With a total of more than 250 individual pieces, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach ranks among the most prolific composers of lieder in eighteenth-century Germany.1 Like the solo keyboard music and the keyboard concertos, the songs span Bach’s entire creative career from the 1730s to the very last years of his life; however, the composition of songs is not evenly distributed among these years. Almost all of C.P.E. Bach’s songs were widely disseminated in print during the eighteenth century and thus contributed to his recognition as a vocal composer.
The modern distinction between secular and sacred songs, though helpful in many respects, is not entirely sufficient to cover the wide array of song types that Bach wrote. Eighteenth-century writings distinguish the Lied (song) from the more elevated Ode (ode) and the Hymne (hymn).2 Bach strongly preferred the song to the ode and only occasionally set hymns to music (e.g., the Dank-Hymne der Freundschaft as a large-scale piece with orchestral accompaniment; see CPEB:CW, V/5.1). This distinction is in accordance with aesthetic theories of Bach’s time, according to which ode and hymn are self-sufficient whereas the song as a poetic genre is written to be sung and thus requires a melody, be it parodied or newly composed. A typical song consists of several homogeneous stanzas whereas the stanzas of an ode are more varied with respect to meter and contents. As a result, lieder are usually set strophically whereas odes may require a new setting of each stanza for proper expression. Among Bach songs only a handful are through-composed and may thus be described as odes.
Bach actively participated in several crucial phases of the development of the German song. His first extant song compositions were published in Johann Friedrich Gräfe’s anacreontic Oden-Sammlungen (Halle, 1737–43); some of these may have already been written in Leipzig, since one of his earliest songs uses a text by the Leipzig poet Christiane Mariane von Ziegler, who had provided J.S. Bach with cantata texts in the mid-1720s. A larger number of C.P.E. Bach’s songs are related to the activities of the so-called first Berlin Song School (Berliner Liederschule). Musically, Bach’s contributions rank among the best of the Berlin Liederschule; nevertheless he did not participate publicly in the aesthetic discussion about the true nature of song and the characteristics of the German lied as opposed to the French chanson.
The distinction between Singoden and Spieloden, however, was well known to Bach. The remark in the preface to his Gellert songs, Wq 194, that his songs can be used as Handstücke (that is, as keyboard pieces) makes it clear that he strongly preferred the harmonious Spieloden requiring keyboard accompaniment over the melodic Singoden which can be sung to good effect without any instrumental support. With Sperontes’s Singende Muse an der Pleiße and Johann Abraham Peter Schulz’s Lieder im Volkston, Bach’s setting of the Gellert songs (first published in 1758 and reprinted four more times by 1784) may be regarded as among the most successful song publications in the eighteenth century. It influenced not only contemporaries but also later generations, at least up to the time of Beethoven’s Gellert settings, op. 48 (1803).
The exact position of Bach among the composers of the Berlin Liederschule remains to be determined. It appears, however, that he deliberately abandoned some of their conventions, by editing his earlier contributions to various anthologies (such as Oden mit Melodien and Berlinische Oden und Lieder) and issuing them under his name in 1762 as Oden mit Melodien (Wq 199). Bach’s approach proved to be successful: the Oden mit Melodien were reprinted in Berlin in 1774, long after he had left the Prussian capital.
Bach resumed the composition of songs soon after his move to Hamburg in 1768, providing a dozen songs for the monthly periodical Unterhaltungen and including one song in the periodical he edited, Musikalisches Vielerley (1770). After contributing to the first collection of Balthasar Münter’s Geistliche Lieder (1773), Bach composed three sets of strophic sacred songs for private devotion: a selection of forty-two psalms, using the poetic versions by Johann Andreas Cramer (Wq 196, 1774); and two sets of thirty songs each with texts by the head pastor at St. Petri in Hamburg, Christoph Christian Sturm (Wq 197–198, 1780–81). An impressive list of subscribers shows that Bach songs were distributed mainly in North Germany and among German-speaking enclaves abroad. From the choral versions of several of these songs used in the Hamburg Passions and as four-part motets, we may conclude that Bach was looking for alternatives to the texts of the Hamburg hymnal that had been in use since 1700.
His great popularity as a composer led publishers to ask Bach for contributions of song settings for their Musenalmanache, annual publications of poetry with inserted songs that were fashionable from 1770 on. Bach only rarely fulfilled their requests. He had high standards regarding poetry and was apparently not willing to commit himself unless he was fully convinced of the merit of a given text. Soon after 1780, therefore, Bach was replaced by composers like Johann Friedrich Reichardt who were regarded as less selective. In the 1770s Carl Friedrich Cramer attempted to publish all of Bach’s secular songs. The collection was announced as part of Cramer’s Polyhymnia series but was never realized, although the engraving manuscript was ready for publication in the mid-1770s.3 Only during the last years of his life did Bach return to the abandoned project, sending the hitherto unpublished songs (but not the entire collection) to the printer. The Wq 200 collection, dated 1789 on the title page, actually appeared a few weeks before the composer’s death in December 1788.
Bach was involved on several occasions in preparing new hymnals; because of their liturgical use, however, his chorale settings (e.g., Wq 203) are a different genre from the songs. Therefore Bach’s chorales are published in series V. The same applies to those settings of song texts that Bach arranged for chorus and orchestra clearly meant to be performed in church services, whether as choruses inserted in church cantatas or Passions, or individual choruses that Bach himself designated “Motteto” (Wq 208).
Series VI is thus organized as four volumes:
|2.||Cramer and Sturm Songs|
|4.||Arias and Chamber Cantatas|
Volumes 1 and 2 contain the printed collections of sacred songs, Wq 194–198, which could be used for public worship as well as private devotion; volume 3 contains the collections Wq 199 and 200, as well as the majority of songs which are to be regarded as secular, including the Polyhymnia collection; and volume 4 contains the hymnic Klopstocks Morgengesang am Schöpfungsfeste (Wq 239), single arias, and secular cantatas mostly identified in NV 1790 as “mit gewöhnlichen Instrumenten” (with chamber instruments).
1. For an overview of Bach’s songs, see Gudrun Busch, C.Ph.E. Bach und seine Lieder (Regensburg: Gustav Bosse, 1957) and William H. Youngren, C.P.E. Bach and the Rebirth of Strophic Song (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2003).
2. See Johann Georg Sulzer, Allgemeine Theorie der schönen Künste, new enlarged 2d ed. (Leipzig, 1792–94), s.v. “Lied (Dichtkunst).”
3. See Barbara Wiermann, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Dokumente zu Leben und Wirken aus der zeitgenössischen hamburgischen Presse (1767–1790), Leipziger Beiträge zur Bach-Forschung 4 (Hildesheim: Olms, 2000), 214–16.