By the mid-Eighteenth century, the viola da gamba was an instrument from the past, sustained only by a handful of virtuosi. The best known of these was not C P E Bach, but Carl Friedrich Abel, who eventually settled in London and collaborated with C P E Bach’s younger brother Johann Christian. The Bach and Abel families were quite closely linked; but if Abel and C P E Bach did meet in 1746 (the date of this Sonata), it will have been privately, since Abel was then working at the Dresden court, which was not on good terms with that at Berlin. There is, in fact, little specifically idiomatic to the gamba in this Sonata; Bach may not have been closely acquainted with its capabilities, and on paper most of it looks as if it could have been written for the violin—even to the extent of using the treble clef. But a few passages take advantage of the lower range of the instrument and its capacity for chords, the central movement requires considerable virtuosity, and as a whole it sounds remarkably impressive on the instrument.
from notes by Clifford Bartlett © 1988