Christmas music by C.P.E. Bach

On their new CD, the Kölner Akademie dedicates itself to the most famous of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Born in Weimar in 1714 as Bach’s second surviving son with his first wife, his godfather was none other than Georg Philipp Telemann. When his father became Thomaskantor, the family moved to Leipzig, where Bach’s sons also received lessons from their father at the Thomasschule. Despite his intensive musical training, he devoted himself to law from 1731, which he completed but ultimately gave up in favor of music – even the supposedly safe profession of law was no match for his genes. C.P.E. Bach was already studying during his law studies, although he attached little importance to these compositions.

In 1738, he was appointed harpsichordist in the chapel of the Prussian Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, who later became Frederick the Great. When he was crowned king, Bach remained his court harpsichordist. In this position, he became one of the most famous harpsichordists of his time: not only was he highly regarded throughout Europe for his own playing, but his works, which he mainly wrote for keyboard instruments, were also extremely successful. He also made a name for himself as a teacher, for example, the first part of his treatise “Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen” (“An Attempt at the True Way of Playing the Harpsichord”) was published in 1753. In addition to his works for keyboard instruments, he composed symphonies, concertos, song collections, secular cantatas and chamber music during his time in Berlin, as well as his “Magnificat” from 1749, which has now been published by the Kölner Akademie.

The “Magnificat” is one of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s early vocal works: in June 1749, the Leipzig City Council organized a small competition for Johann Sebastian Bach’s future successor as Thomaskantor. Bach had fallen seriously ill in the meantime – so the end of his time as Thomaskantor was foreseeable. He himself invited two of his sons to apply for his post and so Carl Philipp Emanuel decided to set the “Magnificat” to music. Bach adopts a modern style here, only recalling his father’s style in the concluding double fugue. Later, during his time in Hamburg as the successor to his godfather Telemann, he revised the original version once again and added trumpets and timpani to the outer movements. While the later, Hamburg version is widely used today, the original version was particularly well-known and popular throughout Europe at the time.

However, neither of Bach’s sons received the post of Thomaskantor. For Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, however, life held a comparable position in store: in 1769, he followed his godfather Telemann to the post of municipal music director in Hamburg. The tasks he had to fulfill here were comparable to those of his father in Leipzig. Over the years, he wrote over 1,000 individual works, including a great deal of popular music as well as sacred works for Hamburg’s five main churches. He was highly esteemed and cultivated contacts with numerous musician friends as well as esteemed representatives of philosophy and literature. To this day, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach is probably considered the most important representative of the transition between the Baroque and Classical periods – when he died in 1788, he was more famous than his father during his lifetime.

Deutschlandfunk will dedicate its broadcast on January 1, 2024 at 9.05 pm to the new recording by the Kölner Akademie under the direction of Michael Willens, which includes the “Magnificat” in both versions as well as the Christmas cantata “Auf, schicke dich” and the choir “Spiega, Ammonia fortunata”.