The brilliant Sonata in E flat major is one of the most sunny and extroverted utterances of the mid-eighteenth century. The first movement is characterized by its varied melodic contour, giving the impression of a fish leaping out of the water in the first bar, then falling immediately back in, and on each successive jump leaping and frolicking in a slightly different way. In contrast to this playful first idea, a second theme enters with great pathos, giving way once more to a feeling of elation stated in the most flamboyant manner with descending cascades of notes. Here Emanuel Bach truly shows his mettle as the master of a new aesthetic, as he uses unprepared chords, whether consonant or dissonant, to underline the affective momentum of his melodies. No longer must a composer depend on the Baroque method by which harmonies occur as a confluence of prepared contrapuntal lines.
The second movement’s fugal quality recalls the middle movement of the previous sonata in B flat major. As with that work, the idea of fugue is used as a topos or prop in order to highlight certain emotionally charged intervals, in this case an ascending seventh followed by a descending semitone in the opening theme. Bach uses a secondary theme in running semiquavers to give harmonic momentum and put the first theme into metrical relief.
The splendid third movement combines virtuosity with a cheeky sense for drama as a repeating-note figure propels moments of suspense. The composer makes use of the contrast between the rich lower register of the keyboard and the fast-speaking higher register’s shrill cantabile.
from notes by Mahan Esfahani © 2014