Music Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Darrell Berg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0010


The life and works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (b. 1714–d. 1788) occupy a peculiar position in music historiography. Bach is arguably the most imaginative German composer of the mid-18th century. Trained by his father, Johann Sebastian Bach, Emanuel contributed works to all significant genres of the midcentury except the opera. Although his career as a composer began as early as the 1730s, it was divided between two main venues: Berlin (1740–1768), where he was harpsichordist at the court of Friedrich II of Prussia (Frederick the Great), an appointment that became official in 1741; and Hamburg (1768–1788), where he was music director for the five municipal churches and cantor of the Johanneum. Bach’s music includes solo keyboard works, chamber music (including concertos for various instruments and orchestral symphonies), Lieder, and choral music. His instrumental compositions span his entire career; the majority of his vocal works were composed after his move to Hamburg, with most of the choral works as a direct response to the demands of his position there. In the 18th century, Emanuel Bach was more widely recognized as a composer than was his father. From the beginning of the 19th century, however, interest in his music largely disappeared. His music was rarely performed, information about his oeuvre and its sources was lost, and very few scholars treated his works as part of a canon of great composers. From the mid-20th century to the present, attention of scholars and the general public to Bach’s music has increased considerably, owing partly to the growth of interest in the performance of early music. Scholarly writings have appeared that assume Bach’s historical importance, examining his life and his musical and didactic works and discovering previously unknown sources of his music. Because Bach had to be rediscovered, some of the most valuable writings—those that fill a current need—are studies that define his repertory and deal with its sources. Although the present bibliography does not purport to be an exhaustive list, it aims to provide an introduction and to guide the reader to further investigation of Bach’s life and works.

General Overviews

The citations in this category serve as general overviews of the life and works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach or locate his music within the context of discussions of aesthetic principles and stylistic developments of the 18th century. Taruskin’s description of the aesthetic ideals of the period and the relation of Bach’s music and performance to these ideals (Taruskin 2010 are more thorough than most such descriptions. Wagner and Leisinger 1999 and Leisinger’s article in the Grove Dictionary overviews are encyclopedia articles, each contain a brief biography, a discussion of Bach’s music, a complete list of his works, and a bibliography. Hoffmann-Erbrecht 1957 and Eggebrecht 1955 are concerned with affective devices in Bach’s music, particularly his keyboard music, and argue that they are representative of the “Sturm und Drang” period. The authors of three citations, Finscher 1973, Bücken 1923–1924, and Jalowetz 1910–1911, tend to treat Bach’s oeuvre as part of a transitional style between those commonly designated “Baroque” and “Classical”; this diminishes his importance somewhat. Nevertheless, the traditional views of his style that they represent contribute to the historiography of his music.

  • Bücken, Ernst. “Der galante Stil.” Zeitschrift für Musikwissenschaft 6 (1923–1924): 418–430.

    Essay describes the galant style as homophonic, (dominated by a single melody, rather than as contrapuntal) and names C. P. E. Bach as the most important exponent.

  • Eggebrecht, Hans Heinrich. “Das Ausdrucksprinzip im musikalischen “Sturm und Drang’.” Deutsche Vierteljahrschrift für Litteraturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 29 (1955): 323–349.

    Proposes expression of feelings as the main purpose of composers of the mid-18th century. Mentions contrasts in dynamics and other parameters, as well as harmonic nonsequiturs, as examples of “Sturm und Drang” style in the music of Emanuel Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, and J. G. Müthel.

  • Finscher, Ludwig. “Das Originalgenie und die Tradition: Zur Rolle der Tradition in der Entstehungsgeschichte des Wiener klassischen Stils.” In Studien zur Tradition in der Musik: Kurt von Fischer zum 60. Geburtstag. Edited by Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht and Max Lütolf, 165–175. Munich: Katzbichler, 1973.

    A brief but astute essay in which Finscher finds elements of the Classical style in the works of C. P. E. Bach, Johann Stamitz, Giovanni Battista Sammartini, Franz Xavier Richter, and Haydn, and maintains that in the eyes of his contemporaries, Bach was the prototype of the “original genius.”

  • Hoffmann-Erbrecht, Lothar. “Sturm und Drang in der deutschen Klaviermusik von 1753–1763.” Die Musikforschung 10 (1957): 477–479.

    Using the keyboard music of Bach, Johann Gottfried Müthel, and Johann Gottfried Eckard as examples of the style he designates as “Sturm und Drang,” the author cites multiple dynamic gradations, sharp contrasts in rhythm and harmony as characteristics of this style.

  • Jalowetz, Heinrich. “Beethovens Jugendwerke in ihren melodischen Beziehungen zu Mozart, Haydn, und Ph. E. Bach.” Sammelbände der Internationalen Musik-Gesellschaft 12 (1910–1911): 414–474.

    Believes Bach’s instrumental style, known in its time as galant, to be a dramatic style; maintains that the elements of Bach’s music, particularly his melody, lead directly to Beethoven’s instrumental style.

  • Leisinger, Ulrich. “Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.” Grove Music Online.

    This overview reflects the most recent scholarship. Like other articles in the Grove Dictionary, it contains a works list and bibliography. Originally published in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2d ed., vol. 2 (London: Macmillan, 2001), pp. 387–408.

  • Taruskin, Richard. The Oxford History of Western Music. Vol. 2, Music in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    A perceptive description of the aesthetic and musical backdrop against which Bach’s career unfolded, pp. 409–418.

  • Wagner, Günter, and Ulrich Leisinger. “Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Personenteil. Vol. 1. Edited by Blume, Friedrich and Finscher, Ludwig, cols. 1312–1358. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 1999.

    A thorough account of the life and works of Bach reflecting scholarship to 1999, with accompanying works list (compiled by Leisinger) and bibliography.

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