Notes and Editorial Reviews
Another fine recording of CPE Bach’s excellent solo keyboard music on clavichord.
The following dialog was overheard in a record store. Two people were standing by the New Releases bin, discussing a disc they had spotted.
A: Look at this. Another recording of CPE Bach's solo keyboard music. This one says it's volume 23.
B: Oh, great, I'm going to buy that.
A: Really? What's so special about this? And are there really 23 of them?
B: Yes, this is the 23rd of what should be more than 35 discs of this music. It's truly wonderful music. C.P.E. Bach was Johann Sebastian's son, and he was an excellent composer of music for the
keyboard. What is interesting about these recordings is that most of them are on the clavichord.
A: Clavichord? Isn't that a bone you break when you fall from a bicycle?
B: No! It's a small, fretted, table-top keyboard instrument. Some have legs, but the clavichord is small enough that you can close the cover and carry it around with you. It was the 18th century equivalent of the portable keyboard. It's a very quiet instrument; it's meant for playing at home. You won't see clavichord concerts, because no one past the first few rows would hear anything.
A: Well, that doesn't sound very interesting.
B: Oh, it is. It's one of the most expressive keyboard instruments, because the performer can actually play a type of vibrato.
A: Okay, but what's so special about this music?
B: C.P.E. Bach was a very creative composer, and, while he wrote all types of music, a lot of what he wrote was for keyboard. He wrote pieces for solo keyboard and he wrote keyboard concertos. Miklós Spányi, who plays on this disc, has been recording all of these works. Most of the solo keyboard discs are played on the clavichord, and the concertos are played on fortepiano.
A: What does the music sound like?
B: C.P.E. Bach's keyboard music is very expressive, and, while part of the classical style, he uses a lot of silence and rubato. While you can clearly hear the classical style in the music, there is often a feeling that parts of them are improvised. This disc has three sonatas along with a number of shorter works, such as fantasias, fugues and others.
A: Maybe we can get them to play some of this. I'd like to hear it. Goes to ask the record store employee if he can play it. Yes, he's going to put it on the speakers. [...] Hmm, maybe he forgot?
B: No, it's just very soft. We need to move over next to the speakers to hear it.
B: As I said, the clavichord is a very quiet instrument. If you play this at home, you don't want to increase the volume, at least not much. I find that this music is great on headphones; you can hear the subtleties much more easily.
B: The notes say that many of these works were composed for students. These are certainly less complex works than some of his other pieces. There are four sonatas - each in three movements - and a handful of studies, some of which are less than a minute long. It's interesting that the third sonata on the disc is in C minor, a key that was often used for "music of turbulent or tragic character."
A: This doesn't sound very turbulent or tragic...
B: No, but you can hear that there is a different type of tone from the other works in more common keys. Let's listen to the last sonata, in A major. Hear how this is much happier, much more upbeat?
A: Yes, that's obvious. I can also hear what you mean about Bach's use of silence; there are often pauses during these works.
B: In some ways, C.P.E. Bach's keyboard music sounds like a conversation, with its natural ebbs and flows. There are simple parts, then parts with ornaments and embellishments. Then silence, repeats of previous sections, and more of these subtle variations in rhythm.
A: So how many of these discs do you have?
B: Oh, I have them all. While this may not be the most musically interesting of these recordings, given that many of the pieces were written for students, it's another brick in the huge edifice of C.P.E. Bach's keyboard works. If you like this music, you may not want to collect all of these volumes, but you'll certainly want to get a number of them.
A: And how long until the series is complete?
B: I don't know. There are two or three releases a year, between the solo keyboard music and the concertos. The series began in 1995, and has been progressing regularly since then. I'd say another half-dozen years at least to get to the end.
A: Well, I'd like to listen to more of these. Next time I visit, you should play me some of these, and some of the concertos; this is certainly interesting music.
-- Kirk McElhearn, MusicWeb International
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