The Family Tradition


In his autobiography Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach states that “In composition and keyboard playing I had no teacher other than my father.” When the time came to carry on the family tradition of music making, Emanuel Bach would face some challenges. He probably began his keyboard lessons around 1720, at the age of six or seven, using a collection of keyboard pieces that his father, Johann Sebastian, had written for Emanuel’s older brother, Wilhelm Friedemann.

Years later Emanuel recalled that all of his father’s pupils had to begin immediately with “works that were by no means easy.” From there the young keyboard player progressed to his father’s Inventions and Sinfonias and then to monumental Well-Tempered Clavier. It’s likely that before long Emanuel also played in public in Leipzig as a harpsichordist, at first providing accompaniment and then soloing in performances of his father’s keyboard concertos.

By the time he was seventeen Emanuel Bach was a published composer and though he was educated to be a lawyer, he went on to become a major composer who influenced Haydn and a generation of composers to follow. But when it came to the next generation of his family, Emanuel Bach was not so influential.

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He had three children. His first, Johann August, showed no particular musical talent and eventually became a lawyer. His daughter, Anna Carolina Philippina, is said to have “occupied herself with domestic duties all her life.” Emanuel put his greatest hope in his youngest child, optimistically named Johann Sebastian.

According to one account he declared that through his young son he would continue the family tradition and bequeath to the world all he had learnedfrom his father and all that he had discovered himself.

Apparently the keyboard lessons and musical tradition didn’t turn out quite as well as Emanuel had hoped. But young Sebastian did have artistic talent. He became a painter.

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