Johann Sebastian Bach had twenty children, seven by his first wife and thirteen by his second, but only nine of them outlived him. Of the sons, four became composers of distinction: the two oldest, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel, and the two youngest, Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian. This program provides an occasion for the listener to get acquainted, musically, with the Bach family composers as a group, to recognize the individual personality of each composer and the breadth of their collective musical expression. Each of the four sons is represented by a symphony, either for strings with continuo or for strings, two flutes and two horns with continuo. Three are in the three-movement scheme of the pre- classical symphony, with a first movement in modest sonata form, an expressive melodic Andante second movement, and a dance-like finale in binary form. Wilhelm Friedemann’s symphony has four movements.
All the sons received musical training from their father. Although we do not know in exact detail the substance and method of Johann Sebastian’s teaching, the Klavierbüchlein, which he compiled for the benefit of his oldest son, gives us a good example of the kind of music that the Bach children learned early in their lives. Here is a collection of beautiful short pieces, most of them by the father and a few by other composers, intended not only for the development of digital dexterity but also for the cultivation of what must have been considered good taste and compositional skills. It also includes a few incomplete modest pieces by the young Wilhelm Friedemann, which are evidence that he was taught to compose at an early age. One can assume that all the children received similar training, hence they all became composers as well as superb keyboard players.
Having a strict and demanding father as the music teacher probably meant that musical supervision in the Bach household was around the clock, a situation that could have been difficult to bear. Wilhelm Friedemann, being the oldest, received the most attention for the longest duration. Until his brother Carl Philipp Emanuel was old enough to begin music lessons, the older brother was the focus of his father’s pedagogy. One wonders whether the probably excessive discipline to which he was subjected as a child had in any way caused Wilhelm Friedemann’s irresponsible behavior, both professional and personal, in later years. It was certainly unfortunate that after holding important positions as organist at the Sophienkirche in Dresden (1733- 1746) and at the Liebfrauenkirche in Halle (1746-1764), he was without regular employment from 1764 until his death in 1784. Although as a composer he enjoyed less fame than his brothers, he was equally gifted and wrote some truly compelling and innovative music. In his Sinfonia in F Major, the first movement is propelled by the force and vitality of the rhythm, while the second movement is captivating in its unusually expressive instrumental figures. His Adagio and Fugue in D Minor shows both his expressive use of rhythm in the Adagio and his mastery of contrapuntal writing in the Fugue.
Carl Philipp Emanuel enjoyed renown as a composer, keyboard player, and author. He spent some thirty years as a court musician and accompanist to Frederick the Great, who was an ardent flute player, and twenty years as director of music of the five principal churches in Hamburg. He was considered the leading keyboard player and teacher of his time. His treatise on keyboard playing was deemed the most authoritative. He was above all a prolific composer who is considered by many as an important link between the Baroque and the Classical, an innovator with revolutionary ideas about music and aesthetics. At a time when dynamics in music were mainly determined by the harmony, he made dynamics a separate dimension of music unrelated to the intensity of the harmony, and juxtaposed unexpected loud and soft passages at random. These surprises plus frequent irregular phrase structure, quick changes of mood, rhythm, harmony, and melodic figures all combined to give his music the quality of a fantasy, which he considered the most suitable vehicle for expressing one’s feelings and emotions. Some of these characteristics are found in his Sinfonia in C.
Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, the second youngest son of Johann Sebastian, was the last son to have received all his musical training from his father. He spent his entire professional life, from the time of his father’s death in 1750 until his own death in 1795, in the service of the Bückeburg court, first as harpsichordist, then as Konzertmeister of the Hofkapelle. Hence he is known as the “Bückeburg” Bach. Nonetheless, some of his works were already known in this country in his lifetime. His Sinfonia in D Minor, in the galant style of the early Classical period, is typically tuneful and homophonic, simple in structure and direct in expression. The modern edition of this undated work is based on a set of original instrumental parts, which was acquired by the German-American J. F. Peters around 1768 and is now in the library of the Moravian Music Foundation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
It is hard to surmise how much musical training Johann Christian received from his father. He was fifteen at the time of his father’s death, after which he went to live and study with his brother Carl Philipp Emanuel for four years. In 1754 he went to study and work in Milan where he stayed for eight years, then settled in London for the rest of his life. Thus he is known as the “London” Bach. He was also active as a conductor and impresario. With the viola da gamba virtuoso Carl Frederich Abel he founded one of the most important concert series in London. He was a master of the galant style, a style that is free of the contrapuntal complexities and other musical profundities of his father’s music. He composed mostly elegant and enjoyable music that is full of tuneful melodies with pleasing harmonies, sometimes dramatic and brilliant and sometimes intimate and simple, and often with an Italian operatic flavor. The first movement of his Sinfonia in E-flat Major, with the extended crescendo passage of the initial theme, easily suggests the curtain-raising nature of an overture.
Johann Sebastian‘s Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041, is one of two concertos for violin solo with strings and continuo that he composed in Leipzig around 1730. It is a three-movement work typical of the Italian solo concerto of the time. The two outer movements are in the ritornello form, in which the movement consists of alternations between orchestral and solo sections. The initial and final orchestral sections are more substantial and in the tonic key of the piece, while the middle orchestral sections are brief and in related keys. The solo sections provide the instrumental brilliance with new melodic figures or elaboration of the orchestral material and also the modulations that lead to the different tonalities of the orchestral sections. In spite of their formal similarity, the first movement reveals contrasts in the solo and orchestral figures, while the last movement is a joyful gigue in which the solo and orchestra participate in the same tune. Although the second movement also consists of alternation between orchestral and solo sonorities, the extreme contrast between ornate melody of the solo and the ostinato bass of the orchestra is so great that it is perceived as a through composed solo piece. However, the similar rhythmic figures of the solo violin in measures 14, 28, and 42 are so obvious, and the tonalities in which the three sections end (C major, G major, and A minor) are so logical, that there is also a prevailing sense of structural balance and proportion. It is then a piece consisting of three equal sections of fourteen measures each followed by a four-measure coda in which the orchestra repeats the first four measures of the movement.