During the eighteenth century, “sensitivity” became an important idea in music and was reflected in two styles: the galant style and the empfindsamer Stil. What did it mean for music to be “sensitive” in the 18th century?
Empfindsamer Stil, Style Galant, J.C. Bach, C.P.E.Bach.
The term can be translated as the “Sensitive style” or the “Style of Sensibility”, but it must be interpreted as a style in which emotion is valuable above all. It also requires a more than usual openness to a wide range of emotional responses from both the performer and the listener. During this period, the cultural life of Germany continued in many ways to reflect French influences. French galant music similarly made its imprint on the German musical scene. The German word Empfindsamkeit can be translated as “sensitivity,” “sensibility,” or “sentimentality.” The empfindsamer Stil was characterized by an emphasis on subtle nuances or shading and on the expression of variety of sentiments, often in rapid succession, within one movement of composition. To achieve this variety, phrases tended to be short. The style is most clearly represented in the works of C.P.E. Bach. Music in the empfindsamer Stil sounds especially good on the clavichord, which is C.P.E. Bach’s favorite instrument.
Bach took the empfindsamer Stil to its extreme in several fantasies that arouse many different emotional states through flights of musical imagination. The composers of the Empfindsamkeit sought a singing expressive style. C.P.E. Bach stated that the human voice was the model for any kind of melodic writing, which should always stress simple beauty without excessive embellishment. His concern with vocal quality is also demonstrated by the inclusion of recitative-like sections in his sonatas and fantasies. Compared with the galant music of the earlier French clavecinists, Bach’s sonatas and fantasies often maintain more serious tones. His melodic lines have an expressive ornamentation, often an integral part of the line. Another category of music in which the empfindsamer Stil is well defined is the solo song of the first Berlin school. Bach’s Singode shows by its melodic simplicity why the music of the Empfindsamkeit forms an important link between the Baroque and Classic style.
The galant means “good taste” in French and in general it is used to refer to that which is modern, current, in fashion, contemporary, of the latest style of 18th century. The style associated with Louis XIV had been elaborate, heavy, ornate, formal, and despite the amount of ornamentation, symmetrical. The style galant in music aimed to do very much what the picturesque was doing in applied art and architecture, such as Jean-Honore Fragonard’s paiting The Swing. Melody had to be suggested by nature, but could be embellished by art.
Style galant’s characteristics were use of Alberti bass and the cantabile melody, and typically regular phrase structure. The main composers were “London” Bach, Galuppi and Rutini.
The composers of galant liked to emphasize subdominant harmony, often in the form of a subdominant chord above a tonic pedal. Half cadences often served to articulate important breaks in the musical discourse. Augmented-sixth chords became popular with composers. Counterpoint was the thing to be avoided. Among the instrumental genres frequently cultivated by the galant composers were the three-movement concerto and two relatively new genres: the keyboard sonata and the symphony.
The difficulty of a piece became an important qualification, and some publishers indicated classifications such as “easy” and “fairly easy”. In the 1750s, galant style became the center of every discussion, especially in the works of the Berlin trio Marpurg, Rameau and C.P.E. Bach. When Marpurg suggested the galant composers to study J.S. Bach’s Fugue, his purpose was to achieve less “short-breathed” melodic style. The short-breathed style might have been a result of a desire to keep directly to sentiment and to expression unfiltered by the art of literary composition.
The galant style did not produce any dominant musical figures. Nevertheless the widespread galant taste marked an essential period in European musical history. It needs to be considered in a wider context of the general importance of feeling and nature rather than the logic of reason. The danger of the galant was insipidity, and the flowery galant speech was to seem the opposite of the language of sentiment.
J.C. Bach’s Sonata Op.5 No.2 is one of the sonata of his first set of six sonatas was published in 1768. The repetition of material cannot be divorced from the cadences, and the strength of the cadences emphasizes the style belongs to the style galant. Its opening does the orchestral introduction of a concerto, with repeated chords in both hands and, very soon, a bass melody under chord figuration in the right hand. The effect of the rounded binary structure is to increase further a sense of the importance of the development. The melodic sections emphasize quality as free fantasies by introducing new material, and J.C. Bach seems to enjoy introducing new melodic material in the recapitulation.
Christian Bach compared himself to his brother Emanuel Bach, saying “He lives to compose and I compose to live.” Christian Bach’s sonatas influenced younger Mozart who arrived with his family when Bach’s reputation spreads in London. The sonata inspired one of the sonatas arranged by Mozart, several of them were piano concertos (K.107) and often performed in public.
C.P.E. Bach’s Fantasia in C minor consists of two tonally unstable improvisatory passages that serve as a frame for a Largo in E flat major. After the minuet reaches a cadence in E flat, its triple meter continues in a transition and leads back to the fantasy end which is unmeasured. The relations of unmeasured and measured music are more close to recitative and aria. Picking out the melodic fragments from the fantasy that most closely in style to the vocal line in an accompanied recitative.
The fantasia caused the poet Heinrich von Gerstenberg to think of a man on the brink of death and he published an arrangement of Bach’s fantasy with two added texts: Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” and a meditation on death by the Greek philosopher Socrates.
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