The “Sensitive” Bach!

CPE Bach, portrait by Franz Conrad Löhr

Each week, we’re presenting a tiny taste of BFX 2022 in our “BFX bites” section—an amuse-bouche for the upcoming Festival feast!

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Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, born in 1714, was the fifth child of Johann Sebastian and his first wife Maria Barbara. While he studied law at university, after obtaining his degree he immediately turned to music, becoming an influential composer and pedagogue in his own right (his Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments was considered a definitive document on the subject of performance practice, studied extensively by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven; it is still used as a reference today).

The younger Bach became known for writing music in the empfindsamer Stil (“sensitive style”), a highly expressive style of composition known for applying the principles of rhetoric and drama to musical structures; quick tonal shifts and changes of harmonic rhythm are often employed, the purpose of which is to make the listener feel, not just hear, something. As such, his music created a bridge between the Baroque and Classical, forging a stylistic link between his father’s own compositional style and that of the composers who would come soon after, including Haydn and Beethoven. It also stood in contrast to the elegant and balanced galant style in vogue at the time (although that certainly didn’t seem to harm his reputation or his career prospects!). His influence can still be felt today, both in reference to his contributions to historically-informed performance practice, and to an idea that so many take for granted in today’s concert halls—that the performance of a piece of music could forge a direct emotional link between musician and listener, rather than simply be light entertainment.

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If you would like to hear the empfindsamer Stil in action, come to the BFX on Tuesday, June 7 at 12 PM, for KEIRAN CAMPBELL, cello & SEZI SESKIR, fortepiano, as they show us the throughline between C.P.E. Bach’s work and that of one of his biggest fans: Ludwig van Beethoven!

Learn more, and get tickets for the BFX, here: 




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