Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)

The Solo Keyboard Music - Volume 22
Achtzehn Probe-Stücke in Sechs Sonaten: Sonata I, Wq63/1 (H70)
1. Allegretto tranquillamente [2:40]
2. Andante mŕ innocentemente [1:49]
3. Tempo di minuetto con tenerezza [2:21]
Achtzehn Probe-Stücke in Sechs Sonaten: Sonata II, Wq63/2 (H71)
4. Allegro con spirito [2:54]
5. Adagio sostenuto [2:56]
6. Presto [2:24]
Achtzehn Probe-Stücke in Sechs Sonaten: Sonata III, Wq63/3 (H72)
7. Poco allegro ma cantabile [4:50]
8. Andante lusingando [1:48]
9. Allegro [4:29]
Achtzehn Probe-Stücke in Sechs Sonaten: Sonata IV, Wq63/4 (H73)
10. Allegretto grazioso [4:15]
11. Largo maestoso [4:20]
12. Allegro siciliano e scherzando [2:57]
Achtzehn Probe-Stücke in Sechs Sonaten: Sonata V, Wq63/5 (H74)
13. Allegro di molto [1:43]
14. Adagio assai mesto e sostenuto [5:29]
15. Allegretto, arioso ed amoroso [4:33]
Achtzehn Probe-Stücke in Sechs Sonaten: Sonata VI, Wq63/6 (H75)
16. Allegro di molto [4:15]
17. Adagio affettuoso e sostenuto [5:08]
18. Fantasia: Allegro moderato – Largo – Allegro moderato [7:10]
Miklós Spányi (clavichord)
rec. June 2003, Helsinki Sarvela Hall, Liminka, Finland. DDD
BIS CD-1762 [67:30]
I don't know what it is about Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach's keyboard music that grabs me the way it does.
The Bis series is up to volume 22; I have each disc in the series, and I've found that every one of them contains an hour or more of pure enjoyment. Part of the pleasure may come from the fact that I especially appreciate the smooth, subtle sound of the clavichord, which Miklós Spányi plays on all but four of the volumes so far; the others are on tangent piano or fortepiano. There are too few Bach recordings on the clavichord available, and anyone who appreciates this instrument will certainly be attracted to this series.
But there's something else, about the music itself, that I find entrancing. C.P.E. Bach's music is substantially different from that of his father, Johann Sebastian Bach; it borders on the classical period, is rarely contrapuntal, and often tells more of a musical story. Each movement is a sort of conversation in music, full of declarations, responses and silences. One thing that differentiates this music from that of many other composers is, in fact, the use of silence, of pauses, and Spányi lets the silence speak. Since the clavichord has a very short decay, the silences are weightier than they would be on, say, a modern piano, or even on a harpsichord, where overtones ring out for longer.
While the clavichord may be an acquired taste - it is a very soft instrument, so one should listen to it at a low volume, ideally on good headphones - the music itself is attractive and enjoyable. I hesitate to say this, but it is even relaxing. I would never suggest listening to specific classical works to relax; while we all know that some music has that effect, many classical labels use this as a marketing pitch. Listening to this recording - as to the many others in the series - I feel like a better person. A busy day can fade away as the music carries me on a journey.
This volume contains music written to accompany Bach's Essay on the True Manner of Playing Keyboard Instruments, published in 1753. Composed for students, the music certainly doesn't sound like mere practice pieces. While it may lack some of C.P.E. Bach's signature quirky sound, which is more apparent in other works, it ranks with some of his finest. Interestingly, he listed these as 18 separate pieces, though they were later grouped as six sonatas. The fact that the keys change within each "sonata" suggests that they should, be listened to as studies rather than as longer works. As the collection progresses, the pieces become more elaborate. Spányi, in the liner-notes, says that these pieces "are among the most substantial works in the composer's entire keyboard oeuvre."
If you haven't heard any of the discs in this series, you could pick up any of them, but volume 22 is a good place to start. As I understand it, there will eventually be somewhere around 35 volumes altogether, so those who appreciate this music not only have a nice amount of discs already, but can look forward to many more. This is, in my opinion, one of the finest series that Bis has recorded, and it is wonderful to hear new instalments every few months.

Kirk McElhearn
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog Kirkville (
Yet another fine release in this great series of C.P.E. Bach's music for solo keyboard.