When in 1740 Frederick II became King of Prussia, he started
to expand his already elaborate cultural activities. An architect
was engaged to build an opera house in Berlin, singers and dancers
from Italy and France were contracted and in Sanssouci a palace
In 1741 Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach who, since 1738 had accompanied
the then Crown Prince when he was playing the flute, became
a member of the musical establishment at Frederick's court.
In return Bach dedicated a set of six keyboard sonatas, the
so-called 'Prussian Sonatas', to the king. At the same time
Bach dedicated another set of six sonatas - the so-called 'Württemberg
Sonatas' - to the Duke of Wurtemberg, another patron of his.
"The sonatas in these two collections were more substantial
and original in style than were most of the little galant sonatas
that Bach and his contemporaries were dashing off in the mid-eighteenth
century", Darrell M. Berg states in the liner notes. The
pieces played on this disc date from the same time and belong
to the same category of "more substantial and original"
This disc opens with a Fantasia, which has only fairly
recently been recognised as a composition by Carl Philipp Emanuel
Bach. It reminds one of the préludes non mesurés as they were
written by the French harpsichord composers of around 1700.
There is a lot of variety in tempo in this piece. I find the
articulation here unclear and a little muddy, in particular
in the fast passages. I don't know whether it is the playing
or the rather too reverberant acoustics which is responsible
for this. I also feel this piece would perhaps fare better on
a harpsichord or a clavichord.
The three sonatas all contain traits of a fantasia, with
sudden changes in tempo and rhythm, a characteristic of Bach's
keyboard music anyway. The 'adagio' of the Sonata in B flat
contains passages with a recitative-like character.
The first movements of the sonatas in B flat and in C are
pretty long: both last almost as long as the two next movements
together. But that has also to do with the tempi Miklos Spányi
has chosen. In the booklet, Darrell M. Berg writes: "The
first two movements of the Sonata in C major ... are organized
around a head-motif in the right hand consisting of the descent
of an octave followed by an ascending scale and ascending chord
figures. At its first appearance this motif, accompanied by
a relentless Trommelbass (drum bass) in the left hand,
achieves the excitement of a mid-eighteenth-century Italian
overture". I don't experience that excitement, mostly as
a result of the chosen tempo here, which I feel is too slow.
It is marked 'allegro', but it sounds more like an andante to
me. The second movement of this same sonata shows a development
in tempo from 'adagio' through 'andante' to 'allegro'. But I
didn't notice that much difference between these three sections.
I was most satisfied with the last item on this disc, the
Sonata in G minor. I liked in particular the last movement with
its toccata-like character.
I have heard several of Spányi's previous recordings in
this remarkable and monumental series devoted to the keyboard
works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. I was mostly pleased with
the performances, but in this case I am slightly disappointed,
in particular since I believe these pieces contain more drama
than is displayed here. But as all these compositions have never
been recorded before, and Spányi is using a beautiful and historically
appropriate instrument, I don't hesitate to recommend this disc