Wednesday 01 June 2016

The Bach Family


Johann Sebastian Bach had 20 children in his lifetime, four of whom became composers.  These lesser-known sons of Bach, some of whom were once more popular than their father, feature in The Bach Family at London’s Barbican Hall on Saturday 18th June.  Period instrument pioneer Reinhard Goebel conducts the AAM and acclaimed soprano Lucy Crowe in a celebration of this exceptional musical family.    


Of all Johann Sebastian’s sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel is the one most widely recognised for bridging the baroque and classical periods.  Though born in Weimar, he worked primarily in Berlin and Hamburg, developing a “sensitive” style of composition that endeared him to ambitious young composers such as Haydn and Beethoven.  Mozart, who was influenced by many of the Bach sons, said of Carl Philipp: “He is the father, we are the children.”


Known as the “English Bach”, Johann Christian’s formative years imitated those of his father, when he worked as a church composer and organist in Germany.  He moved to Paris to live with his brother Carl Philipp Emmanuel for a time, but a tedious spell in Italy prompted a permanent move to London to become an opera composer for the King’s Theatre.  Johann Christian’s Italianate music was of great inspiration to Mozart, and he had the honour of being the first person in England to perform publicly on the pianoforte.


Wilhelm Friedemann was the eldest son of the Bach sons, and his musical education was of paramount importance to his father, as if he alone was entrusted with the Bach musical legacy.  Wilhem developed a career as a freelance organist and teacher, sporadically publishing compositions that paid homage to his father.  It is said that his fierce independence of character prevented him from keeping a church position for very long.  One of his pupils was Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, whom Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations were named after.


Like his older brother, rather confusingly also called Johann Christian, Johann Chistoph Friedrich’s music was particularly Italianate.  This was not quite an artistic choice, but more a means of pleasing his patron, Count Wilhelm of Bückeburg, who had a great fondness for such music.  One of the more prolific composers of the family, it is said that he was the most talented of them too.  A significant number of his works were lost in the destruction of Berlin’s State Institute for Music Research during the Second World War.