Program Notes

By Jason Sundram

Magnificat in D major, Wq. 215 (Helm 772) (1749)

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Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach (March 8, 1714 - December 14, 1788)

  1. Magnificat (chorus)
  2. Quia respexit (soprano)
  3. Quia fecit mehi magna (tenor)
  4. Et misericordia (chorus)
  5. Fecit potentiam (bass)
  6. Deposult potentes (tenor & alto duo)
  7. Suseptit Israel (alto)
  8. Gloria patri (chorus)
  9. Sicut erat (chorus)

C. P. E. Bach, godson of Telemann and second son of Johann Sebastian Bach, was so torn between music and a legal career that he spent 1731—38 pursuing both simultaneously. It is interesting to note that Emanuel was referred to as “the great” Bach after his father’s death in 1750—history has since reversed that judgement, and today the younger composer has been largely eclipsed by his father’s greatness. He was also known as the “Hamburg” or “Berlin” Bach, and his music was known for its “intimate expressivity” (empfindsamkeit). In his biography, C.P.E. revealed his highest musical priority: “Music must, above all, touch the heart.”

Known mainly as a keyboard virtuoso, C.P.E.’s first significant choral work was the Magnificat, completed on August 25, 1749. It was his sole contribution to sacred choral music for the next 20 years. Although there is some truth to Ottenberg’s accusation that the Magnificat is an “amalgam of inherited forms,” it contains many innovations that prefigure the Viennese Classical Style of Haydn and Mozart. Presumably composed as a “test piece” to win a position as cantor (and used twice to such ends), the 1749 Magnificat, as any liturgical Magnificat setting in this period, was strongly influenced by tradition. Each movement was expected to create a certain mood (affekt) and composers all used similar techniques to achieve this. C.P.E. drew heavily from J. S. Bach’s Magnificat (BWV 243), creating his own Magnificat in the same key, and on the same text as his father’s. The themes of Deposult potentes and Fecit potentiam are near-quotations from the elder composer’s work. Sicut erat, which owes its fugal counterpoint to the influence to J. S. Bach, was to influence Mozart; its theme is nearly identical to that of his Requiem’s Kyrie eleison. However, C.P.E.’s Magnificat is much mroe homophonic than his father’s work. The French rhythms, 1750’s-vogue arias, and instrumental parts—influenced by Italian “gay fiddling” and J. C. Bach’s galant symphonies—hint at why contemporaries thought C.P.E.’s music “bizarre.” Today we realize how wonderful this music, brought forth from a transitional period in musical history, can be.