The passing along of his own knowledge played an important role in all phases of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s musical life. Even when he was a young law student at Frankfurt an der Oder his father could already record in the family chronicle: “gives lessons at the keyboard.”1 Indeed, large numbers of both keyboard and composition students can be documented from Bach’s earliest years in Berlin right through his Hamburg tenure until his very last years.2 Bach’s great importance as a teacher was emphasized by Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart in his Ideen zu einer Ästhetik der Tonkunst: “As great as he is as a keyboardist, he is just as great as a teacher of the keyboard. No one knows the art of developing masters better than he. His great intellect has formed its own school: the Bach School. Whoever comes out of this school is received in all of Europe with enthusiasm.”3
“Bachische Schule” was a widely used expression in the last third of the eighteenth century that referred not only to Bach’s own students in the direct sense, but also to the much larger group of players and composers who had oriented themselves to Bach’s ideals.4 In this connection, the two parts of Bach’s didactic work, Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen—published here in series VII—take on special importance. Through this publication, which was widely distributed and highly esteemed in its time, Bach was able to reach a large public beyond his immediate circle and to influence that public according to his principles.
The significance of the Versuch is by no means limited to the pedagogical dispensing of mere keyboard technique. Its real goal is the development and promotion of “good taste,” not only in performance, but above all in composition. In this respect the Versuch both continued the efforts of his father, Johann Sebastian Bach—especially in the didactic nature of the Inventions and Das wohltemperierte Clavier—and also contributed to the series of great treatises on performance and aesthetics coming out of Berlin since the early 1750s.5 Bach’s innovative principles of fingering, which can be traced back to the lessons he received from his father, produced an effect on the culture of keyboard playing in the second half of the eighteenth century that can scarcely be overestimated. His fingering methods were taken over and further propagated by other teachers and composers, for example Johann Philipp Kirnberger in the fourth part of his Clavier-Übungen mit der Bachischen Applicatur (1762–66), or Johann Nikolaus Forkel, Georg Simon Löhlein, Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg, and Johann Carl Friedrich Rellstab in their respective keyboard treatises.6
The two parts of the Versuch exhibit many connections to Bach’s own compositions. His “Probestücke,” Wq 63/1–6 were appended to the first part to provide illustrative and practical examples, and the Fantasy in D Major, Wq 117/14 was included in the second part as an example of a free fantasy. Later Bach provided the Sechs neue Clavier-Stücke, Wq 63/7–12 for the new edition of the Versuch that appeared in 1787 (the “Probestücke” and Sechs neue Clavier-Stücke are published in facsimile as a supplement to series VII). Other published collections by Bach from the 1760s exhibit didactic tendencies, including the “Sonatas with Varied Reprises,” Wq 50–52, and the short keyboard pieces, Wq 113–114; as do various of his unpublished projects, namely the “Veränderungen und Auszierungen über einige Sonaten und Concerte für Scholaren,” Wq 68, the collection of concerto cadenzas, Wq 120, and the “Miscellanea Musica,” Wq 121. The six great free fantasies in parts 4–6 of the “Kenner und Liebhaber” collections (Wq 58, 59, and 61), which contributed significantly to Bach’s fame in his later years, apparently were composed at the suggestion and insistence of musical amateurs who had first been introduced to this genre through the commentary on it in the second part of the Versuch.7
In his final year Bach conceived of a plan to crown his creative output, which he now viewed as complete, with a treatise on composition.8 This work would almost certainly have built upon the two parts of the Versuch. Unfortunately, his plan was never brought to fruition. Thus Bach’s oeuvre concludes with four imposing instrumental works: the three quartets, Wq 93–95; and the double concerto, Wq 47. Their elaborate compositional technique and artful instrumentation convey everything that had to remain otherwise unsaid.
Within the organization of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Complete Works, the published collections of practical keyboard pieces appear in series I and the remaining smaller didactic and theoretical works (the “Miscellanea Musica,” cadenzas, embellishments, and the “Einfall, einen doppelten Contrapunct in der Octave von 6 Tacten zu machen”) appear in series VIII.
1. “informiret auf dem Clavier.” Bach-Dokumente, vol. 1, Schriftstücke von der Hand Johann Sebastian Bachs, ed. Werner Neumann and Hans-Joachim Schulze (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1963), 261.
2. See Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach als Lehrer. Die Verbreitung der Musik Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs in England und Skandinavien. Bericht über das Internationale Symposium vom 29. März bis 1. April 2001 in SÍubice—Frankfurt (Oder)—Cottbus, ed. by Hans-Günther Ottenberg and Ulrich Leisinger (Frankfurt/Oder: Musikgesellschaft Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, 2005), esp. Part I: “C.P.E. Bach als Lehrer.”
3. “So groß er als Clavierist hier erscheint, eben so groß ist er als Lehrer des Claviers. Niemand versteht die Kunst Meister zu bilden besser als Er. Sein großer Geist hat eine eigene Schule gebildet; die Bachische. Wer aus dieser Schule ist, wird in ganz Europa mit Vorneigung aufgenommen.” Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart, Ideen zu einer Ästhetik der Tonkunst (Vienna, 1806), 179. Although Schubart’s treatise was first published posthumously in 1806, it had been written in the mid-1780s.
4. See Barbara Wiermann, “Die ‘Bachische Schule’—Überlegungen zu Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs Hamburger Lehrtätigkeit,” in Frankfurt/Oder 2001, 119–134, as well as Wiermann, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Dokumente zu Leben und Wirken aus der zeitgenössischen hamburgischen Presse (1767–1790), Leipziger Beiträge zur Bach-Forschung 4 (Hildesheim: Olms, 2000), 508–11. It should be noted that the English translation “Bach School” was also in use in eighteenth-century England referring to the same phenomenon, and that adherents to the Bach school were sometimes called “Bachists.” Burney wrote: “Music of these great masters [Handel and J.S. Bach] gave way, about the middle of the century, to the more elegant and expressive compositions of C.P. Emanuel Bach, who was soon imitated so universally in Germany by writers for keyed-instruments, that there have been few works published for them since, which are not strongly tinctured with his style; . . . Geo. Benda, C. Fasch, Fleischer, Ernst Benda, Reichardt, &c. &c. are strong Bachists.” Charles Burney, A General History of Music from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period, 4 vols. (London, 1776–89), 4:591. The notion of a “Bach School” referring to the students affiliated with J.S. Bach was a later development and was applied retroactively, particularly with regard to the tradition of organ playing in central Germany.
5. Johann Joachim Quantz, Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (Berlin, 1752); Christian Gottfried Krause, Von der musikalischen Poesie (Berlin, 1752); Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg, Abhandlung von der Fuge nach dem Grundsätzen der besten deutschen und ausländischen Meister (Berlin, 1753–54); Christoph Nichelmann, Die Melodie, nach ihrem Wesen sowohl, als nach ihren Eigenschaften (Danzig, 1755); Johann Friedrich Agricola, Anleitung zur Singekunst (Berlin, 1757); and Johann Philipp Kirnberger, Die Kunst des reinen Satzes (Berlin: 1771–79).
6. See Christopher Hogwood, “A Supplement to C.P.E. Bach’s Versuch: E.W. Wolf’s Anleitung of 1785,” C.P.E. Bach Studies, ed. Stephen L. Clark (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 133–57.
7. See Bach’s letter to Breitkopf from 15 October 1782: “Meine Freunde wollten durchaus 2 Fantasien mit darbeÿ haben. . . .” (My friends positively wanted 2 fantasies included. . . .) Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Briefe und Dokumente. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. Ernst Suchalla, 2 vols. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994) 2:938–41; The Letters of C.P.E. Bach, trans. and ed. Stephen L. Clark (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 187.
8. See Bach’s letter to Breitkopf from 8 March 1788: “Ich will eine Anleitung zur Composition, mit den nöthigen Regeln u. mit Auslaßung aller Pedantereÿ, nach jetziger Zeit schreiben; u. damit, wenn mich Gott leben läßt, will ich schließen.” (I intend to write an introduction to composition according to the current times, with the necessary rules and with omission of all pedantry, and with that, if God lets me live, I will close.) CPEB-Briefe, 2:1259–62; CPEB-Letters, 279–80.