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.
from notes by Leta Miller © 2012
University of California, Santa Cruz