Notes and Editorial Reviews
JCF Bach - a slight reputation. He deserves better as this splendid chamber music disc shows.
Of Johann Sebastian's sons Johann Christoph Friedrich, the second youngest, is the least-known. His music has very sparse representation on the programmes of ensembles and keyboard players. This is perhaps due to the fact that the general opinion of him as a person and a composer isn't that favourable. He is too often associated with the bourgeois mentality in the negative sense of the word. This was without any doubt one of the features of the second half of the 18th century. The fact that for the most part of his life he worked at the court in Bückeburg - not exactly an artistic centre of international stature – also did
little to help. Fortunately there are musicians who have a perspective that pays no heed to this kind of prejudice. The bicentennial of his death in 1995 resulted in a recording of chamber music by London Baroque (Harmonia mundi), and the German conductor Hermann Max performed several of his vocal works: some secular cantatas and his oratorio Die Pilgrime auf Golgotha, which turned out to be an excellent work. It is a shame that it has never appeared on disc. The German ensemble Camerata Köln always has a good nose for music that is unjustly neglected: some years ago it recorded six 'divertissements' by Sebastian Bodinus, which were of exceptional quality. Music by the Bach family has always been part of the repertoire of this ensemble, and after recording chamber music by Wilhelm Friedemann - some of it recently rediscovered - it is Johann Christoph Friedrich who now becomes the focus of its attention.
After being educated by his father Johann Christoph Friedrich probably started studying law at Leipzig University, but never finished graduated. Instead he became harpsichordist at the court of Bückeburg, which was dominated by Italian musicians, among them the 'Concert-Meister' Angelo Colonna, reflecting the Italian taste of the count, Wilhelm von Schaumburg-Lippe. In 1755 Bach married Lucia Elisabeth, daughter of the court organist Ludolf Münchhausen. She was trained as a singer and in this capacity held a position at the court. In 1759 Bach was appointed 'Concert-Meister' - Colonna had disappeared in 1756 for unknown reasons - which brought him a considerable rise in income. In the following years he composed a variety of works: symphonies, trio-sonatas and vocal music. In the late 1760s and the 1770s he composed sacred music, including some oratorios on well-known librettos by the poet Carl Wilhelm Ramler, 'Der Tod Jesu' and 'Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu'. In 1771 Johann Gottfried Herder, also known as an oratorio librettist, was appointed court preacher. His presence had a lasting effect on Bach, who considered these years to be the happiest of his life. He composed the cantata 'Michaels Sieg' and the oratorios 'Die Kindheit Jesu' and 'Die Auferweckung Lazarus' on texts by Herder.
Things changed drastically when the countess Marie Barbara died in 1776. Herder moved to Weimar the next year. In 1778 Bach asked for permission to visit his youngest brother Johann Christian in London. This encounter strongly influenced his style of composing as his London works show. From London he brought back a fortepiano, which meant that in his chamber music from that time onwards the keyboard part could be intended for the fortepiano rather than the harpsichord. In later years he concentrated on teaching, and some of his pedagogical works were published. His attempts to print vocal works failed because of a lack of subscribers - probably a reflection of fast-changing musical taste at the time.
This disc contains compositions from several stages in Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach's career. The oldest work is the Sonata in e minor, which probably dates from before 1760 and follows the pattern of the baroque trio-sonata. The Sonata for cello and bc in A was published in 1770 by his brother Carl Philipp Emanuel. Although its scoring for a solo instrument with bc is rooted in the tradition of the baroque era, the order of movements reflects the fashion of the time. It starts with a slow movement, which is followed by a virtuosic allegro and closes with a minuet. The Sonata in G is also scored for cello and bc, but is a much later work and belongs to the category of the divertimento. It consists of just two fast movements, the second of which is a rondeaux.
Like this sonata the two trios which open and close the programme belong to the latest stage of Bach's career. They date from the 1780s, after his return from London, and therefore it was a logical decision to choose the fortepiano to play the keyboard parts in these trios. These parts are fully written out and both trios point in the direction of the classical 'piano trio'. Take, for example, the three movement structure: - fast, slow, fast - and its conclusion with a rondo. They differ from each other in that the dialogue in the Trio in D is between the keyboard and the transverse flute, with the cello playing a supporting role - a kind of relic of the baroque basso continuo. In the Trio in G, on the other hand, violin and viola are treated on equal terms. In both trios the fortepiano takes the lead.
This disc shows that Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach has more to offer than one might have expected from the fact that he spent his whole life in Bückeburg. One may be tempted to conclude that he was unambitious, but it seems his life-long commitment to the Bückeburg court was not entirely of his own choice. Twice he attempted to move elsewhere: the second time he applied for the position of Musikdirektor in Hamburg after Telemann's death. He was on the shortlist, but lost to his brother Carl Philipp Emanuel. It seems that after a while he accepted that he was to stay in Bückeburg, and he certainly made the best of it.
It is splendid that Camerata Köln has devoted an entire disc to the chamber music of JCF. It is fortunate that the selection includes just one piece - the Trio in G - was also included in London Baroque's recording referred to above. The Sonata for cello and bc in A has also been recorded before, but even so this disc is an important and welcome addition to the catalogue. As one might expect Camerata Köln gives outstanding performances. All parts are very well played, with Sabine Bauer in particular impressive in the keyboard parts of the two Trios and Rainer Zipperling in the cello part of the Sonata in A. The fast movements are bold and sparkling, the slower movements full of expression. This is a strong recital and one that I would hope will help to overcome the prejudices against Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Cello and Keyboard in A major, HW 10 no 3 by J. C. F. Bach
Written: 1770; Bückeburg, Germany
Venue: German Radio Chamber Music Hall
Length: 13 Minutes 29 Secs.
Notes: German Radio Chamber Music Hall (01/12/2004 - 01/14/2004)
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