Cumbrian Society of Organists

Review : The Organ Music of C P E Bach (and Contemporaries) : 22 January 2022

Over twenty members attended this event at Cartmel Priory. Adrian Self began by giving a brief history of Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach. He was the second son born to Sebastian and his first wife Maria Barbara. Sadly she died when Carl was six years of age. Sebastian shortly after married Anna Magdalena. The young C.P.E deeply resented this. He never accepted his step-mother and this caused much division in his family, and was arguably a cause of the Storm and Stress in his music.

Storm and stress is Adrian’s description of the music of Carl. During his lifetime he was more well known and esteemed than his father. He was moving away from the Baroque style and slowly moving into the more classical era in music, although retaining some elements of his father’s teaching. For no apparent reason long pauses were a feature in his music. He also made full use of dynamics and echo effects. Most of his music was for manuals with very little use of the pedals. Adrian explained that despite all these idiosyncrasies C.P.E. was not just playing around with special effects but was a composer who should be taken seriously.

His organ compositions:
Five Sonatas, six Fugues, five Chorals

Contemporaries of C.P.E. Bach:
Michelle Corrette (1707-95)
Wilhelm Friedmann Bach (1710-84)
John Stanley (1712-86)
Johan Ludwig Krebs ((1713-80)
Claude Balbastre (1727-99)
Antonio Soler (1729-83)
Xaver Brixi (1732-71)
Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809)
Johann Christian Kittel (1732-1809)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91)

These composers lived through a time of historical turbulence. In Europe the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars raging. The state did not allow religious services and so these highly trained Church musicians could no longer compose for the liturgy. Church organists became redundant. In order to survive they became entertainers using their instruments as sound machines to imitate the sounds of battle and warfare. Audiences appreciated this. A device used by Corvette was to place a small plank of wood on the pedal board and at strategic moments he would press down on the pedals. The sound from the pedals would be absolutely deafening. (Think I’ll try this when organ practise isn’t going the way it should. Much more satisfying than saying SUGAR being far too refined to say the word I really mean!).

In England we had John Stanley, and the industrial revolution. Stanley was composing music which is still highly regarded and performed today. No Storm and Stress for him, he was a very accomplished organist and he used his instrument to perform music.

Thank you Adrian for a very enjoyable and instructive afternoon presented with your customary wit and charm. And of course, Pam. How on earth could we manage without her? She turns pages, pulls out stops, and PROVIDES BISCUITS. Thanks Pam.