de Bach à Mozart – Following the path of the Trio Sonata

The Sonata for Flute and Obligato Harpsichord in B minor (BWV 1030), for which the autograph manuscript has survived, was likely written around 1735, when Johann Sebastian Bach was Cantor at Leipzig. Certain scholars believe, however, that the composition represents a re-working of a sonata in G minor dating from the period of Bach’s employment at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen (1717-1723). It was at Cöthen that Bach composed the majority of his chamber music.

The manuscript carries the designation “Sonata a cembalo obligato e traver solo”. The term “obligato harpsichord” signifies that the accompanying part is intended for the harpsichord alone, without the support of a cello or bass instrument. The dialogue between the flute and the right hand of the keyboard part indicates that the sonata was likely conceived as a trio rather than a duo sonata.

The Sonata in B Minor is one the greatest masterpieces of Bach’s chamber compositions. A remarkable work of astounding virtuosity, the sonata also features luxurious melodic lines, dense contrapuntal writing punctuated by intense chromatic harmonies. Of uncharacteristic breadth, the first movement (Andante) is the longest sonata movement ever composed by Bach. The melodious Largo e dolce highlights the flute. The final movement of the work is divided into two distinct sections. It begins with a fugal Prest that culminates in a pause on the dominant harmony before ensuing with a vigorous, syncopated concluding gigue.

What could be more natural for Germany’s greatest keyboard player than to have adapted the most popular forms of chamber music for the organ? According to Johann Sebastian Bach’s first biographer, J.N. Forkel (1802) the Six Sonatas or Trios for Two Keyboards with Obligato Pedal (BWV 525-530) were composed “for his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann [1710-1784] whom they helped to become the great performer he was when I knew him.” Forkel continues: “It is impossible to overpraise their beauty.” These sonatas were likely written during Bach’s first years in Leipzig, around 1723 to1729.

Bach scholars, suggest that the composer likely based his trios on popular, contemporary, but now lost chamber compositions. Why not tempt then, artfully, to recreate the chamber quality of the works’ exemplars? In the present recording of the Sonata in D minor (BWV 5127), the two upper parts are played on the flute and cello respectively, while the harpsichord assumes the role of basso continuo.

The opening Adagio, composed in da capo form (ABA), features contrapuntal interplay between the upper voices. The sweetly plangentAdagio e dolce which ensues is written in binary form (AB). Bach later used this same music in his Concerto for Flute, Violin and Harpsichord (BWV 1044). Sophisticated in construction, the concluding Vivaceconsists of a rondo in which the initial theme is restated at the end of the movement.

The first decades of the 18th century witnessed the emergence of a prosperous middle class. Anxious to imitate their aristocratic superiors as much in dress and goods as in accomplishments the members of this new middle class became ardent practitioners and consumers of music, perceived as an essential element of social life. The popularity of music making manifested itself not only in private domestic musical evenings but more significantly in the creation of public concert series and the establishment throughout Europe of amateur music ensembles (Collegia musica).

In reaction to the learned and somewhat pompous Baroque aesthetic now deemed to be old fashioned by the tastes of a broader public a new musical style emerged. The galant style made its appearance during the years 1730 to 1740. This new style favoured simplicity and elegance instead of elaborate writing and dense contrapuntal textures. Thus the long, winding and highly ornamented phrases of the Baroque style gave way to sparingly accompanied, concise and tuneful melodies. Gradually melody began to dominate a once polarized two voice compositional texture and the remaining voices were soon relegated to an purely accompanying role. This development ultimately lead to the disappearance of the figured bass.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) was one of the most original musical personalities of the second half of the 18th century. He was a prime exponent of Empfindsamkeit (“sensibility”) a musical and literary movement which opposed the scientific rationalism of the Enlightenment and the emotional excesses of the Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”) style. In his Essay on the True Art of Playing a Keyboard Instrument C.P.E. Bach exhorts: “Play from the soul, not like a trained bird! …. A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved. He must feel all the affects that he hopes to arouse in his audience, for the revealing of his own humour will stimulate a like humour in the listener.” No longer viewed as a mere diversion, music was now thought capable of conveying, through melody, expressive harmony and sensitive performance the subtle movements of the human soul.

This new musical vision is exemplified in the compositions of C.P.E. Bach — in their free forms audacious modulations, expressive silences, surprising chromaticism, sharply contrasting dynamics (piano/fort), sombre keys and unexpected melodic leaps. Bach’s sonatas for pianoforte or clavichord represent the composer’s most personal musical expression. These works undeniably contributed to the evolution of the piano concerto, the piano sonata and even to the development of “sonata form” itself.

For more than thirty years, from 1738 to 1768, C.P.E. Bach occupied the post of first harpsichordist to the court of Frederic the Great of Prussia. Frederic was a great lover of music. An excellent flutist he also was known to compose. Unfortunately he was also very conservative in his musical tastes. While appreciating the technical skill of his harpsichordist, he was much less fond of Bach’s empfindsamer compositions. This in part explains why many of C.P.E. Bach’s works from this period (at least those destined for the court) are written largely in the galant style.

The Sonata for Flute and Harpsichord in D major, Wq.83 was written in 1747. The work constitutes a revision of the composer’s own Trio Sonata in D major,Wq. 151 for flute, violin and basso continuo likely composed between 1745 and 1747. The Sonata, Wq.83 consists of three movements. While the work is composed resolutely in the galant style, there are, however, certain touches of originality manifest in Bach’s treatment of rhythm and thematic material. These touches of originality are especially evident in the final Allegro with its short phrases, brusque rests and unexpected pause near the end of the second section, preceding the reprise of the initial theme. Every so often the obligato harpsichord part contains elements of figured bass.

Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795) is without a doubt the least known of the great Bach’s sons. Born in Leipzig he received his musical education entirely from his father. In 1750, shortly before the death of the latter, Friedrich Bach was offered a position as chamber musician at the court of Count Wilhelm of Schaumberg-Lippi in Bückeburg. From 1763 until his death he also served as court composer.

J.C.F. Bach composed eight sonatas for harpsichord and flute (or violin). Six of these (Wf.VIII.3) were published in Riga in 1777 by the editor J.F. Hartnoch. Another (Wf.VIII.2), of an earlier date was published in Hamburg in 1770. All consist of three movements and all, with the exception of a few minor details, follow the same structure: Allegro—Andante—Tempo di Minuetto.

While it is unknown exactly when the Sonata in F Major (Wf.VIII.1) was composed certain scholars believe that the work was likely written before 1777. The sonata comprises only two movements: an Allegro and a Tempo di Minuetto. The concerted writing for the flute and right hand of the keyboard in addition to the individual part for the bass line echo the texture of the Baroque trio sonata. The elegance of the themes, the formal balance of the sections (often separated by dynamic changes — forte or piano), the accentuated contrast between themes and a left-hand accompaniment comprised of arpeggios bare witness to a classical aesthetic.

Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782) was the most cosmopolitan of Bach’s sons. The first member of the family to travel to Italy, Johann Christian was also the first Bach to compose operas. After the death of his father, the young Johann Christian Bach, then only fifteen years of age, was raised by his step-brother Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714-1788) from whom he received instruction in playing the harpsichord and composition. Johann Christian travelled to Italy where he met padre Martini (1706-1784) with whom he refined his compositional technique. After converting to Catholicism (1757), in 1760 Bach was appointed as organist at the cathedral in Milan. His first opera Artaserse was premiered in Turin in 1761. In 1762 he left Italy and settled in London where he played an integral role in the city’s musical life. Johann Christian occupied the prestigious post of Master of Music to H. M. the Queen of England and was placed in charge of the musical education of the royal children. Composer, conductor, virtuoso, Bach, along with his friend the gamba virtuoso Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787) established the city’s celebrated Bach-Abel public concert series (1765-1781). Despite his success J.C. Bach was nevertheless crippled by debt and died amid general indifference.

Johann Christian Bach published his Six Sonatas for Harpsichord, with Violin or Flute Accompaniment …. Opus 2 in London in 1763. This collection contains the type of sonata popular (especially in France) during the years 1760-1770: the sonata for keyboard with accompaniment (often ad libitum) by violin, flute or cello. The keyboard part is often a free-standing composition onto which decorative elements are grafted. The violin (or flute) while enriching the sonority of the composition plays very much a secondary, ornamental role. One can easily imagine the marketing possibilities of such works. Having a musician’s soul did not necessarily preclude the possession of shrewd business acumen. Indeed J.C. Bach himself declared: “my brother Carl Philipp Emanuel lives to compose, while I compose in order to live.”

The Sonata in G Major Opus 2, No. 2 consists of two movements: Allegretto and Allegro, both written in binary form. Galant in style, the work is characterised by an overall grace. The most innovative feature of the work is Bach’s use of crescendo and diminuendo; two elements of great expressive possibility borrowed from the symphony composers of the Manheim school here featured within a chamber music context.

In June 1763, Leopold Mozart (1718-1787) and his two gifted children, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791) and Maria Anna (“Nannerl”, 1751-1829) began a long journey which would ultimately take them to the great capitals of Europe. The three arrived in Paris in November and stayed for five months. At the end of April 1764, the Mozarts reached London. They were received on several occasions by King George III before whom the two prodigiously talented children acquitted themselves with great success. The family left England in July 1765 but did not return to Salzburg until the end of November 1766.

During his sojourn to London, Wolfgang published his Six Sonatas for Harpsichord which may be played with viole [violin] or flute accompaniment …. Very Humbly dedicated to HER MAJESTY CHARLOTTE, QUEEN of GREAT BRITAIN. The dedication carries the date 18 January 1765 and mentions that the young composer was only eight years of age. In fact Wolfgang was on the verge of celebrating his ninth birthday (27 January). Leopold Mozart, ever the savvy impresario was in the habit of subtracting a year from the age of his children in order to make their accomplishments seem that much more extraordinary. The Queen thanked the young Mozart for the sonatas (which she had commissioned) and the dedication by giving him 50 guineas. It was in London that the young Mozart met and befriended Johann Christian Bach.

The Sonata in F Major K.13 is the fourth sonata of the set but probably the first to have been composed. In addition to the accompanying violin (or flute) part the score also includes an ad libitum cello part. The work consists of three short movements. Written by a child, it is largely a conventional composition. This being said, however, the melodic (particularly in the flute part of the Andante) and expressive (chromaticism of the Menuetto I) qualities of Mozart’s mature style are already evident. The Sonata in F Major exemplifies above all the extraordinary facility with which Mozart was able to assimilate the latest musical innovations of his day, in particular the “pre-classic” sonata form. Like the later “classical” sonata form, the “pre-classic” sonata form is structured around two repeated halves. Two contrasting themes, in different keys, are stated in the first half. The second half begins with a development section characterised by a series of still fairly unelaborate modulations and concludes with the re-statement of the initial two themes of the first section, both presented in the tonic key of the piece.

In order to interpret the Sonata K.13 with flute it was necessary to make a few small technical and aesthetic changes to both the melody and harmony. Most significantly the Andante, originally in F minor has been transposed into D minor, the same key as the following Menuetto II.

© Mario Lord
Translated by Ilene McKenna