Johann Christian and Carl Philipp Emanuel welcome you to our concerts!
The Berlin Symphony and the Double Concerto
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, born in 1714 in Weimar, was the second son of Johann Sebastian Bach with Maria Barbara, his first wife. He received his musical training from his father, who gave him keyboard and organ lessons, and from the age of 15 he took part in Sebastian Bach’s musical performances. After studying law in Leipzig and Frankfurt am Oder, in 1740 Emanuel Bach entered into the service of the Prussian court in Berlin as a court musician, joining an orchestra of some 40 musicians, one of the largest in Germany at that time. One of his duties in the court was to accompany at the keyboard to the king, Frederick II, who was an accomplished flute player. Bach was also actively involved in the city musical life, in a time when the first public concerts were organized in private homes by professional musicians, as well as enthusiasts from the Berliner high society.
During this time he composed his “Berlin” symphonies, eight works for string orchestra that are among the finest examples of the genre from mid-18th-century in North Germany. The one to be heard tonight was written in 1757. Originally intended only for strings, Emanuel Bach added the oboe and horn parts later, after his move to Hamburg in 1768, when larger performance forces became available to him.
The Double Concerto for harpsichord and fortepiano Wq. 47, written in 1788, is perhaps the last piece composed by Emanuel Bach, who died the same year. Very possibly it was a commission by Sara Levy (1761–1854), member of the reputed Jewish family Itzig in Berlin. Her father Daniel Itzig was the banker of the court of Frederick II, and the most privileged and highest-ranking Jew in Prussia. His family was also known in musical circles for having a particular esteem and veneration for the Bachs as early as in the 1770s, especially for Johann Sebastian and Carl Philipp Emanuel, playing and discussing their music in their salon. This is remarkable, considering that after J. S. Bach death in 1750 his music would still circulate in professional circles but almost not at all in private homes.
The reasons for the extraordinary instrumental combination of this Double concerto, the only one of its kind in the whole history of Music, are not known. However, we can deduce them: Sara Levy and her sister Zippora were very well educated musicians and accomplished keyboard players. The combination of the “old-fashioned” harpsichord with the “modern” fortepiano could respond to the very nature of Sara Levy’s conservative and at the same time enlightening way of being. In her salon, not only music was played but also important intellectual figures of the period would meet and discuss. Why not imagining their curiosity on putting these two keyboards together in the same piece, playing as equals and revealing their distinctive and different natures? The concerto encloses a very refined way of composing. Indeed, this music was written for the delight of connoisseurs, not amateurs, and Emanuel Bach could be sure that he could find this audience in Madame Levy’s salon.
Johann Christian Bach was the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, born in Leipzig in 1735. Presumably he received most of his musical education from his father. After Johann Sebastian’s death, the youngest Bach moved to Berlin in 1750 where he studied composition with his brother Carl Philipp Emanuel.
In the year 1755 Johann Christian moved to Milan. This time in Italy would direct his interest towards the opera seria, being the only one of his family that wrote in this genre. Bach moved also away from the Protestant music traditions of his family and composed most of his sacred works for the Roman Catholic setting.
Throughout the decade Bach’s reputation as a composer spread though Italy to the Northern Europe. With the help of successful opera commissions from the King’s Theatre Bach moved to London in 1762. There he enjoyed the esteem and acquaintance of musical figures such as Carl Friedrich Abel and Charles Burney. Abel had studied with father Bach in Leipzig and might have known Johann Christian already as a child. From 1764 the younger Bach and Abel worked in collaboration to arrange a series of concerts that had a major impact in the London concert life. The Bach–Abel concerts also served as one of the main forums of presenting Johann Christian’s works in the city.
By the end of the 1760’s, Johann Christian was struggling to maintain his reputation as a fashionable composer in London. None of his works were performed in the King’s Theater until 1778. This might have lead Bach to focus his attention abroad, since his works had already been published in Paris and Amsterdam. He had befriended the Mannheim flautist Johann Baptiste Wendling, and maybe thus was commissioned to write an opera for the court of Elector Carl Theodor in 1772. This contact with the Mannheim orchestra, known throughout Germany for its capable players, presumably also had an effect on Johann Christian’s orchestral writing.
The beginning of the 1770’s was a productive time for Bach. The cantata La tempesta premiered in the London Bach–Abel concerts in 1773. The piece was sung by the Italian soprano Cecilia Grassi that Bach would later marry around 1776. La tempesta is set to the text if the Italian poet Pietro Metastasio (1698–1782). He was the librettist in vogue for opera seria, but had also an impact on galant composers such as Hasse, Gluck, Salieri and Mozart.
Bach would use Metastasio’s poem twice, in an Italian canzonetta (op. 6 no. 2b) and in the cantata heard tonight. The text was seemingly popular as both the Mannheimer Ignaz Holzbauer (1776) and Viennese composer Marianna Martines (1778) would write music for it.
The poem occurs in pastoral setting: the narrator, presumably a shepherd, addresses the shepherdess Nice. From the first verses it is obvious that the characters share a common history. The name “Nice” might be an archaism in old Italian for the “beloved”. A storm breaks out, and the man guides Nice into the safety of a cavern. In the first aria of subtle flattery, the narrator is trying to win the girl over with reverse psychology. The second recitative provides a turn of events and reveals the hidden effectuation of the shepherdess. The concluding aria provides calm inside the storm, perhaps as a symbol soothing emotions after a turmoil.