortepiano (a fact made particularly famous by JS Bach’s visit in 1747, on which occasion he improvised a fugue on one of these instruments using a theme provided by Frederick). Therefore, performance of these works by Emanuel Bach himself on the piano is not only possible, but even likely.
from notes by Leta Miller © 2010