10 September 1941 – 24 September 2014
Keyboard player
Reviews of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Complete Works
August 1, 2007

Two reviews of volumes of the Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Complete Works project appeared in November [2006]. The aim of the project is to make available a critical edition of the works of C. P. E. Bach; the plan is to employ a concentrated publication schedule so that the completed edition is ready by 2014, the 300th anniversary of Bach’s birth. For a list of volumes now available and details on how to obtain the volumes, please visit

The two reviews appeared in:
British Clavichord Society Newsletter
Early Music

From British Clavichord Society Newsletter 36

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Complete Works, Series I (keyboard works), Volume 3: ‘Probestücke’, ‘Leichte’ and ‘Damen’ Sonatas, edited by David Schulenberg. pp. xxi, 12 plates + 190. US$ 25.00

Anthony Noble, Farnborough

‘When we turn to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach we see a figure much written about in his own times, but less since. In his own times a great modernist, then the thin son of a ripe father, and now? Perhaps the dullest of all the classics’. Such a statement, written half a century ago by Max Kenyon in an otherwise generally enlightened survey of early keyboard instruments and their music, might cause raised eyebrows amongst the readers of this journal, but was surely representative of a not untypical approach to music history. Much has changed since, however, and C. P. E. Bach has slowly begun to regain something of the esteem in which he was held in his own time, a time when judgements were unaffected by the, as yet undeveloped, notion of canonical hierarchy.

It is refreshing to read, then, in David Schulenberg’s contribution on the composer in the excellent little volume Eighteenth-Century Keyboard Music, that ‘Of the elder Bach’s five sons who became professional musicians, the most important, both for the size and for the consistent quality and originality of his output, is now generally acknowledged to have been Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’, and that amongst his works is to be found ‘some of the most profound as well as some of the wittiest, most engaging keyboard music ever written’.

Despite this, C. P. E. Bach has not been fortunate when it comes to modern scholarly editions. The previous attempt at a complete works, the Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Edition, under the editorship of Rachel W. Wade and E. Eugene Helm and published by OUP, was begun in the 1980s but only ever issued four volumes, now out of print; and, as noted in the last BCS Newsletter in the announcement for the volume under review, Miklós Spányi’s edition of the keyboard music has also run aground. There has been, it is true, a complete facsimile version of the keyboard works edited by Darrell Berg, though this is difficult to track down; and many of the keyboard works have appeared in modern editions of varying quality (the ABRSM Selected Keyboard Works edited by Howard Ferguson, though far from complete and not exactly scholarly, has always seemed to me useful). Nonetheless, and especially in the light of the recovery in 1999 of the archives of the Berlin Singakademie, this particular Bach is long overdue for a scholarly critical edition of his works, and this is a timely and laudable venture, due for completion in 2014, the tercentenary of the composer’s birth.

This project, under the auspices of the Packard Humanities Institute, has a distinguished editorial board, including, among other well-known scholar-musicians, Christopher Hogwood, Darrell Berg, Christoph Wolff and Peter Wollny. The editor of this volume, David Schulenberg, is, as we have already seen, a tremendous advocate for the keyboard music of C. P. E. Bach, and he brings to the task not only enthusiasm but also an encyclopaedic knowledge of the music, its compositional contexts and its sources.

The works contained in this volume are some of the most approachable of all of Bach’s compositions for the keyboard, though they are not, as Schulenberg repeatedly points out, always as easy as their titles might imply. The Achtzehm Probe-Stücke in Sechs Sonaten (Wq. 63/1–6) were, of course, written to accompany and illustrate the Versuch published in 1753. These sonatas, unusually, though not uniquely in Bach’s works, do not maintain a single key within each work, though the keys are related: for example, the three movements of Sonata IV are in B minor, D major and F sharp minor (incidentally, it is the use of such remote keys that contributes, according to Schulenberg, to the difficulty of these movements, especially, he says, on the clavichord). These sonatas are placed first in this volume, and appearing at the end are the Sechs Neue Clavier-Stücke (Wq. 63/7–12). These six short single-movement sonatas were written in 1786 and published the following year as part of an expanded musical supplement to the third edition of the Versuch. Despite their discrete published appearance, Schulenberg presents evidence that they may have been viewed as constituting two three-movement works in the same form as the first six sonatas: certainly the sequence of tempi would support this, and the key relationships do not make it implausible.

