With the first sonata in the collection, the Sonata in A minor, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach makes the most combative statement possible to assert his new musical language. The opening melody of the first movement could just as well be a brash violin solo by Vivaldi, so fresh and piquant is its flavour. So ambitious is its scope that in fewer than three bars the soprano voice twice spans the range of an eleventh. In true Sturm und Drang fashion, mood swings define the basic logic of the movement, as fiery magic is juxtaposed with moments of almost saccharine sweetness. Immediately before a recapitulation of the principal theme, Bach uses a melodic fragment based on a rising arpeggio accompanied by increasing dissonance in the left hand, thus creating the impression of a rising crescendo in a manner maximizing the harpsichord’s properties. The following Andante could almost be a transcription from a chamber work, a trio for two treble instruments and an accompanying bass. The spirited third movement makes as revolutionary a statement as the first, and is defined by a sense of animalistic turbulence. The driving pulse of the opening bars is met halfway through the first (repeated) section by a daring descending cascade of semiquavers, which then forms the chief idea of the conclusion of each half. The result is a work of stunning brilliance. Perhaps Emanuel had in mind the pyrotechnics of Domenico Scarlatti’s already famous Essercizi
of 1737, which he could easily have ordered from Paris.
from notes by Mahan Esfahani © 2014