Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach



You might think Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach had a head-start as a musician, because his dad was the brilliant composer and organist J.S. Bach. But maybe it was difficult to begin in the shadow of such a man. In fact, when C.P.E. Bach really got going, people thought he was even better than his dad – though these days we recognise J.S. Bach as the greater master. C.P.E. Bach was a trail-blazing composer: he helped to create the new Classical style when music was changing radically. There was a split at the time between the ‘galant’ style, which was very artificial and polite, and the ‘sensitive’ style, which was dramatic and powerful. C.P.E. Bach preferred the ‘sensitive’ style, and became well known for his expressive and thrilling music.

C.P.E. Bach lived at a time when composers needed patrons – wealthy people who employed them. His most famous patron was Frederick the Great, a rich and powerful aristocrat (which means somebody born into an important, often royal, family). Frederick was strong-willed and unpredictable – frankly, not everybody liked him – but he was a flautist and a true lover of music. C.P.E. Bach found a home at his court and became a favourite employee, although he was annoyed that Frederick’s flute teacher was paid more than he was! As well as being a composer, C.P.E. Bach was a gifted keyboard player, and aristocrats from all over Europe flocked to hear him perform. He was an expert on music theory, too (it seemed to run in the family!). He wrote a book on keyboard technique (good ways to play the keyboard) and harmony that was very popular.

Like his dad, C.P.E. Bach was versatile: he wrote pieces in all the major genres of his time, including oratorios, symphonies, keyboard works, songs and sonatas. But he also composed unusual bits and bobs, including music for mechanical instruments, which were popular in the 18th century. Things like musical clocks and mechanical figurines were cutting-edge technology at the time, and Frederick loved them. All in all, it seems as if there was hardly anything C.P.E. Bach couldn’t do!

C.P.E. Bach, courtesy of Benjamin Chai

Play Music!

Play Music!

Sample some pieces by C.P.E. Bach.

Sinfonia in D Major, Wq. 183/1: I. Allegro di molto

One of C.P.E. Bach’s most popular symphonies, this piece shows off some of his most dramatic and imaginative writing. It was also one of his own favourites!

Performers: Salzburg Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra; Yoon K. Lee

Taken from Naxos 8.553289

Keyboard Sonata in F sharp minor, Wq. 52/4: II. Poco andante

One of C.P.E. Bach’s enduringly popular keyboard sonatas, this slow movement illustrates his gift for sustained melody and a singing style.

Performers: Christopher Hinterhuber, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.557450

Flute Concerto in A minor, Wq. 26: III. Allegro assai

The flute was what Frederick the Great played, and C.P.E. Bach wrote four inventive and exciting concertos for the instrument.

Performers: Patrick Gallois, flute; Toronto Chamber Orchestra; Kevin Mallon

Taken from Naxos 8.557788

Do You Know?

Do You Know?

See if you can answer the questions below!

 Who was C.P.E. Bach’s godfather?

a. Georg Philipp Telemann
b. J.S. Bach
c. George Frideric Handel

 What was C.P.E. Bach’s degree in?

a. Music
b. Chemistry
c. Law

 Who was C.P.E. Bach’s most famous patron?

a. Frederick the Great
b. Catherine the Great
c. Peter the Great

 What instrument was C.P.E. Bach most known for playing?

a. Keyboard
b. French horn
c. Xylophone

 Who said of C.P.E. Bach, ‘Bach is the father, we are the children’?

a. Beethoven
b. Mozart
c. Mahler

Key Facts…

Key Facts…
  1. C.P.E. Bach’s middle name – Philipp – was given to him in honour of his godfather, the composer Georg Philipp Telemann.
  2. C.P.E. Bach is most associated with the dramatic and expressive ‘sensitive’ style of music.
  3. C.P.E. Bach had one of the most famous dads in all of music history – J.S. Bach.
  4. In 1738 C.P.E. Bach got a degree in Law.
  5. C.P.E. Bach worked mainly in Berlin and Hamburg, and is sometimes known as the ‘Berlin’ or ‘Hamburg’ Bach.

Play More Music!

Play More Music!

Here is more music to listen to. Click the + to see tracks and information about each work!


Sinfonia in D major, Wq. 183/1, H. 663

One of C.P.E. Bach’s most beloved symphonies, this inventive D major work has remained popular since its first performance.

Performers: Salzburg Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra; Yoon K. Lee

Taken from Naxos 8.553289

Sinfonia in G major, Wq. 183/4, H. 666

The symphonies in the Wq. 183 set are unusual, combining wind instruments fully with the strings to create a thick, impressive texture.

Performers: Salzburg Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra; Yoon K. Lee

Taken from Naxos 8.553289

Sinfonia in B flat major, Wq. 182/2, H. 658

The symphonies in Wq. 182 weren’t published during C.P.E. Bach’s lifetime, but have since become increasingly popular.

Performers: Capella Istropolitana; Christian Benda

Taken from Naxos 8.553285

Sinfonia in B minor, Wq. 182/5, H. 661

The symphonies in Wq. 182 were commissioned by Gottfried van Swieten, a great musical patron of the age. He wanted them to be ‘difficult’ in style.

Performers: Capella Istropolitana; Christian Benda

Taken from Naxos 8.553285


Cello Concerto in A major, Wq. 172, H. 439

C.P.E. Bach’s cello concertos have become classics in the cellist’s arsenal – challenging and always imaginative.

Performers: Tim Hugh, cello; Bournemouth Sinfonietta; Yoon K. Lee

Taken from Naxos 8.553298

Flute Concerto in D Minor, Wq. 22, H. 425

C.P.E. Bach’s best-known patron, Frederick the Great, was a talented and enthusiastic flautist. This is Bach’s most popular concerto for the instrument.

Performers: Scott Goff, flute; Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Gerard Schwarz

Taken from Naxos 8.571208

Oboe Concerto in B flat major, Wq. 164, H. 466

C.P.E. Bach wrote two concertos for oboe and strings, arranged in 1765 from two harpsichord concertos written in the same year.

Performers: József Kiss, oboe; Budapest Ferenc Erkel Chamber Orchestra

Taken from Naxos 8.550556

Keyboard Music

Keyboard Sonata in A major, Wq. 70/1, H. 133

C.P.E. Bach was a gifted keyboardist, and he wrote loads of sonatas for the instrument. Today we often play them on the piano, but they can be played on other keyboard instruments too, such as the tinkly harpsichord.

Performers: François Chaplin, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.553640

Organ Sonata in B flat major, Wq. 70/2, H. 134

The organ doesn’t always come to mind when we think about keyboard sonatas, but C.P.E. Bach wrote a sequence of them for Frederick the Great’s sister, Anna Amalia, who had an organ built at her home.

Performers: Iain Quinn, organ

Taken from Naxos 8.573424

Rondo in D minor, Wq. 61/4, H. 290

Not all of C.P.E. Bach’s music for keyboard took the form of a sonata – he also wrote rondos, for example: one-movement pieces featuring a section that keeps returning.

Performers: Christopher Hinterhuber, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.557450

Keyboard Sonata in F sharp minor, Wq. 52/4, H. 37

F sharp minor – intense and mournful – is quite an unusual key for a composer to write music in at this time. C.P.E. Bach explores it magnificently here!

Performers: Christopher Hinterhubner, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.557450