cpe & other thoughts

I have been playing the piano pieces of C.P.E. Bach. I own two Dover collections of them and the later, better three volume edition edited by Eiji Hashimoto.

Six Keyboard Sonatas - Volume 1: Berlin, 1760 | Music Shop Europe

Despite owning these five volumes, I am not clear about how the keyboard works of C.P.E. Bach are organized. The Groves Dictionary of Music tells me that he wrote over 1,000 separate works over a period of 60 years. Despite saying that his keyboard compositions are “at the heart of his creative work,” unlike Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and others it’s not easy for me to understand what he was doing in these pieces. I have played all five volumes through at least once. I can see the glimmers of the impending Classical interest in formal aspects of the piece. Not to mention C. P. E.’s facile ability to make interesting and beautiful music.

C. P. E. stands between the baroque of his father’s music and the music of Haydn and Mozart. Groves says that Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven held his music in high esteem but that there is no substantiated evidence of this. Haydn and Beethoven are known to have used his book, Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments as young men. When an English newspaper reported there was tension between C. P. E. and Haydn, he demurred and was quoted that “It is my belief that every master has his own true worth. Praise and blame can do nothing to alter it. The work alone allots praise or blame to the master, and I therefore take everyone as I find him.” Hamburgischer Unpartheyischer Correspondent, 20 September 1785, quoted in the Groves article on C. P. E.

All this arouses not only my admiration but my curiosity. Subsequently I have requested a biography of C.P.E. and a collection of his letters through the MelCat network. I look forward to learning more about him.

In the meantime I continue to re-read and ponder Christopher Small’s ideas in Musicking: The Meaning of Performing and Listening. I can see that he has been very formative in some of my more radical conclusions about music.

A trained classical musician himself, his career was basically a reminder that Western civilization and its musics are one of many.

“Most of the world’s musicians—and by that word I mean, here and throughout this book, not just professional musicians, not just those who make a living from singing or playing or composing, but anyone who sings or plays or composes—have no use for musical scores and do not treasure musical works but simply play and sing, drawing on remembered melodies and rhythms and on their own powers of invention within the strict order of tradition. “

In addition he points out that so called “classical music” is not even a dominant aspect of music in the current Western world. Writing in 1998 he says that “It appeals to only a very tiny minority of people, even within Western industrialized societies; classical music records account for only 3 percent of all record sales.”

I find that all of this puts my own musical life in a helpful perspective. I seem to have more in common with Small than most musicians I have rubbed shoulders with in my life especially including those in my academic training.

None of this diminishes my own love of making music and listening to it. If anything, it confirms it.

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