The Sechs Leichte Clavier-Sonaten (Wq. 53) of 1766 constitute the last set of sonatas published by Bach while he was in Berlin. These predominately two-part works are not, says Schulenberg in the introduction to this volume, ‘especially easy by the prevailing standards of the day’. However, varied and embellished readings for four of the movements from these sonatas are contained in a manuscript, catalogued as Wq. 68. This manuscript contains only those parts of the music varied or embellished: Schulenberg therefore presents composite versions of these movements (separately from, and in addition to, their published form) in which the varied and embellished movements are merged with the published form to produce a complete, performable text. This provides a fascinating insight into the process of varying given material, something Bach discussed in the Versuch particularly with reference to repeats, and which he illustrated elsewhere (the third movement of Wq. 53/5 or the two sets of Reprisen sonatas, for example).

The other works contained in this volume are the Six Sonates pour le Clavecin à l’usage des Dames (Wq. 54). Though composed in 1766, while Bach was still in Berlin, they were not published until about 1770, when he had been in Hamburg for several years. Schulenberg suggests that the [unusually] inaccurate and imprecise nature of this edition, issued by Hummel in Amsterdam, implies that Bach may not have been as closely involved in its production as was his usual practice.

In addition to the project preface from the editorial board and a series preface by Darrell Berg, David Schulenberg provides a lengthy and thoroughly detailed introduction to the volume. In sections dedicated to each of the four sets of sonatas included he describes the compositional and publishing history and contexts, as well as discussing the musical forms and styles employed, all in a scrupulously documented and footnoted form. Of particular use is a passage in the section on the Probestücke where are listed all the references to these works that occur in the main body of the Versuch. He concludes with a brief section on performance practice which touches (as also does Berg’s general preface to the keyboard works) on the precise status of the clavichord as the intended medium for Bach’s music; discusses the appropriateness of additional ornamentation; and refers to ambiguities in the text in relation to the application of dynamics, and to the durational values of some notes in inner voices.

The critical report, amounting to some 40 pages of the 190 in the main body of the volume, is a treasury of information. Like the introduction it is split up into sections on each work. Each section lists and fully describes all early sources — the many manuscript copies, of varying authority, and the printed copies, both authorized and pirated. These are presented in groups: autograph and other manuscripts used for the edition, prints used for the edition, manuscripts not used for the edition and early prints not used for the edition. For the printed sources used Schulenberg lists all exemplars seen.

After an evaluation of the sources there follows a detailed listing, firstly of changes made by Bach prior to publication and variants between printings (where applicable), and secondly of editorial emendations to the text. Bach’s active involvement in the publishing of his works is referred to frequently in this volume, and can be followed in great detail in Stephen Clark’s edition of his letters. Consequently the original texts are generally both detailed and accurate, and editorial emendations are relatively few. All are carefully explained and apt. I did notice one slip, though: on page 189 in the notes on Sonata I (Wq. 63/7) we are told that the seventh note of the top stave of bar 13 has been changed to an e2 and the reasons for the change are explained; however, unlike all similar emendations there is no indication of the reading given in the source. A very small slip in such a volume, but it does reinforce for all of us Bach’s own frequent pleas to Breitkopf on the subject of proofreading: for example, he writes in a marginal note in one letter ‘Tell your proof-readers ... that if they deprive me of my honour through the slightest mistake, then they would deserve nothing better than to be taken to Waldheim [a prison in Saxony]’.

This is a beautifully produced volume, about the same large size as the abortive OUP edition and like it bound in blue cloth. Whereas the OUP volumes had a gold silhouette of Bach as the emblem on the front cover this new edition uses a gold print of Bach’s own autograph harmonization of his surname in an album of C. F. Cramer. The paper is of a very good quality, the musical print (even in the heavily ornamented, annotated and fingered Probestücke) and text are splendidly clear, and this book is altogether a delight to pick up and use. Perhaps this very quality makes it a little heavy for some music desks, and I have one small quibble concerning layout: it is a shame when three consecutive two-page movements, as in Sonata IV (Wq. 63/4), all require page turns.

These are only tiny issues, however. This is an outstanding volume in an excellent venture, and, at $25 for direct sales, quite unbelievably good value. One can only wish such a praiseworthy project well and look forward to future volumes of the same high standard of scholarship and production.



From Early Music

Susan Wollenberg: Reviving C. P. E. Bach
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, The complete works, Los Altos, CA: Packard Humanities Institute

vol.I/3: ‘Probestücke’, ‘Leichte’ and ‘Damen’ sonatas, ed. David Schulenberg 2005, $25

vol.II/8: Sei concerti per il cembalo concertato Wq 43 ed. Douglas Lee 2005, $30

vol. III/3: Orchester-Sinfonien mit 12 obligaten Stimmen Wq 183, ed. David Kidger 2005, $20

Following the sad demise of the C. P. E. Bach Edition begun so promisingly by Oxford University Press in 1989 under the direction of Eugene Helm and Rachel Wade, the collected works of C. P. E. Bach are newly launched in this handsomely produced set of volumes by the Packard Humanities Institute, in co-operation with the Bach-Archiv, Leipzig, the Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, and Harvard University. It is good to see that a collected edition is once again a real possibility for this composer. The new editorial team includes such established Bach scholars as Darrell M. Berg General Editor, together with Ulrich Leisinger and Peter Wollny and David Schulenberg.

