PREFACE: CONCERTOS

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s concertos, especially those for solo keyboard, are among his most progressive works, and they also played a significant role in the artistic reputation of the composer. The concertos span Bach’s entire creative career, beginning in 1733 with the Concerto in A Minor, Wq 1, and ending in 1788, the year of Bach’s death, with the Concerto in E-flat Major for Harpsichord and Fortepiano, Wq 47. The concertos reflect the varying professional and personal circumstances under which they were written. Thus the works from the student years in Leipzig and Frankfurt an der Oder clearly derive from the tradition of the collegia musica, in which Bach took an active part. The compositions of the middle period are influenced by his work as chamber musician at the Prussian court, while also reflecting the world of the private Berlin musical societies that began to spring up following the accession of Frederick the Great, and which developed into a central pillar of bourgeois musical life after the Seven Years’ War. The late concertos were composed for the concert-going public of Hamburg, where Bach served as civic music director for two decades.

Fifty-two works are listed under the heading “Concerto” in the “Nachlaß-Verzeichnis” (NV 1790).1 All the entries call for “clavier” as the solo instrument, nearly always listing it before any alternative instruments. In two cases Bach writes solo parts for two keyboards and orchestra, and some concertos also exist in versions for other solo instruments, for example, two each for oboe and organ, and at least three each for flute and violoncello.

The concertos comprise volumes 4–10 of series III:

4. Flute Concertos
5. Oboe Concertos
6. Violoncello Concertos
7. Keyboard Concertos from Prints
8. Sei concerti per il cembalo concertato
9. Keyboard Concertos from Manuscript Sources
10. Concertos for Two Keyboards

The stylistic span of C.P.E. Bach’s concertos is as broad as their chronology and social functions. When the first of them were written the concerto for keyboard was a relatively new genre. It is thus remarkable that the two eldest Bach sons concentrated almost exclusively on the solo keyboard in their concertos, and for that reason their work played no small role in the development of the keyboard concerto.2 In addition to the increasingly refined interplay between solo and tutti, the development of Bach’s concerto style manifests itself primarily through larger dimensions, higher compositional demands, and a more symphonic quality to the movements. Most of the concertos are conceived for advanced players and connoisseurs; only occasionally—as in the six “Hamburg” Concertos, Wq 43—were works composed with amateurs in mind. Although Bach arranged some of his concertos for different solo instruments (e.g., Wq 26, 166, and 170), the present edition groups the concertos according to the required solo instrument. As in series I, the concertos for one keyboard are grouped according to their transmission (individually published works in vol. 7, the original collection Wq 43 in vol. 8, and the works transmitted in manuscripts in vol. 9).

In most of the keyboard concertos the exact solo instrument is usually not specified; the designations “für das Clavier” or “per il cembalo” were intended to leave a certain amount of freedom to the performer. In his scores Bach consistently notated the keyboard solo instrument between the continuo line and the other accompanying instruments. He thus departs from the practice of his father and older brother, who in their concertos always notated the solo instrument in the lowest position and usually combined the continuo part with the left hand of the keyboard part. Despite the visual separation of keyboard and continuo parts in C.P.E. Bach’s scores, the soloist continues to function as continuo player in the tutti passages, as the figures in the original scores and parts testify. The edition maintains Bach’s placement of the solo part (i.e., the flute and oboe parts as the top line above the strings, and the cello and keyboard parts immediately above the bass).

Bach wrote out cadenzas for many of his concertos. These are occasionally found in the original parts, but most are compiled in a manuscript copied later and transmitted in the collection of J.J.H. Westphal (B-Bc, 5871 MSM = Wq 120). Some of the written-out cadenzas may document Bach’s own performances of his concertos, but others were clearly intended as suggestions for less advanced players or as models and study material for students. All of the authoritative, surviving cadenzas for a concerto are included in the volume with the concerto.

Peter Wollny
General Editor


1. NV 1790, pp. 26–35.

2. See especially Wade.