Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach composed more works for solo keyboard than for any other medium. His “Nachlaß-Verzeichnis” (NV 1790), the catalogue of his musical estate published in 1790, lists 210 items under the rubric “Clavier Soli.” Many of these items include more than one composition, and the actual number of Bach’s works for solo keyboard is over 300. More than 150 of these are designated “sonata,” of which about a hundred were published during his lifetime. His other music for solo keyboard reflects the full range of genres cultivated in Germany between the 1730s and 1780s: six fugues and at least two suites, genres that were already somewhat old-fashioned in his time, but also rondos and fantasias, works that contributed to his reputation as a progressive and imaginative composer. Bach also composed many shorter works, including character pieces, individual dance movements, solfeggios, and other single-movement works of various lengths. In addition, he wrote four duets for two keyboards and made arrangements for solo keyboard of several of his symphonies and concertos.

Series I is divided into ten volumes:

1. “Prussian” and “Württemberg” Sonatas
2. Sonatas with Varied Reprises
3. “Probestücke,” “Leichte” and “Damen” Sonatas
4. “Kenner und Liebhaber” Collections
5. Miscellaneous Sonatas from Prints
6. Sonatas from Manuscript Sources
7. Variations
8. Miscellaneous Keyboard Works
9. Organ Works
10. Arrangements of Orchestral Works

The volumes are organized mainly according to genre and chronology, retaining, however, the integrity of original collections issued during Bach’s lifetime and with his participation, even when these collections mix genres (as do all but the first of the “Kenner und Liebhaber” collections). The grouping and ordering of these collections are preserved, regardless of the dates of composition of individual works within each set. Works published individually and works not published during Bach’s lifetime are printed in the order of composition, as determined by the dates given in NV 1790 and the “Clavierwerke-Verzeichnis” (CV 1772), a manuscript catalogue compiled by the composer listing his solo keyboard works up to 1772.

Three principal categories of stringed keyboard instruments were available to Bach in his lifetime: clavichords, harpsichords, and fortepianos. At least one of each is included in the list of instruments belonging to him at the time of his death (NV 1790, p. 92):

The following instruments belonging to the deceased are likewise for sale by his widow.

A five-octave harpsichord in walnut—beautiful, strong tone.

A fortepiano or clavecin royal by old Friederici, in oak, with a beautiful tone.1

A five-octave clavichord by Jungcurt, in oak, with a beautiful tone.

A five-octave clavichord by old Friederici, in oak, the lid in pine, with a beautiful tone. Almost all of the compositions written in Hamburg were composed on this clavichord.2

The fact that Bach owned two clavichords seems to confirm his preference for that instrument. In the introduction to his Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, he compares the merits and weaknesses of the harpsichord, fortepiano, and clavichord: “The clavichord,” he concludes, “is . . . the instrument on which one can most accurately judge a keyboard player.”3

Bach was renowned as a performer on the clavichord and was praised for his expressive clavichord playing by his contemporaries, among them Charles Burney:

. . . M. Bach was so obliging as to sit down to his Silbermann clavichord, and favourite instrument, upon which he played three or four of his choicest and most difficult compositions, with the delicacy, precision, and spirit, for which he is so justly celebrated among his countrymen. In the pathetic and slow movements, whenever he had a long note to express, he absolutely contrived to produce, from his instrument, a cry of sorrow and complaint, such as can only be effected upon the clavichord, and perhaps by himself.4

It was in tribute to his Silbermann clavichord that Bach composed the melancholy “Abschieds-Rondo,” lamenting his sale of that instrument to a new owner.5 A great many of his works for solo keyboard seem to have been composed with the clavichord in mind, whether or not it is specified. The clavichord is suggested, for example, by markings for Bebung (denoting a type of vibrato) or abundant dynamic markings.

Bach occasionally specified other keyboard instruments for particular works, such as the “Bogenclavier” (Wq 65/48), the “cembalo a due tastature” (Wq 69), or the “Forte-Piano” (listed as an option on the title pages of all but the first of the “Kenner und Liebhaber” collections, Wq 56–59, 61). He explicitly assigned a few works to the organ, and a few others lacking a reference to that instrument can be linked to it on stylistic grounds. But the titles of most of his keyboard works refer simply to “Clavier” or “cembalo,” words commonly understood in the eighteenth century as generic designations for any type of stringed keyboard instrument. Bach’s view of his keyboard works was always a practical one, allowing for the possibility of performance on a variety of instruments.

Darrell M. Berg
General Editor

1. In Bach’s time Clavecin Royal was a trade name given by Johann Gottlob Wagner of Dresden to a square fortepiano with stops and other devices intended to sound like a harpsichord. The “Clavecin Roial” in Bach’s estate, called “Fortbien” by its inventor Christian Ernst Friederici, was also a square piano. Although nothing is known at present about its disposition, it is known that Bach thought so well of Friederici’s “Fortbiens” as to sell them for the maker. See Michael Cole, The Pianoforte in the Classical Era (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 144–46 and 172–77, and Bach’s letter of 10 November 1773 to Johann Nikolaus Forkel in CPEB-Briefe, 1:343, translated in CPEB-Letters, 43. John Koster provided much helpful information regarding Bach’s “Clavecin Roial.”

2. “Folgende des Seligen Instrumente sind ebenfalls bey dessen Frau Wittwe zu verkaufen. | Ein fünf Octäviger Flügel von Nußbaum Holz—schön und stark von Ton. | Ein Fortepiano oder Clavecin Roial vom alten Friederici, von Eichenholz und schönem Ton. | Ein fünf Octäviges Clavier von Jungcurt, von Eichenholz und schönem Ton. | Ein fünf Octäviges Clavier vom alten Friederici, von Eichenholz, der Deckel von Feuernholz [sic], schön von Ton. An diesem Claviere sind fast alle in Hamburg verfertigte Compositionen componirt worden.” The word “Feuernholz” does not exist in German; it appears to be a misreading of “Foehrenholz” (pine). I am grateful to John Koster (personal communication) for clarifying this word. The list of instruments includes only one other: an ivory cornetto (Zink) which “deserves to be in a museum” (in eine Kunstkammer aufgenommen zu werden verdient).

3. Versuch I, p. 9: “Das Clavicord ist . . . das Instrument, worauf man einen Clavieristen aufs genaueste zu beurtheilen fähig ist.”

4. See The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, and United Provinces, 2 vols. (London, 1773), 2:268–69.

5. The “Abschied von meinem silbermannischen Claviere in einem Rondo,” Wq 66 (1781), was composed when the instrument was acquired by Dietrich Ewald von Grotthuß; see Bach’s letter to Grotthuß dated 30 September 1781 in CPEB-Briefe, 2:891–93; translated in CPEB-Letters, 175–76. Wq 66 is published, with commentary, in CPEB:CW, I/8.1.