1,618 Movements of CPE Bach

When Anne was feverishly cataloguing the 2,000+ movements of JS Bach, she kept saying “What’ll really be great is to have CPE.” Anne has long loved CPE’s gorgeous flute music, and I had long been embarrassingly ignorant about it.

But CPE wrote plenty of cantatas, passions, and more — we just don’t always hear them that often. We realized we could help change that by making his music searchable, movement by movement.

So Anne started cataloguing CPE’s vocal music by instrument, key, meter, and more — 1,618 movements’ worth. The Packard Humanities Institute generously gave us permission to use their texts and translations, and Anne spent the past two weeks in quarantine, manually copying those texts one by one, until her back hurt.

I, on the other hand, have been sweating the details of obbligato instruments and movement types, ampersands and en dashes, and working out bugs between JS and CPE. I’m pretty sure consistency wasn’t invented until the Industrial Revolution.

Anyway, we finished 1,618 movements of CPE Bach’s vocal works and launched it just this morning!

Anne says…

When I was 16 or 17, I heard a girl in historical performance class playing something mysterious on the harpsichord. It sounded so modern that I thought it was a contemporary piece. At the end of the class I asked what it was and it turned out to be Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach. I soon fell in love with his music.

I think I’d feel less lonely if I knew Carl Philipp today. His emotions are extremely à fleur de peau (right at the surface), like mine. He fills his melodies with sensitivity, sometimes with big intervals as if something were breaking. His father, Johann Sebastian, was very hard on him and dismissed his music as ‘Prussian blue that will soon fade’.

Carl Philipp wrote lots of flute music for Frederick II of Prussia, student (and lover) of Quantz, and another very sensitive person. (In the painting above, Carl Philipp is seated at the keyboard and Frederick II is playing flute, with Quantz listening.) Carl Philipp also organized salons at his beautiful house in Hamburg where poets, lawyers, writers, musicians, and philosophers would gather, discuss, and play music.

I’m planning someday to open a salon de café et pâtisserie in the same vein – a place where sensitive people can share by eating my pastries, talking a bit, and mostly listening to music.

In total, we catalogued 1,618 movements of Carl Philipp’s vocal music. There are few obbligato instruments. Often everyone has an equal part, the flute very often doubling the violin or even voice. Carl Philipp doesn’t try to make his music difficult; rather, he writes poetic melodies full of those big expressive intervals. He often makes the texts seem more important than his own music, even if we know from his harpsichord pieces that he was capable of much more.

I hope that thanks to our catalogue of CPE Bach vocal works, we’ll hear his beautiful music performed even more often.