Presentation on theme: "The Keyboard Fantasia A music of the Self. Free Fantasia in F-sharp minor, ‘C. P. E. Bach’s Feelings’ (H. 300, 1787) Representation of the composer’s."— Presentation transcript:
The Keyboard Fantasia A music of the Self
Free Fantasia in F-sharp minor, ‘C. P. E. Bach’s Feelings’ (H. 300, 1787) Representation of the composer’s ‘character’ – consistent with our discussions in lecture 6. The fantasia becomes autobiographical, confessional – a first person ‘oration’. The free fantasia was particularly suited to self- representation: freedom from conventions of other types of piece, and from unity of meter – less constrained by existing musical conventions. Listen to the first few minutes: what were CPEBs Feelings?
Christoph Christian Sturm, Sacred Songs with Melodies to Sing at the Keyboard by C. P. E. Bach ( ) ‘Andenken an den Tod’ (H. 749, 1781), the first phrase is quoted in the fantasia, for which the text reads ‘Who knows how close death is to me’ (‘Wer weiss wie nah der Tod mir ist’). The sentiment here is not ‘sadness’ but uncertainty – and the idea is of the omnipresence of death and the fleeting nature of life. Listen to the song.
Understanding ‘C. P. E. Bach’s Feelings’ If we take this (apparent) quotation as a ‘key’ to understanding H. 300, it is reasonable to look more broadly at the collection of Sacred Songs. Notably, all the songs are Christian meditations on life, death, salvation and the created world. Perhaps the fantasia in f-sharp shares in this register of theological-poetic meditation. With specific reference to the quotation, death features often in the Sacred Songs, and as an occasion for a wide-range of feelings as we might expect in a Christian context – physical suffering, redemption of sins, release from the body, reunion with God, salvation.
The autobiographical fantasia: a broader phenomenon? There are other hints that the free fantasias of C.P.E. Bach may be self-expressive or autobiographical. According to Bach’s friend, Carl Friedrich Cramer, the composer wrote the free fantasia in A-major (H. 278, 1782), ‘in tormentis’ (‘in agony’) while suffering from gout. In a review of the collection in which the piece was published, Cramer gave more detail, albeit in a joking manner. More significant than Cramer’s specific suggestions for ‘gout pain’ in the music is the fact that he links the fantasia with the composer’s body and feelings.
Cramer, review of Kenner und Liebhaber v. 4, Magazin der Musik (Nov.-Dec. 1783) ‘I happen to know that the second of these two Fantasias was prepared for his own enjoyment on a day when he nursed irksome rheumatism, and, according to his friends, he named it jokingly the fantasia in tormentis, with reference to the celebrated paintings of the blessed King of Prussia. No one would thank me if, based on this, I wanted to abstract an entire theory of gout pain, according to which [the music] would incarnate flying pain in the rambling runs that are immediately repeated on an elusive 6/4/2 chord; stabbing pain in the short, jerky passages; the impression of a troubled soul etc. “No, that’s fanciful!” says a serious reader. So be it, then!’
A closer look at Cramer’s notion of Bach’s ‘pain’ in H. 278 Is there any plausibility to Cramer’s suggestions that the fantasia represents physical sensation and related mental states? Consider: ‘Flying pain’ in the opening scales; ‘Stabbing pain’ in the ‘short jerky passages’; ‘The impression of a troubled soul’ What is the topic at ‘E’ in the score? What is happening at ‘F’? Characterise the material at ‘H’ in terms of Cramer’s theory. What is the name of the type of rhythm used at ‘G’.
Broader Connections Between ‘Self’ and Fantasia Social context: fantasias were private music, improvised for oneself, or for a small group of connoisseurs. CPEB was reluctant to publish fantasias, fearing they would not be understood. In other words, fantasias seemed to be outside market forces and to be relatively free from the kinds of authorial compromises imposed when composing pieces to be published for amateurs. ‘More sugar’ is required, Bach wrote, in pieces for the public. In fantasias the composer/improviser presents their ideas and knowledge, moment by moment. The metaphor of the body as clavier plays a part in the intimacy and autobiographical quality of improvisation.
Cont.: An eye witness account... Burney, The Present State of Music in Germany... Or The Journal of a Tour, 2 vols. (London: Becket et al., 1773), vol. 2, pp : ‘After dinner, which was elegantly served, and cheerfully eaten, I prevailed upon him to sit down again to a clavichord, and he played, with little intermission, till near eleven o’clock at night. During this time, he grew so animated and possessed, that he not only played, but looked like one inspired. His eyes were fixed, his under lip fell, and drops of effervescence distilled from his countenance. He said, if he were to be set to work frequently, in this manner, he should grow young again’.
Cont.: an impression of monologue and confession In 1767, Bach’s friend, the poet Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg, added words to the free fantasia in C minor, H. 75 (from the Essay, vol. 1) which bring out the impression of a first-person narration. Specifically, he adapted Hamelet’s soliloquy (‘To be or not to be’) and invented a monologue for Socrates, contemplating the cup of hemlock. In so doing, he situated the fantasia at the boundary of life and death (cf. H. 300 above) and linked it, generically, to the elevated genre of theatrical monologue. This was in part a response to the use in fantasias of a recitative topic. Listen to the fantasia, in Bach’s wordless version.
The Topic of Wordless Recitative H. 75 (as you may recall from I&T3 if you took it with me last year) employs an idiom derived from recitative, in which accompanimental chords support a fragmentary, declamatory melody. In the Essay (vol. 1, ch. 3), Bach explains that the ‘accompanied’ or orchestral recitatives of opera seria (also employed in the cantatas of J. S. Bach) can present rapidly changing sentiments because they are relatively unconstrained in key and meter:
CPE Bach, Essay, vol. 1, ch. 3, trans. Mitchell, 153. ‘It is especially in fantasias, those expressive not of memorized or plagarised passages, but rather of true musical creativeness, that the keyboardist... can practice the declamatory style, and move audaciously from one affect to another.... Unbarred free fantasias seem especially adept at the expression of affects, for each meter carries a kind of compulsion within itself. At least it can be seen in accompanied recitatives that tempo and meter must be frequently changed in order to rouse and still the rapidly alternating affects’.
‘Accompanied Recitatives’ Bach refers not to plain recitative but a ‘high style’ recitative, with orchestral accompaniment, employed in opera seria for moments of crisis when lead characters approach madness, or our overwhelmed with emotion. One of the best known examples of the period was from Johann Adolph Hasse’s Cleofide (Dresden, 1731).
Cont. The scene – a soliloquy or monologue -- begins with Cleofide alone on stage. Believing her husband Poro dead, she imagines that she hears the furies (of the underworld); the blood-stained ghost of Poro appears to her – but so faithful is she, that she addresses him tenderly; in the final section she again despairs at life without Poro. Notable is the internationalisation of the supernatural – which exists only in her mind -- and the faintly Orphic idea of travelling – here in the imagination – to be with the deceased beloved. Listen to the scene.
The Viennese Fantasia: An Exception? Mozart’s Fantasia in C minor, K. 475 (1785) appears to differ from the genre as practised by C.P.E.Bach – at least at a stylistic level, because it is thematic, almost entirely measured, and not particularly declamatory. But, in broader terms, does it relate to the northern German ‘culture’ of the fantasia and its field of associations? Listen to K. 475.