Bach’s Youngest Son Composes Works in the Style of his Elder Brothers

United StatesUnited States Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Christian Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Georg Kallweit (concertmaster), Xenia Löffler (oboe), Raphael Alpermann (harpsichord), Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York, 8.4.2014 (SSM)

Johann Sebastian Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major, BWV 1066
Johann Christian Bach: Concerto for Harpsichord, Strings and Basso Continuo in F Minor
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: String Symphony No. 5 in B Minor, Wq. 182
Concerto for Oboe, Strings and Basso Continuo in E-flat Major, Wq. 165
Johann Christian Bach: Symphony in G Minor, Op. 6, No. 6


The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin has done some sharp thinking in the creation of programs for their American tour. They must have realized that concerts offering  standard Baroque repertory can become boring for both musicians and audiences, and they selected a number of works that are seldom heard. They also alternated programs from city to city: “Italy versus Germany” (music of Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, etc.) in Denver; “Bach Family” in Washington; and “Italy versus Germany” in Boston. The enthusiasm and freshness expressed by the musicians may have been enhanced by a few days break from these works before the performance in New York. Whether we got the better program, I’m not sure, but I would hazard a guess that we did.

The one familiar work on this program was J. S. Bach’s first orchestral suite. The smaller size of the instrumental group allowed for a particularly clear window on the two oboes and bassoon. Often the bassoon is treated simply as the supporter of the harmonic line and even when listed as a member of the concertino group it often takes a secondary role. Here, though, the bassoonist, Christian Beuse, stood his ground giving a virtuosic performance with the two oboes the quieter partners of the trio of soloists.

The other works on the program are not often performed, although in 2014, C. P. E. Bach’s tercentenary, much of his music has become available live or recorded. The style of  the two Johann Christian Bach works is atypical of the considerable output of the youngest of Bach’s sons. His music in general is colorful, galante, and looks more toward Mozart and the future than backward to his elder brothers Wilhelm Friedemann and C. P. E. Bach. So close is the F-Minor Concerto to W. F. Bach’s signature concerti, filled as they are with dramatic, tortured phrases and sudden changes in mood and dynamics, that there are still questions as to whether this concerto was in fact written by W. F. Bach and not Johann Christian.

Harpsichordist Rafael Alpermann was a wonder at the keyboard in the Concerto in F Minor. The finale, a dizzying Prestissimo, was deftly handled. Only a more potent harpsichord might have added to the concerto’s blazing spirit.

Both of the J. C. Bach compositions here are sturm und drang works, the kind of music that C. P. E. Bach wrote well before and after this brief period on the road from pre-classical angst to the music of Haydn and Mozart. Written in 1770,  Op.6., No.6 is one of the rare works Johann Christian scored in the key of G minor. It would be easy to draw a line from J. C. Bach’s symphony to Mozart’s G-minor symphonies, particularly the earlier “Little G Minor” written only three years after J. C. Bach’s. J. C. Bach’s catalog shows a mere five pieces in G minor; Mozart wrote fewer than ten works in this key, one of them being the 40th Symphony.

C. P. E. Bach’s Oboe Concerto Wq. 165 reveals another side of the composer. It is more peaceful than the other works on this program and served as a nice respite before the fiery Symphony in G Minor that closed the concert. Xenia Löffler is a real oboe virtuoso but she made no big show of it, adhering instead to the concerto’s quiet nature.

The encore, the first movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 3 was brightly performed and provided a fitting ending to a thoroughly enjoyable concert, both well-conceived and well-played.

Stan Metzger              

1 thought on “Bach’s Youngest Son Composes Works in the Style of his Elder Brothers”

  1. A cogent, balanced review.

    Just an observation: The Orchestral Suite’s Bourrée II, played by the two oboes and the bassoon, sounded almost like a jazz piece, reminding me of something I heard Pablo Casals say. (I believe it was on one of Karl Haas’s recent ** Adventures in Good Music radio programs.) Casals was elderly but enthusiastic as in his high-pitched voice he exclaimed: “Bach… eeez… everything!” (It loses something in writing, but I can do a decent vocal imitation.) The fact that all these years later I can still clearly hear his voice enunciating, one by one, those words is evidence, I think, of how potently they affected me and — the jazzy bourrée being evidence— how accurate they were.

    ** At my age “recent” might easily be 30 years ago.


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