Schulenberg has edited vol.I/3 keyboard music to a generally very high standard, particularly as regards the provision of source information, although I have some reservations about his editing of the musical text. The contents form a generous musical offering: the volume contains not only the three sets of keyboard sonatas mentioned on the cover and title-page, but also a further set of pieces, the Sechs neue Clavier-Stücke VI Sonatine nuove which accompanied the Versuch in its third edition of 1787, and which are here labelled as ‘Wq 63/7 12’. The other three sets comprise the Aehtzehn Probestücke in Sechs Sonaten, originally issued to complement the Versuch in 1753 ‘Wq 63/1 6’, the Sechs leichte ClavierSonaten ‘Wq 53/1 6’, and the Six Sonates pour le Clavecin à l’usage des Dames ‘Wq 54/1 6’. The general editors have expressly retained the old Wotquenne numbering, used here virtually exclusively. Wotquenne’s thematic catalogue was superseded by Helm’s much more extensive and nuanced listing published in 1989 and provisionally available before that in the New Grove 2. The Helm catalogue [H] numbering has generally taken precedence in the literature on C. P. E. Bach since, and could have been expected to be used here. The rationale behind the adherence to Wotquenne is explained by the editors simply by reason of its sheer persistence: ‘Alfred Wotquenne’s Thematisches Verzeichnis... 1905 has long been the standard catalogue of Bach’s works, and the present edition employs Wotquenne numbers... for primary references to Bach’s work’ general preface to all volumes, although H numbers do put in an appearance here and there, and are to be found among the small print in the critical commentary.

It could be argued that the ideal way to access C. P. E. Bach’s keyboard music would be directly from Darrell Berg’s facsimile editions of the various original manuscript and printed sources New York: Garland, 1985. The added value of a modern edition such as this must lie in its presenting the musical text in a carefully considered form for the present-day reader, and in the extent of the contextual information it provides. On this latter count, Schulenberg’s edition scores highly, with, besides its nearly 150 pages of musical text, some 50 pages of introductory prose and commentary, presenting the fruits of his searching scholarly enquiry.

My reservations about the editorial approach concern the suppression of certain features of the original, in particular C. P. E. Bach’s detailed dynamic markings. Bach is quite precise about where, and in which part, and on which note, the dynamic markings should apply. As Hans-Günter Ottenberg has observed, ‘Here more than anywhere else in his keyboard music, Bach has notated in great detail his exact requirements’ C. P. E. Bach, trans. Philip Whitmore Oxford, 1987, p.78. Schulenberg suppresses some of this detail as a matter of policy, subsuming it under a single marking or omitting it altogether, and sometimes thereby distorting what seem to be the original intentions. This happens even where a linear texture is strongly characterized, either by contrapuntal working-out or through the combination of distinctive melody and accompaniment lines. To give just two instances: in the Probestücke, Sonata III, first movement, bars 16 17, the canonic imitation at a bar’s distance is marked in Schulenberg’s edition with a single forte indication on the first quaver of the ‘dux’ in bar 16; no further marking is given. In fact Bach marked the right hand ‘comes’ entry with a forte on its first quaver. In Probestücke, Sonata I, second movement, bar 9, in this edition the syncopated melody is correctly marked piano, but the bass part entering on beat 2 with an elegant accompanying figure is left unmarked; Bach had a piano on its first crotchet. The same happens with the pianissimo sequential repetition beginning at bar 13. Howard Ferguson, in his Associated Board edition of the Probestücke, agrees with me on this point. He consistently retains the original placing of dynamics in left and right hands and I find his bold-type, italicized dynamics easier to take in visually. Ferguson’s edition scores less well, though, in regard to Bach’s fingering: here it is Schulenberg who presents the more comprehensive rendering of this aspect of the original.

The presentation of the musical text itself seems virtually error-free, although there are occasional small slips: bar 21 in Probestücke, Sonata III, second movement should be numbered 22, and is there a fingering missing in Sonatina VI in D minor p.148, bar 14, RH on d’? The Probestücke the most substantial of the sonatas here conclude with the famous ‘Hamlet’ Fantasy, H 75; Helm’s catalogue lists over 25 items in the literature on this work and more have appeared since. Less well known but often cited in discussions of their genre are the attractive ‘Damen-Sonaten’; belonging to the 18th- and 19th-century proliferation of ‘music for ladies’, these could all too easily be dismissed as simple, deliberately undemanding pieces. At times they resemble Mozart in K545 vein see Sonata I, bars 9ff.. I have, though, heard the suggestion made at a C. P. E. Bach conference that these works show an enhanced empfindsam character, in keeping with female sensibilities simultaneous cross-relations are a speciality: see, for instance, Sonata VI, second movement, bar 7. These sonatas are not lacking in C. P. E. Bach’s characteristic twists and turns; as a collection they display a variety of keyboard textures and moods, including the humorous effects for which the composer is renowned.

