Cello Concerto in A Major, W. 172

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        A son of J.S. Bach’s first marriage, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, was the most distinguished of his siblings, and was the most important composer in northern Germany in the second half of the eighteenth century. His father, of course, was the most significant composer of the Baroque period, whose death in 1750 marked the end of that musical style. The interim period before the development of the so-called “classical” style of Haydn, and Mozart, Gluck and Beethoven is one that defies easy description. Perhaps the best way to conceive of it is simply as “mid-century” style--a time of profound changes in European music. Baroque musical style began to wane by the 1730s and the music that we are familiar with by Mozart and Haydn came into being by the 1770s and 80s. And that middle half-century or so of musical style owed much to the genius of CPE, or Emanuel, as he is commonly referred to.

         Emanuel Bach spent much of his life in Berlin, in the service of Frederick II, but from 1768 he was director of church music in Hamburg, successor to the great Telemann. Composer of over 1000 works during his lifetime, Bach is also notable for having written one of the four most important instructional books on music in the eighteenth century. It was a time of burgeoning musical amateurism, and Bach’s Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments was, and remains, a landmark in musical history.

        In the north of Europe at that time, musical style had evolved into a style that had distinctly moved away from the previous practice of maintaining a smooth, homogeneous mood throughout a complete movement. In its stead, North German composers, and Emanuel Bach was the textbook example, sought to write in a melodic and harmonic style that constantly changed in mood, expressivity, and intensity. Called Empfindsamkeit, or “sensitive style,” it is characterized by angular melodies, rhythmic variety, well-balanced and relatively short phrases. The conscious aim was to project a “tearful melancholy,” within an intimate and subjective context.

        While Bach is known for his keyboard works in general, and specifically, those for harpsichord, he composed a few concertos for other common solo instruments, as well. The baroque era was pretty much the last style period wherein a given melodic line could often be played without alteration for a variety of musical instruments. So, it is not surprising that this work is also found scored by Bach for flute solo or harpsichord solo, as well. That fact does not deter in the least our enjoyment of a beautiful and impressive work for cello.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan