CPE Bach: Flute Concerto in D minor, Wq. 22

Program note

It seems to me that music must first of all stir the heart.


Un poco Andante
Allegro di molto

Born in Weimar (Germany) in 1714, Carl Philipp Emanuel was the fifth (though only the third surviving) of six children of Johann Sebastian Bach and his first wife, Maria Barbara. Born into the illustrious ‘Bach family musical dynasty’ which dominated the German music scene for over 300 years, Philipp Emanuel (as he was known) was considered an outstandingly gifted family member.

Unsurprisingly, he had an enviable music education, being taught primarily by his father. His godfather, Georg Philipp Telemann, also had input into Philipp Emanuel’s musical development. At the age of six, Philipp Emanuel’s mother died; at nine, he became a pupil at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, where his father had assumed the post of Kantor.

…a skilled and, at times, wildly adventurous composer…

In addition to being celebrated as a skilled and, at times, wildly adventurous composer, Philipp Emmanuel was considered one of the foremost keyboard players in Europe and was renowned for his 1753 treatise Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments).

Like his godfather, Telemann, Philip Emanuel initially completed a law degree. His time away from a calling in music was fleeting, and he soon took up a position at the court of Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, who later became Frederick the Great. He remained in his employ for no less than three decades. According to English travelling musical historian Charles Burney, ‘Of all the musicians which have been in the service of Prussia, for more than thirty years, Carl P.E. Bach, and Francis Benda, have, perhaps, been the only two, who dared to have a style of their own…’

However, while Philipp Emanuel’s autobiography states that he ‘had the honour of accompanying His Majesty in the first solo he performed as King,’ it is understood that beyond this obligatory acknowledgement of his patron, Philipp Emanuel – as well as court composer colleagues Quantz and Benda – were unconvinced about the King’s musical skill. Although a competent flautist, the level of virtuosity in the D minor concerto must have considerably challenged the King.

Of Philipp Emanuel’s five extant flute concertos, the D minor may have been composed as early as 1747 and while Philip Emanual wrote a different version of it for harpsichord (H. 425), it is contested which was the original D minor concerto and which is the arrangement.

‘It seems to me that music must first of all stir the heart,’ Philipp Emmanuel was reported to have said (Eugene E. Helm, Music at the Court of Frederick the Great, 177) and his D minor concerto is evidence of the ever-shifting Affects; gasps, exclamations or sighs.

The Allegro opens with a dramatic orchestral ritornello (a recurring musical section that alternates with new musical sections), before the solo entry of the flute develops the introduced themes successively, increasing in both elaboration and technical demands.

Un poco Andante eloquently illustrates the composer’s harmonic and melodic mastery with the initial orchestral introduction being developed with detailed filigree in the lyrical flute writing.

Allegro di molto takes no prisoners, beginning fast and furious and maintaining this Sturm und Drang (literally ‘Storm and Stress’: intense and even extreme emotions) until the final athletic proclamation from the flute with breath-defying virtuosic cascades, before the abrupt yet conclusive end from the orchestra.

In the doctrine of affections, D minor was widely referred to as a dark, melancholy key (and certainly is on the one-keyed baroque flute for which it was written), however both the vibrant presence of soloist Emma Sholl and her golden flute will offer us a fresh and illuminating interpretation of this masterpiece.

© Sally Walker, 2022

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