Besides the general preface common to all three volumes, setting out the editorial policy for the whole project, each series has its own generic preface by Darrell Berg on keyboard music, and Peter Wollny on symphonies and concertos. These provide an overview that will be especially helpful for those relatively unfamiliar with C. P. E. Bach’s work. Also among the preliminary material are sections of plates featuring facsimiles of title-pages and pages from manuscript and printed sources. The prefaces to the individual volumes cover matters of compositional genesis and publication history, performance history and reception, performance practice, and musical style. What emerges from them collectively is, above all, a strong sense of C. P. E. Bach’s high profile as a composer in his own time, of his successful and astute management of his professional career for example in cultivating and negotiating with publishers, and of the appreciative reception of his music despite — in fact, because of — its pronounced individualism: he was recognized in his own time as an ‘original genius’.

Another important aspect that emerges strongly is his consideration of ‘Kenner und Liebhaber’ — connoisseurs and amateurs — with the carefully contrived appeal to either or both of these categories in designing and marketing his published collections. An advertisement for the Sei Concerti per il cembalo concertato, H471 6 of 1772, possibly originating with Bach himself see vol.II/8, p.xi, declared: ‘To connoisseurs of good music that comes from the heart and to friends of natural rather than muddled and foolish tastes, these concertos certainly will be desirable.’ Such words both flattered and instructed the potential buyer, while also stressing the pieces’ suitability for the amateur, ‘the solo part as well as the accompaniments’ being ‘easier’ and the cadenzas written out. As the editor, Douglas A. Lee, reminds us, with these works Bach was contributing to a relatively new genre. In them Bach explored the relationship of solo and orchestra that was at the heart of the late 18th-century keyboard concerto. Thus the entries of the harpsichord soloist following the opening ritornellos display a variety of strategies. In Concerto I the soloist enters immediately after the ritornello as part of a dialogue with the orchestra to which the opening idea lends itself, with its forte-piano contrasts. In Concerto V the soloist is absent from the slow introduction except of course for the customary continuo function, and enters in the following Presto, introduced unaccompanied for maximum exposure, whereas in Concerto II the opening Allegro di molto for orchestra is followed by an Andante section with the soloist entering virtually unaccompanied before the Allegro di molto resumes the alternation of these two tempi recurs later. Concertos IV and VI have the solo part entering with varied versions of the opening idea, the latter a more-or-less literal use, the former constituting an expressive decorative variation. In Concerto III the solo part entering at bar 33 features a reflection in improvisatory style, taking its departure from the ritornello material. The set as a whole shows experiments with structure and key for example, in the through-composed form of Concerto V, with all four sections based in the tonic G major, the first three being open-ended, and in the use of open-ended movement-structures and interesting key-juxtapositions within the three-movement cycles of the other five concertos.

Similar experiments characterize the four orchestral symphonies, the Vier Orchester-Sinfonien mit zwölf obligaten Stimmen, H663 6, of 1775–6, edited here by David Kidger. These symphonies are the crown of Bach’s work in this field. Again, the genre was relatively new, and Bach’s major contribution to it in these works as well as in the earlier set of Six String Symphonies, H657 62, commissioned by van Swieten perhaps shows his originality at its most striking. The extreme quirkiness with which he handles symphonic gestures — themselves still a novelty — renders them even more novel: the opening of the very first symphony, in D major, immediately establishes this with its unexpected ‘take’ on the conventions. The expanded wind section is used colourfully and with a new independence. These four symphonies deserve to be adopted into the regular concert repertory their première in Hamburg was a triumph, as Kidger documents. In fact they sustained a presence in the repertory long after Bach’s lifetime. Peter Wollny points out vol.II/8, Preface: Symphonies, p.x that they were ‘issued and revived in the concert hall on a number of occasions in the 19th and early 20th centuries and are thus the only symphonies from Bach’s generation’ to have the distinction of claiming ‘a continuous performing tradition running from his era to ours’.

Christopher Hogwood chair of the editorial board and his colleagues are to be congratulated on their sterling efforts on behalf of a composer once described in Early Music, xviii 1990 as ‘still one of music’s half-knowns’, and one who definitely deserves to be much better known and appreciated. Or as Bach’s friend Charles Burney put it, ‘it must be owned that the style of this author is so uncommon, that a little habit is necessary for the enjoyment of it’.