From “Bach” to “Bach’s Son”: The Work of Aesthetic Ideology in the Historical Reception of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
The paper explores the historical correlation between the marginalization of C. P. E. Bach in his posthumous critical reception in the early and mid 19th century and the paradigm shift that occurred in the philosophical, aesthetic, and ideological conception of music in Europe around 1800, whereby music was reconceived as a radically abstract and disembodied art of expression, as opposed to the Enlightenment idea of music as an irreducibly sensuous, sonic art of representation. More precisely, the paper argues that the cause of C. P. E. Bach’s marginalization in his posthumous critical reception should not be sought only in the shadow cast by his father, J. S. Bach, and the focus of 19th- and 20th-century music historiography on periodization, itself centred around “great men”, but also in the fundamental incompatibility between this new aesthetic and philosophical ideology of music from around 1800 and C. P. E. Bach’s oeuvre, predicated as it was on an older aesthetic paradigm of music, with its reliance on musical performance, especially improvisation, itself undervalued in early and mid 19th-century music criticism for the same reasons. Other factors might also include C. P. E. Bach’s use of the genre of fantasia, as well as the sheer stylistic idiosyncrasy of much of his music, especially the fantasias and other works he wrote für Kenner (“for connoisseurs”). This might also explain why his music was so quickly sidelined despite its pursuit of “free” expression, a defining ideal of early to mid 19th-century music aesthetics.
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