Page 20 - Classical Singer magazine 2019 Fall University Issue
P. 20

I rst encountered the songs of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach when I
was putting together a concert of 18th century music with some friends. While I’ve been singing the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach for decades, these miniatures were very di erent, yet unexpectedly delightful. The songs are  lled with surprising twists of harmony, rapid changes of dynamics and textures, and sculpted melodies that explore wide ranges exemplifying the emp ndsamer S til (“sensitive style”).
I was hooked: the melodies were so singable and elegant! And the highly dramatic style appealed to my love
of expressive text settings. So began my exploration of one of the most obscure repertoires in song literature: the music written in the last third
of the 18th century. Of course, at the time, this music was di cult to  nd. Editions of C.P.E. Bach songs
were sparse and didn’t contain more than a handful of songs drawn from several collections. That’s why the new complete edition of Bach’s works, nearing completion by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI), is so signi cant. For the  rst time since their initial publication, Bach’s songs are becoming widely available for musicians to peruse, study, and
20 Classical Singer | September/October 2019
perform. The editions are beautiful, scholarly, and incredibly a ordable. Individual songs are even available for free download.
I’d like to take you through several of my favorite Bach songs so you can have a taste of his inventiveness and brilliance in the genre. First up, a song from his  rst published collection, Gellerts geistliche Oden und Lieder (“Gellert’s Spiritual Songs and Odes”).
Christian Fürchtegott Gellert
was celebrated throughout Germany as a brilliant poet and thinker. He was known both for charming fables and for spiritual and devotional poetry. These poems are meditations on human existence and morality, generally with a spiritual cast. Strophic and sometimes running over 10 verses, they were intended to be read and studied in the home.
These confessional, self-examining poems bring out Bach’s most adventurous harmonic explorations. “Das natürliche Verderben des Menschen” (“The Natural Corruption of Humanity”) is a  ne example
of this. The voice begins its self- interrogation in a low, insinuating register. Sharp contrasts in dynamics, range, and rhythm dominate this piece, which defeats expectation
virtually in every bar. This tiny 17-bar song is so eventful that it feels much longer. The poem itself runs a full 20 verses, all of which explore in ever greater depth humanity’s weaknesses, sometimes in compellingly contemporary language.
Bach’s later song collections also focus on spiritual themes. He set versi ed psalm settings by poet and theologian Johann Andreas Cramer and two volumes of devotional poetry by minister and colleague Christoph Christian Sturm. While these latter sets are less vocally and melodically ambitious than the Gellert songs, they are no less daring harmonically. A terri c example of the Sturm Lieder is “Der Tag des Weltgerichts” (“The World’s Judgment Day”).
The song opens with a brief keyboard  ourish, initiating the relentless dotted  gures and evoking thunder, which underlies the  rst half of the text. The voice part is supported by a very full harmonic underpinning in the right hand
and emphasizes the halting, short- breathed phrases that describe the terror of the end of the world. The  nal line of each verse is given to a plea for mercy to God—and at this point the music evaporates into a
The Varied and Masterful Songs of C.P.E. Bach
Many are familiar with the works by Johann Sebastian Bach. But what about the works by his son? Discover a new world of repertoire perfect for recital, concert, or worship service.

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