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  • Ian Passmore

Music that doesn't suck, No. 10: Like father, like son...

This Father’s Day, we’re covering one of classical music’s greatest father-son pairings: Johann Sebastian Bach and his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. While generally regarded as one of history’s greatest composers, that wasn’t always the case for JS Bach. His music actually fell out of popularity and was rarely performed following his death in 1750, a date that we now use to define the end of the Baroque Era and the beginning of the Classical Era—that’s how important he was. Fortunately, the 19th century brought about renewed interest in Bach’s life and music, thanks in large part to Felix Mendelssohn’s 1829 performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. This revival ultimately yielded the first biography of the great composer, as well as the publication of all his known works. Bach’s Come, Sweet Death for solo voice and continuo is one of my very favorite pieces. The performance below is by the Symphonica Orchestra—likely an arbitrary name given to the group of studio musicians, who had been hired for the recording—led by Leopold Stokowski. This purely orchestral transcription is one I have programmed and led many times (really, as often as I can get away with it), and was completed by Stokowski himself.

JS Bach/Stokowski, Come, Sweet Death: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfl9nuIZedY&list=RDtfl9nuIZedY&start_radio=1&t=0

A former conductor of mine once joked that JS Bach was “the greatest romantic composer,” due to the fact that he fathered twenty children(!!) over the course of two marriages. Sadly, only ten of those children survived to adulthood. Carl Philipp Emanuel (“CPE”) Bach was arguably the most gifted, and certainly the most inventive of those ten, making incredible strides in the realm of time, rhythm, and meter. (Seriously, one of his keyboard pieces was on my doctoral minor field theory exam for the course, “Time, Rhythm, and Meter.”) This is particularly evident in his virtuosic Symphony in D major, where the first movement’s sparse opening makes its time, rhythm, and meter nearly impossible to discern…at least for a moment. The performance comes from a wonderful, and relatively new album by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, led by Rebecca Miller. Enjoy…and Happy Father’s Day! :)

CPE Bach, Symphony in D major: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i15YJFD8fEU&list=PLX_M8twdUl-ADlzwHYLHLjbPm0wnuRUBZ


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