This is the first of two programs that explore Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s musical imprints on the later piano music of Beethoven. Thomas Reeves, a PhD student in Applied Mathematics and piano student of Xak Bjerken, presents Beethoven’s last piano sonata in conjunction with one of Bach’s late 1750s sonatas published in the Musikalisches Mancherley. In the second program (to be released in January), Mike Cheng-Yu Lee will present Beethoven’s Op. 101 paired with a discussion with Annette Richards about her 2001 book The Free Fantasia and the Musical Picturesque, in which she delves into the work’s dislocated narrative archetype through the fantastical prism of C. P. E. Bach.
At first, the mercurial C. P. E. Bach and the monumental Beethoven would seem to inhabit completely separate worlds. Yet by presenting the two together, I hope to reveal Bach as a source of inspiration for Beethoven (as well as to raise Bach’s profile, still too often known as the son of J. S. Bach instead of as a remarkable and towering musician in his own right). Beethoven, like Haydn and Mozart, revered C. P. E. Bach as a composer and pedagogue. In a letter to his publisher Breitkopf & Härtel in 1810, he wrote, “I would like to have all the works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, which have been published by you.” Beethoven was also an avid reader of Bach’s Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments and assigned it to his young student Carl Czerny.
In musical terms, both Bach and Beethoven were master keyboard players and improvisers who gave free rein to their imaginations in their solo keyboard compositions. They frequently explored extreme registers and contrasts of textures and expressions. Their sonatas are highly idiosyncratic and engage in a fascinating dialectic with classical forms; they are also difficult, since at no time is the expression sacrificed for the convenience of the hands. The historical pianos give full voice to the varied timbres and articulations that are so important to their conception.