Hyperion Records

Sonata in B minor, H36
composer
1742/3, published in 1744; No 6 of Württemberg Sonatas, Wq49

Recordings
'Bach (CPE): Württemberg Sonatas' (CDA67995)
Bach (CPE): Württemberg Sonatas
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Details
Movement 1: Moderato
Movement 2: Adagio non molto
Movement 3: Allegro

Sonata in B minor, H36
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The last of the set to be written, the Sonata in B minor is perhaps the most representative of Emanuel Bach’s Janus-like musical personality, characterized by a tendency to look forward to new developments in musical style while paying homage to the training he received at the hands of his illustrious father. The first movement sets the stage in dramatic fashion with what is essentially an extended recitativo accompagnato as if for solo voice and orchestra (each respectively implied by the composer’s specific indications for piano and forte manuals of the harpsichord). Perhaps Bach had in mind the operas and dramatic scenes of his Berlin contemporary Carl Heinrich Graun, whose celebrated Cesare e Cleopatra had opened the Royal Court Opera in Berlin two years previously. The entire movement is a study in imperfect resolutions and melodic motifs stopping in mid-air. Bach brilliantly manipulates and magnifies the tension by juxtaposing each point of melodic resolution with an immediate musical question mark or pause.

This is followed by a second movement of disarming tenderness. The principal theme is essentially a sequence of sighs, followed by a dotted secondary theme that at first seems wonderfully chirpy but which with each return of the sighs acquires a quality of poignancy. Finally, sadness seems to win the day as the closing bars of dotted rhythms lead us back to the opening Affekt.

The final movement is a perfect two-part invention, the first piece in the entire collection that can be said to belong truly to the High Baroque. With the nearly endless rising modulation in the second half, however, Emanuel seems to be mocking the old style a bit as he follows counterpoint to its most ridiculously over-the-top narrative conclusion. The final eighteen bars, following a fermata, are achieved in a poker-faced manner—technically perfect and cool-headed, but perhaps with a smirk left over from the jokes of the previous bars. Or perhaps there is no ridiculing after all. After a trip to the opera in the first two movements, Emanuel Bach pays tribute to the greatest composer of them all—his father. Maybe he is saying that a two-part invention is ultimately worth more than all the pretty costumes and set designs in the world.

from notes by Mahan Esfahani © 2014

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