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Emotion, Experimentation, and Education: C. P. E. Bach’s Württemberg Sonatas

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach is a composer whose music, though admired by all of the great composers of his day, is today only infrequently heard on the concert stage or utilized in the teaching studio. During his lifetime, however, C. P. E.’s ideas about music were extremely influential. The six Württemberg sonatas, expressive and experimental keyboard works, serve as an excellent summation of C. P. E.’s aesthetic and style. Composed between 1742-1744 and dedicated to C. P. E.’s pupil Carl Eugen, the Duke of Württemberg, the Württemberg sonatas are challenging works that present the performer with a multitude of technical and interpretative difficulties. In each sonata, C. P. E. gives full rein to his creative abilities and seems to relish such difficulties as complicated rhythms, overlapping voices, extreme technical challenges, and unusual or difficult key signatures. This article discusses what makes the Württemberg sonatas stand out from among the more than 150 sonatas that C. P. E. composed over the course of his creative life, focusing on overall aspects of the set as well as significant characteristics of the individual sonatas themselves. Special attention is paid to the pedagogical applications of these works. Contrary to what has been widely assumed over the centuries, C. P. E. Bach is not a composer best consigned to the dusty annals of history but is actually a creative musician of superior ability. He influenced musical thought and composition generations to come, and his works can still speak to us today.
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