From Bach to Berlin: chamber music from 18th-century Germany

This project was initiated by two brilliant string players with whom I previously collaborated in several concerts at Wagner College and elsewhere. The recording was originally intended to make available some unpublished, little-known compositions for violin and viola from the workshop of J. S. Bach and his contemporaries. Starting with a work believed to have been composed jointly by Bach and his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, we would then proceed to music by the younger Bach’s colleagues at Berlin. There C. P. E. Bach worked from 1741 or 1742 to 1767 at the court of Prussian king Frederick II, known as “the Great.” Central to the project would be music by Johann Gottlieb Graun, a composer of brilliant music for violin and viola on which I had worked off and on since graduate school. Then I had performed a sonata of his for viola and obbligato keyboard which has also at times been attributed (very doubtfully) to C. P. E. Bach’s older brother Wilhelm Friedemann.

During 2018 I prepared editions of possible additional repertory, most of it from unpublished manuscripts which I had studied as an offshoot of my work as a historian and editor of the music of J. S. and C. P. E. Bach. We recorded seven works in June 2019 at the WGBH Studios in Boston. During editing, which took place over the following twelve months, we found that the joint composition by the two Bachs would not fit on a standard audio CD. As a result, the decision was made to remove the “Bach” element from the project as published, and the finished CD has now been issued under a different title by the Dutch label Brilliant Classics:

I am grateful to Augusta McKay Lodge and Georgina McKay Lodge for the invitation to join them in this project and for introducing me to Eva Lymenstull, whose splendid cello playing provides a firm foundation for three of the works on the CD. During final rehearsals for our recording sessions, we realized that the lone cello sonata by C. H. Graun (brother of J. G. Graun), who was famous as an opera composer, would make a fitting addition to our program. Over just a couple of days I therefore prepared an edition of this work as well, which Eva learned and played beautifully. I’m grateful also for permission to publish the trio sonata by the two Bachs elsewhere on this website (click here and scroll down or search for “BWV 1038”).

The recording company chose the above image of Frederick’s palace at Charlottenburg (now part of Berlin) for the cover art. My own preference would have been for this less well-known image, showing the smaller palace at Rheinsberg where Frederick held court before becoming king:

Both Grauns as well as C. P. E. Bach and the two other composers represented on the CD probably played for the king at this location. But it’s unlikely that any of the specific compositions on the CD were ever actually performed for Frederick, whose musical interests lay more in the realm of opera and music for the flute (which he played, and for which he composed, with professional competency). Hence this music is “from the court” of the Prussian king only in the sense that all the composers in question worked for him.